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ERV is back on the road

I can't wait!  Tomorrow morning we'll head out for our first ERV journey since early November.  A series of events and projects have kept us from being on the road.
I won't say where we're going yet since weather could change our direction.  But if things stay as they are we'll be doing something on my Bucket List tomorrow by late morning.  If you follow ERV on Facebook you'll find out where we are.
If you're a new follower, let me catch you up.
WenDee (assistant director) and I are on a journey to every incorporated city in Kansas.  We've been to every town in 52 counties and have until late November to finish the research for our next guidebook.  (To see where we've been, check the list of cities under the sponsors on the right side of this page). 
We call our trip, and our car, ERV.  Explorer Research Voyage.  Explorer Research Vehicle.  Midway Motors of McPherson has loaned us this car since our trip started in the summer of 2012. 
Every city, no matter how small, has offered adventure.  Some favorites experiences have been:
  • Standing in the empty St. Mary's Church in St. Benedict and listening to Marlene, the organist, play Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring.
  • Driving over the corrugated-tin surface on the bridge in Bazine (scary!).
  • Visiting the Family Food Store in Sawyer and discovering the caramel nut rolls and meeting the Wolf family.
  • Riding the historic Central Branch Railroad rails in the motor car out of Waterville and going over the Big Blue River railroad trestle.
  • Seeing Fala and Keary's exhibit in St. Francis.
  • The unexpected scenic beauty in the backroads of Lincoln County, Kiowa County, Ottawa County, and Meade County.
  • The pot pie at Al's Chickenette in Hays.
This list could be a mile long and we can't wait to get it into a guidebook and in your hands.  Our hope is that will be sometime in the second half of 2016.
Well, I better stop so I can go pack and find the bird book, the book of grasses and wildflowers, the architecture book, and the hiking trails book.
If you'd like to help us pay for gas, meal, or lodging, we'd love it.  Just go online to or send a check to KSF, 978 Arapaho Road, Inman, KS  67546.
As Kansas Explorer Kelly Larson says, "If you think Kansas is boring, you're doing it wrong."  We must be doing something right because in 52 counties, we haven't had one boring day yet.
See you down the road!  Marci, Kansas Explorer #2

The Gumption in McCracken

McCracken, Kansas
Shirley is my touchstone. Therefore, so is McCracken.
There's something about this town, population 180, that always grabs my heartstrings.
We rolled into town to ERV around 11 a.m.  In this two-block town, not alot was going on.  We headed to the museum hoping to find Shirley or Carolyn, but it was closed.  We got Shirley's phone number from the note on the door.  I called and told her I needed a Shirley hug and could she come down to the museum.  She did, and thus changed our visit to this Rush County town.

In my visit to McCracken about ten years ago, Shirley, Carolyn, Rose and others took me on a tour of town.  It was a whirlwind.  They showed me the schools that had closed, the swimming pool that needed work, the cafe that was needing a new owner, and the post office that was struggling to stay open.
I distinctly remember how the mood changed when we went inside the church.  I sat by Shirley and I could feel her emotion.  She explained that she was baptized here, married here, and her husband's funeral was here.  But that wasn't the cause of her tears.  After a pause, she said it was because the church was closed.  There had been just too many losses in the community with not much to compensate the feeling of decline.  The closing of the church was her tipping point.
By now...
The cafe was bought and was highly successful for several years but had closed again.
But the swimming pool is open again.
 The sand-green golf course has hole sponsors and is looking good.
In the park you'll find a new memorial to the championship Pee Wee and K-18 Baseball teams of 1974 and 1977.
They've put iron cut outs made by B&B Metal Arts at their town entrance in a tip of the hat to their long-time rodeo.

The post office is still open and has friendly and community-minded Charmaine at the window.  Next to the post office is the library. 

Somebody had a key so went over to the library to see how Charmaine had  "redone" the library to create a cozy environment.  Men even come to the library now for morning coffee!  The walls were filled with color and historical photos.
Carolyn joined us at the library and there were more hugs. 
Carolyn keeps the museum perking along with help from Shirley, Phyllis and others.
The museum is located in the 1901 stone jail yet the inside is a cozy place to learn the story of McCracken.

One displays tells about a college, Entre Nous, that was in the area in the early 20th century.  Another display case has memorabilia from the movie "Paper Moon" starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal that was filmed here in the early 1970s.  The hotel shown in the newspaper no longer stands.

