Thursday, September 24, 2009

Power of the Past

I was looking through guidebooks, websites, etc., for something to do on a September Saturday that was not much of drive, yet a change of pace from my Kansas Journeys in recent months. The moment I saw the listing of an antique engine and tractor show in Ottawa, my research came to a halt. That will do nicely!

DISCLAIMER: First of all, I wish my faithful readers to understand that I don't have much knowledge on the subject of tractors, far less on engines, so I will try very hard to disguise my ignorance. I am a first generation "townie." Both of my parents were raised on farms, and I married into a farm family. And, I did work part-time on a farm one summer when none of the good workers were available. As a result I know a little bit about tractors, certainly enough to understand that a show like this could be interesting, and VERY colorful. Correct - on both counts, fun as well. But I don't know enough about tractors to give any in-depth information.

As expected, there were quite a number of old tractors on static display. Most of these were in remarkable condition, and I would learn later that not only are many of them in working condition, but some are still used on the farm.

It was surprising to see so many tractors from manufacturers I had never heard of such as the sleek-looking, Chrysler-powered Simpson (below top) , a 1935 Silver King (below middle), Co-Op, and the Ottawa, a locally made tractor (below bottom). About 250 of the Ottawa brand tractor were made from 1949 to 1951, making the unit shown here a rare find I would think. [click on images for larger view]

As stated earlier, I know even less about antique engines than tractors. Here is just one of the many that was chugging along. It was pumping water; I can only assume there was some kind of a return setup so it was repeatedly pumping the same water.

Threshing demonstrations were held three times a day, and drew quite a number of interested spectators. With all that dust flying around, probably not a good place for a hay fever victim with two very nice cameras.

I had fun watching the ladies skillet toss contest. Each lady had two throws with the small cast iron skillet - one for distance without going out of bounds, one for accuracy - closest to an orange traffic cone. In the top photo, I was getting razzed about being in a dangerous spot. The bottom shot was from a different angle, further away and with a long lens!

Also on the contest schedule was a shoe tossing event - probably thought up by the mother of a teenage boy!

This little boy was fascinated by an old-fashioned corn sheller. He and his big sister turned that crank longer than I cared stand around and watch.

A yearly tradition at the Power of the Past gathering is the Parade of Tractors, held each day in the early afternoon. It was reported that 150 to 160 units circled the park on parade. A short slide show, with music, is below.

Fun times, very interesting. Glad I found that listing for the Power of the Past antique engine and tractor show in Ottawa.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kansas Explorers - BYOLC - Elk County

Visits to Elk and Chautauqua counties are a sort of homecoming for me, even though I was born and raised in Wellington. I just have a warm feeling for the area, a fondness. My dad was raised there, met my mother in Sedan, and many kinfolk lived in Howard, Cedar Vale, and Sedan. My family often traveled to the area during my childhood days, to visit cousins or to fish with my dad on Caney River, Otter Creek, or other forgotten tributaries . Living in the flat wheat lands of Sumner County, a drive to dad's old home place, or Aunt Livona's farm seemed like a trip to the mountains to me. I vaguely remember them being referred to as the Chautauqua Hills or the Black Jacks, a reference to the oak trees which at one time covered the hills, at least in some areas.


When I saw that the Kansas Explorer Club schedule included a BYOLC (Bring Your Own Lawn Chair) event for Howard, I vowed to not miss it. About 60 of us met as a group in front of the Elk County courthouse. I must say that, in spite of a missing "U" in COURTHO SE, it was was in considerably better condition than the last time I had seen it, with a completely restored tower clock - faces on all four sides showing the exact time. In addition, the county has been awarded a Heritage Trust Fund grant for roof repairs.

On my brief visits to Howard in recent years, I had developed a strong feeling that this was a town just waiting to roll up the streets and die. The condition of the county courthouse and a beautiful but abandoned bank building in a sad state of disrepair probably contributed most to my developing that opinion. What I heard was an eye-opener for me.

