Travel Log, Past Entries
We drove to Colorado Springs to check out a hitch mounted cargo carrier from a very cool outfit called Let's Go Aero.(Visit their website at www.letsgoaero.com) We had found the company on line, after long hours of searching for the right carrier for our inflatable kayaks. Theirs looked very good, but you never know from a photo. We wanted to see one and they invited us to visit them at the plant. The carrier turned out to be just what we needed to store the kayaks, camping chairs and table, with lots of room left over. The company president, Marty, spent a few hours with us explaining the design of his carriers and showing us the other new products he's in various stages of developing. Marty is very keyed-in to minimalist, multi-function, transportation/recreation-oriented products, and has a broad knowledge of design and patents, materials, manufacturing, and marketing. He's finding that it's more rewarding to stick with the design aspects and then enter into partnerships with much bigger companies, such as Coleman, for manufacuring and marketing. It was fascinating to see these beautifully simple, elegantly designed products and get a glimpse into the mind of the guy that comes up with them. He has a talent for creating brilliant functional solutions that no one else has thought of. The office manager, Julie (who speaks fluent Spanish and French, in addition to her native English) was friendly and extremely helpful to us as well, as was Jerry, who does everything, including sometimes helping Marty puzzle out design problems. On top of all of that, they welcomed our dogs into their shop to visit with their big, handsome black lab, Chewy, and Julie's pocketsized companion, Indy. (As of this writing, we have been using our GearSpace34 for about 5 weeks now and highly recommend it!)
Since we were so close, we decided to head for Phillipsburg, Kansas, to attend Kathleen's family reunion. This was not in our original plans, especially for Rus, to spend 3 days in the middle of Kansas talking to people he'd never met or barely knew.
Driving through the flat lands of western Kansas Rus commented, "Why would anyone want to live here?" Kathleen was surprised by her reaction. She felt hurt, almost personally insulted. Her grandfather and some favorite cousins lived in Kansas and her memories are associated with good times and loving people. She realized then that she had a deep attachment to this land that she hadn't recognized or thought about in years.
Kathleen's grandfather was a Lutheran minister in the small farming community of Stuttgart. All six of his kids spent their formative years there and in nearby Phillipsburg where they attended high school and often found their first jobs. Entering Phillipsburg's town center, we could see this was a place that had seen better days, like so many small Midwestern towns. We noticed storefronts that were vacant, buildings boarded up or for sale, surrounding a lovely old limestone courthouse in the center of the square. Kathleen has an aunt and a cousin who still live there, and the older folks still remember her grandfather, some 30 years after his death at 98. Our first stop was the barber shop for Rus's hair and some local gossip. It was rodeo week in Phillipsburg, and that's exciting. They claim to have "the biggest Rodeo in the state"!
There were about 45 people at this reunion, from as far away as Hawaii, California, and Pennsylvania. Many had moved away but still lived in the Midwest. Everyone still felt strong roots in this small town. We visited the old church cemetery where Kathleen's "Grosfater" and "Grosmuter" are buried, and laid flowers on their graves, then went to the Emmanuel Lutheran Church where we joined with many of Pastor Krauss' old (and I do mean old) parishioners for a delicious lunch prepared by the church women, and served, of course, in the church basement. The most interesting part was when the older folks stood up and introduced themselves, and told short stories about family members in the old days. It was a very emotional experience for all, to hear these old men and women talk about their lives and their memories of a bygone era. Some were humble, some were articulate and some were funny, but they were all open and opened our hearts by their sharing.
We also "toured" the town of Stuttgart, which now has a population of about 50, and only one remaining business, a very small garage owned by Norman Kellerman, a man in his 70's. Across the street from this garage is an abandoned blacksmith shop once run by Norman's father, long-deceased, with all the forges, tools, and belt-driven machinery still in place, everything covered with dust but in working condition, as if the owner had just gone home for dinner 60 years ago and never returned. Its main business was repairing farm equipment, though it looked like kids brought in their broken bikes, too. Further along, there were also the remains of a grain elevator, a general store, hardware store, and other businesses long gone, buildings crumbling, sidewalks overgrown with weeds.
Above right photo: Kathleen's sister, Karla, at our great grandfather's grave
Left: Flowers for Matilda, Kathleen's grandmother, from the youngest member of the clan.
