(continued from part 3)
Going Flat out through Kansas
I left off in part 3 with me ‘escaping’ Eldon, Mo, delayed a few hours by a bank scare and the distance off-course that the night’s stay in Eldon cost me. But it wasn’t too long and I was back on my intended course en route for western Missouri and the southeastern corner of Kansas.
Fort Scott, Kansas
I had two stops that partly facilitated the trip (as mentioned in part 1) dealing with researching some family history. The first stop was historic Fort Scott, Kansas.
This stop was facilitated by an ancestor, my great-great-great grandfather, Abial Wood. Abial’s father was also named ‘Abial Wood’ and through the help of a distance cousin (George Schill of Chicago, Ill) we managed to come up with a marriage record for the latter dating all the way back to 1795 in Massachusetts as well as birth records for the former.
Having been born in Cheshire county, Swansey township in 1803 to parents Abial Wood and Phebe (Smith) Wood, the next record I was able to find was in the Livonia, Michigan where he was listed amongst the original 200+ founders of the area. A site used to exist on geocities where we contributed information on his son Webster (my great great grandfather) who later resided in Northville, MI. The contents of the site minus pictures appears to reside here as part of a civil war, 24th Michigan website in which Webster served.
But as mentioned, his father Abial first pioneered to Livonia then later moved to Northville where he worked with a brick maker and mason. We have a record of his death but it is otherwise surrounded in mystery, as he left for Fort Scott and died a few days later on December 22nd, 1869, but no record was left to us as to why he went or how he died.
Alas, my trip to Fort Scott didn’t produce a specific record either as the ‘newspapers’ in small frontier towns in those days were more of a gazette or community newsletter. There was one pseudo-obituary by way of a feature article on a prominent local businessman, but people ‘not of note’ to the community seldom got a mention.
I did, however, find numerous mentions of a fierce winter storm that hit Fort Scott during the weeks surrounding that date as well as one reference to dozens dying of pneumonia. So, at the ripe old age of 66 it is very likely that poor old Abial also succumbed to this fate shortly upon arriving in Fort Scott by train.
As for a reason for going, perhaps he could have been visiting kin or a former employee, but the reason in general was obvious throughout the history of Fort Scott. It was, at the time, on the border of the western frontier. Every building in town was made of brick and many of the buildings served as brick making facilities at the time. Brick making was the key industry of Fort Scott in 1869 as a main supplier to up-start towns all along the frontier. (perhaps he went down there for work or to serve as a consultant? Without more information, one can only speculate)
One interesting discovery however, upon scouring the historic newspapers of the day. While I could not find a specific reference to my ancestor’s demise, I did find an interesting little feature story in one of the papers of that week. It seems the local church had gone down to the river to perform baptism on a number of new converts. To facilitate this, the preacher waded out into near waste deep water and the new parishioners would come out to him one by one to have their heads submerged in the cold water of the river.
A group of local native Americans had been washing some of their things and generally hanging about on the opposite shore and found these practices quite entertaining. Before too long, some of the tribesmen found it very amusing indeed to wade out with one another and mock the white protestants and their head dipping gestures!
Alas, the weather was still playing tag with me – including a rather short but heavy downfall that fortunately waited until just as I pulled up to the first stop in Fort Scott – but eventually waned back to partly cloudy and breezy, so after a few stops at historic sites and an off season solo tour of the old fort, I was again on my way.
I have already written a piece on the Mayfly and my visit to Girard so I will leave you to read that at your liesure, but I did want to make a stop in Girard since it was only a few dozen miles from Fort Scott. I had already done a lot of research on Uncle Gordon’s investment and the stocks I had tucked away in a box at home, but wanted to see some of what was stored in the library itself after having spoken to the librarian a couple of times on the phone.
Imagine my delight, upon speaking to the same librarian I had talked with on the phone many times, to find that they had recently received a number of the original prints on loan from the Call family and had them downstairs in their reserve section. And I got to see them myself! woo hoo! Quite a cherry on the sundae that I hadn’t expected in that I hadn’t called ahead to the library or anything.
So after admiring the 2 dozen or so large photos of the family, the production facility, the workers, the plane – it was again on the road.
Turning through Kansas, all the way straight through!
The weather had cleared considerably and there were but a few spotty clouds in the sky. The wind was brisk and constant over the flat flat flat lands of the Kansas sorghum fields that stretched out as far as you could see with barely a tree in site. The wind was so brisk out of the north that as I traveled west that first day in Kansas on my motorcycle, it was akin to the lean one would make when executing a right hand turn but while driving straight…. for close to 200 miles!!!
I got on the main interstate to go around Wichita but eventually got back out on the open roads to head for Great Bend for the night. Upon hitting a fast food stop in town, I had a nice long conversation with a group of bored teenagers and recent high school grads about everything and nothing while the storm clouds again teased off to the north east.
By the following morning, the wind direction had changed to coming out of the south. Now I was turning left while going straight… for 150 more miles! The route I had picked to try to get me going generally in the direction of Denver zigged and zagged through old Kansas roads. The distance between cities was such that at times I was worried I was going to run out of gas. To make matters worse, the ground being so flat and most towns only existing as grain processing facilities, you could see the towns on the horizon from more than 40-50 miles out by way of the huge silos at their center. A major tease to someone trying to coast in with a reserve-tank light flashing in their face!
I had some more conversations along the way as I stopped for breakfast and lunch in some road side eateries. It was near impossible to make a stop now without people knowing “you ain’t from these parts is ya?” and having an exchange of reader’s digest versions of our recent histories.
A Bus full of good fortune
With the zigging and zagging and the storm clouds still lurking about, it made for some necessary stops along the way as well. If you have never seen big sky country, especially if you have never been there when a storm is coming, it is definitely a sight to see. The first thing that struck me was just how ‘high’ the cloud banks were while still looking menacing. Storms of that sort in Michigan were at least a good half-mile or more lower when heavy rains were coming. The second thing that struck me was a very very large rain drop that felt like it was the size of an apple, but probably only the size of a marble.
Of course, at 60 miles per hour, a marble is big enough when it’s being dropped from a couple miles up to boot! I found a small road-side farmer’s fuel/repair stop fortunately enough and pulled in to ask if I could stay dry until the rains passed. Good luck was on my side that morning, because not only did they agree to let me stay, but shortly after I settled in on one of the stools with a hot cup of coffee courtesy of the shop owner, but a large bus pulls up with the name of some Kansas community college on the side.
Apparently the bus driver had the same idea due to the low visibility in the pouring rain. My good fortune commenced when some of the occupants of the bus decided they had been cramped up in there long enough and decided to get cramped up in the small service shop waiting room instead. The bus was full of young, attractive college cheer leaders! woo hoo!
I got to talk with (and of course oggle) a bunch of the girls in their tight, little cheer uniforms and even learned of a few suggested stops on my way toward the Colorado boarder. One stop that sounded interesting was a county fair just up the road. I had actually desired and intended to stop and walk around a bit after the rains passed over and the girls went back on their way, but alas, the rain required me to take an alternate route and Colorado way I was bound!
Continued in part 5