Several townspeople spoke to the Explorers regarding the tasks at hand in revitalizing their town. They as community leaders and the reports they shared with us were a source of encouragement. I was personally surprised and impressed to hear of families moving into Howard, opening new businesses such as a pizza shop, a tailoring enterprise, and a bed and breakfast. One man spoke of developments regarding the purchase and renovation of the previously mentioned bank building .

Local girl Julie Perkins [shown below], a registered pharmacist, had vowed to not return to her hometown, but after several years working within a corporate pharmacy setting, purchased Batson's Drug Store (including a soda fountain) and moved her family back to small-town Kansas. Five years ago, Howard's only grocery store closed its doors, meaning townsfolk would have to drive a minimum of 30 minutes to reach even a small grocery store in Sedan, time-consuming for a busy family, difficult for a senior citizen. So the pharmacy was enlarged, and Julie went into the grocery business, including meat and produce. For two years she and her children drove back and forth to the city to purchase stock for the store, until the volume reached a point where the wholesaler would deliver. (We later learned that means a wholesale purchase of $7500 a week! For a town of 742 folks plus those in the surrounding rural areas, that is an incredible commitment.) Julie reported the grocery business was being well supported by the community.

I'll not go into more detail regarding the uplifting reports we heard. Cheryl Unruh's Flyover People Daily News gives a more complete accounting for those who are interested.

Is there anything to see in Howard? I'm glad you asked. For fans of roadside art/grassroots art/outside art or whatever you want to call it, there is always Hubble's Rubble, which I have photographed on several occasions, so did not spend any time there on this trip. Here's one shot from an earlier visit - Hubble's vision of a flying purple people eater:

History buffs, museum fans, and those who enjoy a piece of nostalgic Americana will find the Benson Museums complex to be of interest. Exhibits include the preserved one-room school house and the corner gas station shown below.

I stepped inside the Red Barn Soap Company for a few minutes. Specialty soaps are hand-made in this late 19th century native stone building.

Before leaving Howard, I wanted to check the local cemetery to see if I could find the burial plot of my great-grandparents, John Bowman Thompson and Sarah Elizabeth Brewer Thompson. John Bowman was the first of my Thompson ancestors born in the USA (1835 in Ohio), and Sarah is the most enigmatic person in my family tree. Genealogists would call her my "brick wall." Thanks to an up-to-date and well organized grave finder book at the cemetery, I was able to find their graves quickly.


After lunch, the group gathered at nearby Elk Falls. Before you have a chance to even ask: Yes, there are falls on the Elk River, seen below in a photo from April of 2006. These are best seen and photographed from an 1893 iron truss bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elk Falls is noted for its "collection" of outhouses and its annual outhouse tour (more info at, but I was equally interested in this classic old country church, owned by the local Methodist congregation. Looks like it was taken directly from a Grant Woods or Norman Rockwell illustration. How old? I hope to find out from one of my readers.

Elk Falls Pottery Works was the main reason for our visit to this village. Steve and Jane Fry fashion beautiful works of pottery (stoneware and earthenware) from clays personally dug in Barton County, Kansas. It was fascinating to watch Steve work on the 19th-century style, foot-powered wheel, a made-from-scavenged parts work of art in itself. Jane was at work on mugs especially designed for the (then) upcoming 2009 Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield. Nancy and I purchased one at that event. More about Elk Falls Pottery Works:

Fry called on Kansas Sampler Foundation's Executive Director, Marci Penner, to help with a demonstration, and with his guidance (and steady foot to keep the wheel moving), she was able to fashion the bowl shown below - Good work, Marci!

Many of us then had an opportunity to visit a work of restoration in progress. Five years ago, the Frys purchased a property on the north edge of Elk Falls, right on US 160, that contained a fine old barn (suitable for studio and sales gallery), a farm house in a sad state of disrepair but with lots of potential as a home or B&B, and a rock garden overgrown with weeds. The rock garden was created during the Great Depression, and many say its fabrication provided work for unemployed locals. Fry is in the process of clearing away the years of growth to make the garden visible to visitors.

