Thursday, July 24, 2014



      Just as I am saddened by the loss of a friend of fifty one years, so Abilene is saddened by the loss of a historic landmark once again.  Though not the same they are similar.
      I have too many interests and areas of interest.  I love old theaters especially when they are alive with activity.  There is a feeling back stage and on stage of something that cannot be duplicated by modern architecture.  The ring of your voice and the music is in a spot that was intended for it to be there.
       Two of the greatest moments of my life were backstage, when a production that I envisioned was taken by a group of highly talented artists in tribute to the 150th anniversary of Kansas, to places that I never envisioned.
     The chills that ran up and down my spine must be like the feelings that adventurers feel performing some dangerous feat.  Or the athlete winning the championship.  Or like the kid that screams with delight and terror on the roller coaster.  The true feeling cannot be described.
      Abilene will not have that again at the Great Plains Theater.  Those feelings and experiences there are gone.  Once again the town suffered the loss of one of it's historic treasures.  It is gone with nothing to salvage.
      The 130 year old structure burned on Wednesday July 23rd.  Five hundred of the towns people from toddler to elderly gathered to witness the futile battle that the fire departments from the region fought.
       Just as I place affectionate value on our friend that we lost this community places value on it's friend also.  Seems as when you age you place value on the fragility of those you love and things that stand for something more than just board and stone.
     I never had the chance to perform on stage at the Great Plains and now that is a permanent certainty.  Just as I will visit with old friends that are past.
      As I said I have too many areas of interest.  I like old barns and old folks.  I like the stories of the past and the people who lived them.  Old tractors and trucks.  Old Cowboys and Cowgirls.  I like old books and things that record what once was.  Music and writing, expressing my opinion.  I like those who stand for what is right and will express what is wrong and not cower by a vocal minority that seek to dominate others.
       Maybe the ache in the bones or the ringing in the ears from mindless political campaigns.  But I come to value friends and things I consider friends more everyday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


           Kin Hubbard

      I have spent my life beside US-54 Highway.  I am still within twenty miles of it where I live here in the hills.  As a small boy I remember a big sign at Kellogg and Tyler that looked like the old Holiday Inn signs.  It was promoting US-54 Chicago to El Paso.  The four lane was built west of Wichita to Viola Road while I was in Grade school.  Then they took it to just east of Kingman where it veered left down through town and west through the Kingman Wildlife Area.
     Kingman was convinced that losing the highway through town would ruin it.  There is still a lot of sentiment that way today.  It has also produced revenues to the town for years as one of the premier speed traps in America.  Talking to truckers that go coast to coast there was always talk of that speed zone in Kansas down on the roads in Arizona and others.
      The fight to keep the highway has virtually been handed down by generation.  Thus, delaying the improvements west past Pratt.  It also is routed through a swamp crossing the Ninnescah river several times.  Funny since most know that moving the route two miles in either direction would have saved millions of dollars in construction and maintenance costs.  The savings on bridges would probably have paid for the Pratt loop.
      Over the years the US-54 route has been allowed to deteriorate into a rough outdated road that many avoid.  Eastern Kansas has suffered a lot of the neglect over the years.
       In the South Central Kansas area US-54 is a vital and modern highway that is key to the strong economy.  The ties into the Interstate System allows for the access that many industries thrive on.
      For a part of US 54's length it is aligned with I-400.  The interstate through the southern part of Kansas that was never built.  I-400 is an entire story unto itself.  As I call it "the politicians interstate".
       Being in the center of the country Kansas is a great cross roads.  The interstates were mostly built in a North-South East-West direction.  It is the Highways like US-54, 56, 50, and K-96 to provide those easy connections to the Interstates and surrounding states.
      Several years ago the then Representative from Kansas, who is running to gain his old seat back, made an announcement that was made on national TV.  At least it looked like a national statement at the time.  The announcement was that the bill had passed out of the congress to rebuild US-54 across Kansas from Ft. Scott to the Oklahoma line south of Liberal as all four lane.  It was an exciting announcement at the time.
      In the years after when his staff would come to town for 'Town Hall Meetings' I would always ask what happened to the US-54 HIGHWAY ACT?  I would always get stares like they never heard of it.  And I would always get a form letter congratulating me on participating in the town hall.  But never any answer.
     'Well there they go again' making the highways a political football.