Six light poles on K-4, the highway that slices through town, have street banners hand-sewn by Deb Shuckman.  Each one, done by hand!  Now that is dedication.
Deb's passion for her hometown doesn't stop with banners.  Living in Wichita, she purchased the former grade school for the good of the community.  She won't tell you that, it's just evident. 
It's an impressive facility.  Within five steps inside the front door, one must either go down two steps to the gym floor or walk around the sides where classrooms are found.
On the day we were there, Deb was working, with the help of others, to prepare the building for the town's Fall Festival.  She's been working hard on stripping down the rooms so they can be re-purposed.  For the weekend, the festival activities will be spread out in the building and the car show will be in a large grassy space behind the school.
Deb didn't have to take on this difficult project.  There isn't a lot of personal gain in it for her except the deep satisfaction of knowing she's making a difference for the community.
There are lots of people who have a deep love for their community.  They see the needs, they want to help.  Their efforts take different forms but these amazing expressions of commitment to community are everywhere.  Deb, Shirley, Carolyn, Charmaine and others all do what they can in their own way.  It all adds up.  Sometime the town may appear to be dying on the outside but explore a little further and you'll see a gumption that can't be denied.  
The town may not be again what it was but it will be what the people who live there make it.  It can still be a very special place.  McCracken is a lucky town to have so many people who love it.

Marci Penner and WenDee LaPlant are going to every town in the state to research for the next Kansas Guidebook. 
June 22, 2014
Eileen Robertson

A day in Coats and Sawyer: One of the best ERV days ever.

Coats, Kansas -Sawyer, Kansas
The best adventures are those that are unexpected. And on this day, southern Pratt County delivered.
I knew what was coming but WenDee did not.  I just casually told her that there was a rock garden with some petrified wood in Coats.
When we drove up, WenDee's jaw dropped.  Not that it was weeded or in mint condition.  What she saw, and what you'll see, are the possibilities of what it could look like again.  What she saw was the grassroots creativity of whoever did this.
See the "E" on this rock piece?  That's petrified wood.
We know that Frank Lockert brought the wood (now petrified) over from Barber County in the early 1930s.    The history booklet about this garden is loaned out to someone in Colorado.  By the time the guidebook comes out, we'll be able to share more of the story.  Was Frank the artist? 

The rock garden is located at the home of Patsy and Gordon at 404 Main in Coats.  There is plenty to see from the sidewalk but you're invited to knock at the door and if Patsy or Gordon are home they'll likely give you permission to take a closer look.   Visiting with them is an extra bonus.

The best example of the petrified wood is on the fireplace on the outside of the house. 

To find something unadvertised like this in a small town is what makes it such a gem.
Twelve miles down the road we found another great place.
The outside of the Family Food Store in Sawyer does not portend the treasure that is found inside.  Run by a German Baptist Brethren family, Greg and Ruby use the store as a learning laboratory for the five children they home school.  It's open Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m.-4 p.m.
When you first step in you'll find shelves and racks of bulk foods, homegrown products from Kansas and other friendly states, and some baked goods.  It is very hard not to make purchases -- so don't hold back!
Do try to time your trip here for meal time.  Order at the counter and check on an order from what kind of sandwich you'd like.  I recommend the Family Favorite sandwich which consists of roast beef, turkey, bacon, cream cheese, cheddar cheese and baby Swiss cheese.  It comes on a homemade hoagie bun. 
Take home a loaf of bread or a sweet roll.  The cherry roll and caramel pecan roll are of the type where you can't put them down -- and there is no way to eat them gracefully as you can't eat them fast enough.  These are the two daughters that have learned the baking secrets from their Mom.  Oh my..
Greg, the dad, is an ag economist by trade, but he sure is doing a good job as a business teacher to his kids.  And we all benefit!  Hope you get to come here soon.  Remember, just Thursday-Saturday.
There is one more excellent point of interest in the area.
The Thornton Adobe Barn. 
To get there, it might be easiest to go to Isabel and then travel 1 mile east on K-42, then 1 1/2 miles north.  You'll find the barn in the Isabel Wetland-Wildlife area.  It's just sitting out in a field, always open, waiting for visitors.


The barn was built by Ed Thornton as a dairy barn in 1942.  The foundation is concrete and the haymow is wood framed, but the in-between was made from sun-dried adobe bricks and is covered with white stucco.
You can see exposed adobe bricks on the outside but step inside this cleaned-out barn to see the adobe bricks close up.  There is useful interpretive signage inside and out.
Amazing construction allowed this barn to be a self-supported roof.
Backroads scenery made the day trip even more lovely.  What a great time we had in southern Pratt County!
 Marci and WenDee of the Kansas Sampler Foundation are traveling to every town in the state to find things in the nooks and crannies to share with all of you in a guidebook.