Below: Rus loved the old Blacksmith's shop in Stuttgart.
We talked to many of the long-time residents about their lives in rural Kansas, and both of us were deeply touched by their connection to the land, their dedication to their communities and the Christian values they do their best to live by. They cherish their way of life, and have all made considerable sacrifices to maintain it as best they can, even as they see it slowly fading. The county's population is about a fourth what it was in the late 1800's, when small farms owned by German immigrants dotted the landscape. Many of their abandoned limestone farmhouses and wood barns are still standing among the cornfields and grasslands, the windmills still used for watering livestock. It was a hard life then, but at least it was possible to make a living. Now, there is little future for a young person in town, even less on the farm, and most move away as soon as they finish high school.
Photo: The first church in Stuttgart. (before my dad's time)
After the reunion, Kathleen and I, her sister Karla, her brother Jed, wife Lori and daughters Becca and Coley drove an hour south to the town of Hays, Kansas to spend some time together in a bigger town with more to do. Hays is a university town, home of Fort Hays University, and once the home of Wild Bill Hickok, Bill Cody, and numerous desperados who died as they lived, either at the hands of each other, a lynch mob, or the long arm of the law. Along the old main street, there are dozens of plaques honoring every gunfight, knife fight, assassination or lynching that occurred in Hays "lawless" period in the 1860's-1870's Made us feel like letting our dogs off their leashes. There is even a statue of Wild Bill Hickok, which scared the daylights out of Ziggy when she finally looked up at it from where she'd been lying at its base. Hays also has many fine old brick and stone buildings, many being renovated now, miles of brick-paved, high-crowned streets, and a fine brew pub and restaurant called the LB (stands for Liquid Bread) Brewery, so good we ate their twice!
Lawrence and Atchison, Ks
Leaving Hays, and Kathleen's family, we pressed eastward, stopping in Lawrence, Kansas, home of Kansas State University, Kathleen's dad's Alma Mater, and maybe the largest progressive population in the area. We've never seen such a beautiful campus, with its fine old buildings of stone and brick, grandly situated on rolling hilltops overlooking the town and prairie. People come to Lawrence to go to school and never leave, and we can't blame them. After dinner at a Greek restaurant, we drove at night to a campground on Clinton Lake outside of town, awakening next morning beside a huge mowed lawn of maybe 20 acres, ringed with camping sites. We're just not used to seeing that much space in public parks or campgrounds, but over and over we've seen it in the Midwest. In fact, if there is any adjective that fits our impression of the Midwest and its people, it would have to be "generous". There is so much land, they don't scrimp at all when they create public parks, town squares, or even private yards. And there are relatively few people, so there is more freedom of movement and fewer rules and regulations (which we always like). Even the people we met and are still meeting -we're in Iowa right now- have a helpfulness and generosity of spirit that often takes us by surprise.
We started the already sweltering morning off with a dip in Clinton Lake, where we played for quite some time. Refreshed, we felt ready to start heading north and out of the Kansas heat at last. Something called Kathleen's attention to Atchison on the map and so we stopped there to eat lunch beside the Missouri River. It is a picturesque town and we soon discovered, the birthplace of Amelia Earhart. She lived the first 12 years of her life in a white Victorian house that sits on a bluff above the Missouri. It is now a museum run by the 99's, an organization of women pilots that Amelia helped start. Standing in her bedroom, we could imagine her looking out on the river and the endless plains beyond, trains and trucks bringing freight across the river to and from Missouri and beyond, her little head spinning with the possibilities of her life. She has always been an inspiration to Kathleen, and is even more so now.
Sargents Bluff, Iowa
Rus used to live in the Midwest, a little town on the Missouri River called Sergeant Bluff, pop. @500 at that time, 1961-63. It was named after Sergeant Charles Floyd, a member of Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery, who died of a burst appendix and was buried nearby, just 60 days out from St. Louis, amazingly the only fatality of the entire expedition. Of course, we had to go see his house and explore his old haunts. He was there as a teenager, his father, an Air Force colonel, was stationed at the nearby Strategic Air Command base, now a hog farm (a guy told us, "That's about the only thing you can convert anything to around here"). Sergeant Bluff was where Rus learned to drive a car, awkwardly first kissed a girl (and still remembers her name), hunted squirrels and pheasants in the surrounding woods and fields, and where memories of the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis still linger. In their house they had a regular telephone and another, a red one, which was on a dedicated military phone circuit, and only rang if there was an alert, or a practice alert. We hoped there would never be a call on that line. In that era, alerts could well mean there were missiles in the air.
