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By Staff | Nov 4, 2011

My wife and I recently made a quick trip to Kansas City to visit our youngest son. Kansas City might be best described as “A large metropolis located in middle America; the vast majority of its citizens would test positive for barbecue sauce.”

Our journey to Kansas City was unremarkable save for the views of the extensive areas that had been inundated by last summer’s flood. It was clearly apparent that the muddy Missouri had washed the colossal toes of the Loess Hills.

The receding river left behind a vista that epitomizes the word “stark”. A flat expanse of battleship gray silt runs for miles and miles and miles.

It reminds one of photos taken from the surface of the moon, with ash-colored regolith stretching to the far horizon.

Ironic, that the floodwaters should create a landscape that resembles a desert.

A well-defined high-water mark can be seen on grain bins, farm buildings, and even a luckless tractor. Here is a scour hole that could swallow a barn, there sits a random silt dune.

Driftwood decorates an otherwise empty soybean field. In many areas, the silt has dried to a crazed crackle; the earthy aroma of river mud is a palpable presence.

We opted to break up our trip by overnighting in St. Joseph. Wild and crazy people that we are, we also decided to visit the Pony Express Museum.

The Pony Express, we learned, was an important force in shaping the history of our nation by moving mail from St. Joe to San Francisco in just 10 days.

It also provided a huge future economic boon in the form of highly-collectable historic postmarks.

After only 18 months of operation, the Pony Express was supplanted by the telegraph. I imagine this was akin to replacing a dialup connection with a high-speed fiber optic cable.

We didn’t have time to tour the nearby Jesse James home, which was fine by me.

I wouldn’t spend a plugged nickel on that cad after what he did to Sandra Bullock.

Judging by its wealth of stately Victorian homes, St. Joe was once a very wealthy town. Some of its mansions are still single-family dwellings, while others have been converted to apartments.

Many sit empty, their windows boarded up, hoping for the day when a haunted house movie is shot in St. Joseph.

We motored into Kansas City, where sparkling towers scrape the prairie sky. While waiting for a table at a barbecue joint called Jack Stack, we struck up a conversation with a woman from Dallas.

I asked her whether Kansas City or Dallas had the best barbecue.

“Definitely Kansas City!” she replied, with a fervor that bordered on religious zeal. “But I’m prejudiced. I grew up here.”

I guess that just proves the truth of the saying that home is where the heart is. Except in this case, home is where the heartburn is.

We later stopped at – surprise! – another museum. This particular gallery contains the cargo of the paddlewheel steamship Arabia.

In 1856, the Arabia struck a snag and sank to the bottom of the Missouri. In 1988 she was found out in the middle of a corn field, buried 45 feet below the surface. Talk about getting lost.

I spoke with Bob Hawley, one of the partners who excavated the Arabia. I asked him what the projected expenses had been and how they stacked up against actual costs.

“We began with $60,000,” said Bob. “When we were done, between digging her out and building the museum, we’d spent $1.4 million.

“We’re just lucky that we’d recovered some nice old china from the Arabia the day before we had to talk to the banker about a loan.”

I could empathize. Like most guys, I’ve tackled projects that have gotten a wee bit out of hand.

The next day we decided to tour a winery. Thanks to our wacky tour guide, Mrs. Garmin, we carved a meandering path across the bucolic Kansas countryside. It was wonderful.

That is, until we almost ran into a very imposing building perched atop a low hill. Heavily-armed military guards glared from its entry points; a small knot of protestors milled nearby, holding signs demanding that someone or the other be freed.

Yikes! It was the Leavenworth federal penitentiary.

The same place where a high school counselor said I would live someday if I didn’t Straighten Up and Get My Act Together. And to think I almost drove right into it. Stupid Mrs. Garmin!

We motored quickly away, but not so fast as to arouse suspicion. After all, none of us wanted to spend time in the “big house” for transporting bootleg barbecue sauce.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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