Monday, July 14, 2014


                                            John W Gardner

     Legend has it that F.W. 'Woody' Hockaday, a Wichita service station operator, out of his own pocket, placed signs marking routes in Kansas and other parts of the Southwest.  Rumor has it that his phone number was 96.  But that is shot down since Highway 96 was numbered in Colorado as early as 1923.  Also when looking into the phone directory for Wichita Hockaday's number was 'Murdock 102.'
     K-96 developed as a highway from the west central to the southeast part of Kansas.  Lining up with Colorado 96 East of Towner and Missouri 96 south of Pittsburg.  The evolution took many decades with a major portion of the 'highway as graded gravel'.  There has been continual paving, realigning, and construction of K-96 for much of it's life.
     K-96 runs through the towns of Tribune, Leoti, Scott City, Dighton, Ness City, Great Bend, Ellinwood, Lyons, Sterling, Nickerson, Hutchinson, and Wichita.  The current terminus being the interchange of K-96 & US 54/400 in East Wichita.
       What used to be a state wide roadway has been re numbered in the Eastern part of Kansas and ceases to exist there.  As with many highways in Kansas it has a history of wrecks and death.  Mostly for the fact that the updating of the highway lay forty years behind what it should have been.
     The stretch of highway between Severy and Fall River was a particularly bad for grinding crashes.  That is because of the design of the highway was for model A's and the modern car and truck traffic was way beyond the design.  No shoulders and steep ditches marked this particular stretch leaving little room for error.
       In a string of highway updates the conditions have been improved drastically.  Yet there is no clear corridor to the southeast from Wichita to Joplin, hooking into the interstate system.  (Yes I know about US 400, this is a separate story in the series).
      The portion that claimed as many lives with a huge volume of traffic was between Wichita and Hutchinson.  Up graded in sections K-96 was still one of the most dangerous highways to drive on.  In places it still makes no sense to me why.  One of the most dangerous intersections is 151 ST WEST(Bentley RD) and K-96.  The four lane section here should be one of the safest in the state yet still claims many lives.  The visibility is as good as any in the state with at least 12 car lengths between lanes, yet it still is host to grinding crashes.
      The Federal DOT has rules about signage and little flexibility in the application of them.  In the Amish community of Yoder the markings used to be there for the warning of slow moving vehicles.  Horses and carriages are still the main mode of transportation for this group of people.  Negotiating the major highway with horse and buggy I am sure has made for terrifying moments.
      Yet for the unimagined process of the government the signs came down and late one night an Amish couple was struck and killed sending a jolt through the community and the state.
      The planning that took decades with the construction now has a limited access highway connecting the two major towns of Wichita and Hutchinson as well as the by pass around the west side of Hutchinson.
       Today there are still bad crashes in the western sections of K-96.  The visions of a modern highway from the Southeast to the West still remain a dream.
        NEXT: US 54 HIGHWAY

Monday, July 7, 2014


                                         William Least Heat Moon

     US Highway 50 starts on the Chesapeake Bay at Ocean City Delaware and runs across the entire length of the United States ending at the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, 3200 miles.  Time Magazine labeled US 50 as the "Backbone of America' in it's issue of 7-7-97.
    In Kansas a majority of it runs roughly on the corridor of the Santa Fe Trail.  Along the Kansas part you will pass through, or by places such as Emporia, Strong City, Florence, Peabody, Newton, Hutchinson, Kinsley, Dodge City, Garden City, and Syracuse.
     Though it is deemed a 'quiet' highway it carries a large amount of truck traffic.  The avoidance of Wichita in the Northeast to Southwest part of Kansas makes this a desirable way to travel.
     But looks can be deceiving.  It is also one of the most dangerous highways to travel.  The two lane route, that should have been made four lane fifty years ago, is fighting the political battle that seems to be Kansas KDOT trademark.
     It is not as though work has not been done to the highway it is just not enough and has taken way too long.  The numbers may not look so bad on accident frequency, but ask any fire, EMS, or Sheriff, it is the grinding nature of the accidents and the high numbers of fatalities per wreck that set US 50 apart.
     KDOT has had a long history of having their coffers raided by Governors and legislators for the amount of revenue that comes in off of every gallon of fuel you buy.  Under cover of having the second best roads in the nation projects get delayed and canceled and the money sent to other places.
     We also have created a bureaucracy that takes more than 12 years to propose a highway project and building it.  Sometimes more.  Also there seems to be no logical procedure to build a highway where it is the most economical and logical to build.  A perfect example of this is on US 54/400 through the swamps of the Ninnescah River Valley and the Kingman Wildlife area.
     Traveling down US 50 can be very deceiving because it is a really good road.  There are places where it is a Super Two highway.  However, the passing lanes are too few and too short.
      The 'killing machine' that was Yoder Road and US 50 has finally been fixed with an interchange and a short section of four lane road.  The construction of that project has been long enough for babies to be born and in school not knowing how it was before.
     KDOT is holding hearings about the addition of passing lanes and improvements from Emporia to Newton right now.  There is the plan of adding 18 more passing lanes and some extensions.  The numbers of locals have not been great turning out for the hearings and that is a shame.  When the State does take time for your opinion it should be taken advantage of.  In the past KDOT has not paid much attention to what people think but with the uproar over the Point of Rocks near Dodge they are showing a willingness to take into account the feelings of the people.
      Going back 50 years the cost of building a four lane limited access highway would probably be what the upgrades are now.  One thing that is certain it is never cheaper to wait on building a highway.
     The Interstate system came from Kansas and it is the last part of the system that never got built.  We have been saddled with expensive requirements for new highways and it is not necessary to go full interstate specs to build safe and effective highways.  The minute we set on our laurels and crow about being number two in roads we will soon be passed by.  We pride ourselves on our economy and work ethic but we cannot lead the nation in prosperity without continual upgrades to our infrastructure.
     Next time I will take on another Kansas highway.