Rus' house was still there, in a district that looks a lot like Sunny Brae (for any of you in Arcata) but the old high school where he lettered in track was torn down years before, an assisted living center in its place. The brickyard was still there, though the old kilns he'd walked by on a shortcut to school had been replaced by more modern equipment, enclosed in a metal building. The woods and bluffs behind his house, though, were exactly like before, but maybe the trees were bigger. We took the dogs for a long walk up there, took in the view and the memories, and continued eastward on I-20 across the lush and fertile Iowa landscape stopping at Sac City at a lovely (and spacious, being the Midwest) city park along the North Racoon River, with 4 camping sites, bathrooms with showers, and no one there to take our money, so we left $10 in an envelope with a note under a locked doorway marked "office".
So many of the houses here in the Midwest just stop us dead in our tracks. Even in the small towns, stately old homes, built with pride, craftsmanship and materials to last, seem to abound, and to be inhabited by regular folks, not the millionaires that would live in such houses in California. The commercial, institutional and government buildings, too, even many new ones, are designed and built with a sense of pride and permanence we haven't seen in many other places.
The high points of our passage through the Hoosier state were the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend and later, a leisurely walk with our dogs through the green and stately campus of Notre Dame. Being raised a Catholic, Kathleen was delighted to find so many little shrines and even grottos nestled in shady nooks or tucked among the flowers. Nature amplifies the sacred in a way that churches can't.
1963 Avanti Suggested Price
Notre Dame welcomed us. We met people eagar to talk about the Campus, others who loved dogs and just had to meet ours, and a pair of old gals from Chicago catching a pail full of perch in St Joseph's Lake.
One word about Chicago: don't! Stay away; Chicago is an exciting, dynamic city, but Chicago doesn't need you, or your vehicle, adding to its population and traffic problems. There are plenty of other neat places you can get to easily, move around in freely, where people are glad to see you come and will take notice when you leave. We spent over 4 hours just trying to get through the greater Chicago area, on Interstate 80, a toll road, no less. We found a tiny space in a crowded RV park near town, with rules posted everywhere on the grounds, and a full-text sheet of them issued to you on checking in (see photo). Fun place. It was our worst campground so far, and the most expensive............ And then we spend another 2 hours in traffic trying to get out of the city! Kathleen wants to add that we didn't give Chicago a chance. Who knows, maybe someday we will, when we don't have 2 dogs and a 26 foot long vehicle.
Our next destination was Cleveland, to visit Edna Mumaw and her family, which have been Rus' father's second family since childhood days. They're the only other people who still know him by his boyhood name, Johnny, except for his wife, Marge. Rus hadn't seen the three "kids", Linda, Jack and John, since he was 16 and Kathleen had never met any of them, but with the Mumaws it couldn't have mattered less--we were family, too, and welcomed with open arms. We were wined, dined, chauffeured and hosted as only the Mumaws know how, and it was clear why "Johnny" has always felt so comfortable with this very close and generous family.
In Ohio the population density is beginning to increase over Kansas and Iowa. Lots more smaller farms, some looked to be owned by "gentleman farmers" rather than going concerns. It's still mostly agricultural, but with more towns, and more influences from the cities nearby. The countryside is noticeably greener, with many rivers, lakes and ponds.
Here's something we did in Cleveland: we went to a waterfront museum to see Bodyworlds 2, an exhibition of human bodies and body parts that had been plasticised so they can be viewed without decay. The bodies were treated artistically, many were (dead) people in active poses like skateboarding, some showing muscles or organs cross-sectioned and sliced lengthwise, dissected, and even disassembled for exploded views. There were four big rooms full of cadavers, dozens of them, the poses exposing muscles, skeletons, internal (and external) organs frozen in action. The museum was closed-mouthed about the plasticizing technology, but generous with the forms required to donate your own body to the collection. Kathleen was fascinated, Rus was grossed out, and wished he'd gone instead to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was right next door. He still can't believe he didn't.
Travel Log, Past Entries: Click to read each one
Oregon, Washington June 2005
California July 2005
Southwest July/August 2005