One more instance of small-town folks with vision and determination who will ultimately make their communities a nice, more prosperous place in which to live. Several views of the garden are shown below:

One last view of Elk County, seen and photographed from the highway as I began my trip home. I love the beauty of this area! Click on image for larger view.


Coming Soon - SHOT IN KANSAS! - Photo Exhibit
October 1 -31, 2009
Black Dog Coffeehouse

12815 West 87th Parkway, Lenexa, Kansas

Invitation: There will be an exhibit kick-off (sort of my own First Friday without wine) on Friday, October 2 from 7 to 9 pm. In addition to viewing these Kansas photos, join us in the meeting room of the Black Dog for brewed coffee and treats.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Saturday Morning in "Old" Overland Park

It's a long distance from Yoder, Kansas, locale of my previous posting, to downtown Overland Park - geographically (223 Google Miles) and equally distant culturally. The events attended were different, rural Yoder's long-time running annual Heritage Festival, and suburban OP's weekly farmers market and a second annual Hot Pepper Eatin' Contest. At Yoder, they were selling Amish baked goods and quilts, at Overland Park - peaches, heirloom tomatoes, and Asiago focaccia.
The contrasts in these two Kansas communities are numerous, yet I feel equally comfortable in either environment. If I get across nothing else in this blog posting, I would like that to be how many genuinely nice people I met in each place, the warmth of the smiles, and how gratifying it was to watch families relaxing together and enjoying life in Kansas.
Downtown is one of my two favorite places in Overland Park, the other being the street where I live. In those places I can forget for awhile that I reside in sprawling, land-grabbing suburbia with its wearisome traffic and cookie-cutter strip malls and housing developments. Downtown OP has charm. In this blog, I will share some of the sights of a Saturday morning there, including video/slide shows of the Farmers Market and the amazing Hot Pepper Eatin' Contest sponsored by Cobinsteinz Farms.

Farmers Market Video ~

Hot Pepper Eatin' Contest Video ~

"Old Bill" - William B Strang, Jr. - has presides over this main intersection in downtown Overland Park. Railroad magnate Strang arrived in the area in 1905, established a rail line from Kansas City to Olathe, Kansas, and plotted subdivisions in tthe vicinity, one of which was named Overland Park. The Dragon Inn behind Strang's statue has been at its location since 1975.

One of the numerous Santa Fe Trail markers in the area is at this intersection in downtown Overland Park. The markers were placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Strang's carriage house, located in a nearby Overland Park Commons, serves as a museum for the OP Historical Society. Also in the vicinity (not pictured here) is the trolley barn used by Strang's rail line. It is now Traditions Furniture store.

On this morning, a small group was practicing what appeared to me to be some form of martial art. In addition to the restful green spaces and clean public restrooms, the Commons has a bandstand large enough to hold concerts featuring the Overland Park Civic Symphony and Civic Band.

Here's a blast from the past - a real barber shop, complete with traditional barber shop chairs, barber pole, and conversation. Red's Barber Shop also sports a collection of caps.

Now & Then - primitive and antique home furnishings - one of the unique shopping opportunities along Santa Fe Drive.

Ten Thousand Villages - I enjoy this store. A Fair Trade establishment operated by a non-profit charitable organization, featuring arts and crafts made from around the world. You can always find unique gift or home decor items knowing the money will actually end up going to the to the artist/artesan.

More about downtown Overland Park:


Coming Soon - SHOT IN KANSAS! - Photo Exhibit
October 1 -31, 2009
Black Dog Coffeehouse

12815 West 87th Parkway, Lenexa, Kansas

Invitation: There will be an exhibit kick-off (sort of my own First Friday without wine) on Friday, October 2 from 7 to 9 pm. In addition to viewing these Kansas photos, join us in the meeting room of the Black Dog for brewed coffee and treats.