Topeka, KS. Sunday March 5
Part 2 of March 4 (Part 1 of March 4 focused solely on sandhill cranes. This post discusses the rest of Saturday.)
Saturday was more than cranes. We kidded each other that Saturday was birds and bombs. The sunrise crane watch ended around 7:30. We drove the 30 miles back to the hotel for breakfast before heading out again. Our first stop was Hastings, NE, home to the Hastings Museum. This museum was rated as a “Gem” by AAA. The couple we met leaving the lunch at Southeast Community College on Thursday had also recommended another place to see in Hastings as well as a great lunch place so we had several stops planned for Hastings.
Hastings is 50 miles from Kearney and the first 10 miles of our route took us through the corn fields used by the sandhill cranes to feed while laying over on the Platte River. Birds were crowded in many fields, flocks flying to and from fields were crowding the sky.
The Hastings Museum was the creation of Albert Brookings (1880-1946) who was a collector from his youth. The Museum officially dates back to 1926 and has been a collaboration with the City of Hastings which supports it to this day. The museum in its early days moved from excess building to excess building, usually school buildings.
Inside the museum are collections of: dioramas showcasing animals of North America, Plains Indians exhibits, early autos and late-model buggies, information about European immigrants to Nebraska, firearms, and the creatures and the time period when this part of the United States was covered by an inland sea. There is a planetarium and large screen movie theater (similar to IMAX). Finally there is a special exhibit focused on Kool-Aid.
Kool-Aid was an invention of Edwin Perkins while he was living in Hastings. The Perkins family ran a grocery and distribution business in Hensley NE. Edwin moved to Hastings and began inventing products, selling a brand of items called Onor-Maid which I relate to Watkins products. He was quite successful. His most successful invention was Kool-Aid which was first manufactured in Hastings in 1927. It proved extremely successful. Eventually Perkins moved the factory and company to Chicago but maintained his roots to Hastings. The exhibit does an excellent job presenting the family history, his business endeavors, and the development and marketing of Kool-Aid.
I am sure each person who visits here has their own particular memory. Some of the items that resonate with us included the fact that Cliff notes, that college staple, was created by a Nebraskan, Cliff Hillegas. The Hastings High School had a program in drag racing, where over the years students worked on car repairs. Some of those 240 cars were used in drag racing, at the local raceway; others were re-sold or used by the local Fire Department for “Jaws of Life” practice. We also learned that Sears Roebuck sold automobiles from 1905-1911.
One exhibit had a section on notable Hastings and Nebraska people. Notable in this regard is less newspaper famous and more notable in their accomplishments as a member of their local community. First female dentist or notable business person are examples. Another tid-bit of American history was presented through the story of a Japanese man who had been interned in camps during WWII. As he grew up, he matured and fell in love with a local woman. Unfortunately Nebraska had until 1963 a mixed marriage law. A white person could not marry a person who had one-eight or more or Negro, Chinese,or Japanese blood. The couple had to get married in Kansas but fought to have the law overturned, being successful in 1963.
We were impressed with the museum and the accuracy of the exhibits. For instance, the information and sensitivity to the Plains Indians and the impact by the arrival of European immigrants was accurate and culturally sensitive. The information did not appear to be recently added which made the sensitivity more remarkable. We have been to numerous museums around the country and this museum rates very highly, particularly when you consider this museum is financed by a community of about 25,000.
For lunch, we went to the Back Alley Bakery in downtown Hastings. This small cafe served an excellent strata which both of us enjoyed. We did not have room for any of the excellent appearing desserts.
In the afternoon, we drove around one of the nation’s most significant naval landmarks. Yes, a naval landmark in Kansas, 900 miles from the nearest ocean. The Naval Ammunition Depot in Hastings produced 40% of the US WWII munitions for the navy, including bombs, rockets, torpedoes, mines, etc.
The depot was located here, far inland where it would not be subject to enemy attack by ship or plane. Three major railroad lines could ship the product easily. Over 200 properties were condemned to build 2200 buildings on 48,000 acres of land with all of the related roads, railroad tracks, water, sewer, electrical and gas lines, etc. 10,000 workers doubled the pre-war population of Hastings. The facility did have one major explosion that killed nine people and was heard 100 miles away in Lincoln.
The depot was decommissioned in 1996. Today parts of the facility ae used for a community college, a golf course, National Guard training, and industrial facilities. However, there are still numerous facilities still in evidence. Hundreds of concrete bunkers that had been used for explosives storage are lined up in rows. Over 1,000 ammunition vaults can be seen as you drive along the roads.
Thus came our motto for the day, birds to bombs.
Sunday March 5
After church and breakfast, we left for our next destination, Topeka Kansas. No interstate today, it was two lane roads through farming country. The first portion of the day passed through the traditional flat corn and grain raising fields; frequently populated by sandhill cranes feeding on left over corn. As we drove further south, the land became less flat with rolling hills. Just south of the Nebraska-Kansas state line, we made a quick stop at the “Geographical Center for the Lower 48 States”. This location in the middle of agriculture is marked by a small chapel, a U.S. flag, a picnic table, and two markers.
As we continued through Kansas, our next stop was unplanned. In Cawker City, we stopped at the “largest Ball of Twine”. Now, you have to understand, we thought we had already seen the largest ball of twine back in Darwin MN. Well, according to Roadside America, there is quite the competition between the two. Evidently, the one here in Cawker City is larger, but, it was rolled by several people. The original largest ball of twine in Darwin MN was accumulated by one man. When he died, the Darwin ball surpassed the Cawker City ball of twine. The people in Cawker City decided they would continue the process and added more twine to their ball. The Darwin people decided to be purists; to this day, the ball of twine in Darwin is the “Largest Ball of Twine Made by One Person”. The Cawker City ball of twine is the largest but made by numerous people.
Now, there is still another controversy. The Cawker City ball of twine is so large, it can no longer be lifted up easy enough to allow the twine to be added on all sides. New twine is only added to the top and sides. Soon it will no longer be circular. Can it still be a “ball” of twine if it is not round?
Our route to Topeka took us through Manhattan Kansas, home to the Flint Hills Discovery Center. The Center partially focuses on the Flint Hills, partially serves as a children’s hands-on learning center. We came here to learn more about the Flint Hills. The Flint Hills are a region in Kansas and northern Oklahoma distinguished by its rocky hills. This area was the site of an inland sea millions of years ago.
In the Flint Hills, the limestone soil is interlaced with flint rocks which erode more slowly. The result has been an area with land being taller and rockier than the rest of Kansas. Rockier soil meant the European settlers were unable to till the soil. The result means more cattle farming and less grain crops. In this rocky area, the prairie grass roots have to maneuver through cracks in the rocks and flint. The water source is beneath the rock layer and thus the roots are deeper into the ground than the eight foot height of the grass above the ground.
The Discovery Center was impressive but given the heavy emphasis on children’s learning, we did not spend a long time here.
Sunday and Monday nights we will be staying with an Evergreen host couple in Topeka.
Ed and Chris. March 6. Topeka KS