May 26, 2014
Jim & Sandi Coast, Cimarron

The Case for Agenda

Agenda, Kansas
"Move me to a town or let's turn this into a town."  That's what Glenda told her husband Millard -- and he chose the latter.
Agenda, population 66, is located in southeast Republic County and has no paved roads in town. K-148 skirts the north side of town.
Grain elevators are the economic strength of the town but because of the deal Glenda made with her husband, the abandoned downtown buildings show life once again.  It is now a town with a historic downtown look and one that you definitely want to visit, especially if you have Explorer blood in you.
Glenda's stores are open Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. but since it was Tuesday, we called Millard at his service station and he tracked down Glenda.  While we were waiting for her to arrive, we looked at the corridor between two buildings.  The arch on the other end acted as a magnet.  We were drawn in and our jaws just dropped.
With help from relatives and friends, Millard  did a great job with this "backyard" where garden parties and class reunions are held and bus tours are hosted.
Bricked sidewalks, fountains flowing, native stone among the flowers and greenery, and Glen Lojka's mural on the back brick wall make this a beautiful respite.
The Cedar Porch, a gift shop, was the first of Glenda's projects over 15 years ago. 
Women were attracted to the store and came from afar and often came in groups.
Glenda needed a place to provide lunch for shoppers so she bought a red brick building just down from the Cedar Porch, put in a soda fountain and dining area and called it Hope Floats.  She now sells decorative garden items there as well.
The bank building on the corner was for sale so it became another project and with the help of friends it is now the Bank of Memories. 
The Cuba high school basketball floor has been installed in this building which now serves as the town museum and library.
Yep, this building needs a lot of work but that doesn't scare Glenda.  Classes are already being conducted here as work continues to convert this into another downtown gem.  The basketball floor has been laid and though much repair and painting needs to be done, the space already has a certain flair. 

This is what the front of the stores looks like now.  Though the sandy street borders the nice sidewalks and the grain elevators still loom over the town, it's these historic buildings and Glenda's passion and endurance that make this town one that all Explorer types, especially those with a shopping penchant, will want to come.
The stores are open Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.  Call in advance if you're bringing a group and want lunch.  785.732.6674 or 732.6521.  If the stores are closed, stop at the gas station on K-148 and consult Millard.
Marci Penner and WenDee LaPlant are going to every town in the state to research for the next Kansas Guidebook for Explorers.  The trip and the guidebook are a project of the Kansas Sampler Foundation.


What is it about Courtland?

Courtland, Kansas
Courtland is a small town of just under 300.  It's located just south of U.S. 36 on the west end of Republic County.
On May 13, we had a meeting at 9 a.m. with Jenny, Luke and Cheyenne.  Halfway through the meeting the senior class of the local high school entered wearing caps and gowns. 
They were headed to every business in town to thank them for their support. How cool is that?  Then they posed outside with the Rural by Choice sign!

Luke was going to take us to see the art center but first we had to go get the key at the Swedish-American State Bank.  We met the bank president, Mike, who took time to visit with us.  What a support he and his family have been to the town, especially with the arts. 
On the way to the art center we spied Tim, the mayor.  He started being mayor in his late twenties or early thirties and has been in office ever since.  Word on the street is that he doesn't create road blocks for people or new business ideas.  He makes executive decisions that are good for the town and doesn't look for credit.  Sounds like the perfect small town mayor.
We had only taken another step or two down the street when we saw Luke's grandma coming down main street in her golf cart.  We talked to her awhile in the middle of the street and then she pulled into a parking stall at the post office.  In Courtland it's OK to ride your golf cart around town, and plenty of people do.  You just need a sanctioned flag and the orange reflective triangle.
Finally at the art center, just two blocks from the bank, we met Peggy.  Just another one of those great volunteers -- and a bank employee.

It's pretty cool that a small town has such a space.  Note the beautifully restored tin-pressed metal ceiling.  The display on the walls featured The Forgotten Architecture of Republic County.  Another recent photo display featured regular life inside people's homes.  A great idea and way to record everyday life in a small town.

Workers were making progress on the arch that is being relocated from an area barn to an empty lot right beside the art center.  Landscaping plans will result in a showcase spot in town.
We stopped in at the newspaper, the Courtland Journal, to say hey to owner Bob.
Then we found this -- a perfect option for those who don't have a green thumb.  It's a hair dryer plant placed in front of the Main Street Cuts beauty salon.
Since we had eaten a Pinky's Bar and Grill previously, we decided to eat at Anteaques.  It's an antique consignment shop on one side and a lunch spot on the other.  You have two lunch choices daily in this neighborly environment.  While we were waiting for our salads and pork chops, we were joined by Dan Kuhn, owner of the Depot Market.  He had heard we were in town. Later we were lost out in the country and pulled into an interesting looking yard.  It was Dan's place!  We were given perfect directions and after a tour of the greenhouses and movable chicken house, we were on our way.
There is something about a small town that makes the people the very best attraction.  Once you get past hello, they'll visit with you or guide you and help you see the town in a way that you never expected.  Courtland has those kind of people and that's what makes it a great town.

 Marci Penner and WenDee LaPlant are with the Kansas Sampler Foundation and are going to every town in the state to research for the next Kansas Guidebook for Explorers.