I know. Someone else did it first. That doesn’t mean that I am not going to explore my roots!
When family has a farm, even the extended family is needed at harvest time. We went to Kansas every year for the wheat harvest. The older brothers were involved in the harvest, but my sister and I were left at the farm house and yard.
Why Do This Thing?
The Dorrance, Kansas farm was taken by imminent public domain in 1961. 320 leased acres, farmhouse, barn, and other out buildings were included.
In 1961, I was 8 years old. I remember the farm but in a dim, vague way. A sink in the kitchen with a hand pumped water faucet. The outdoor privy, the barn, the windmill, the cows in the outer yard. I wondered how I could resolve my memories to what actually was.
Why, once upon a time, my sister and I climbed the windmill. We were happy with ourselves as it was a big, huge wooden structure. We skirted the catch pool, we climbed the ladder! This thing was ours! Then? The cows came in. Imagine 2 very young kids at the top of a windmill, not getting anyone’s attention and surrounded by large animals of the bovine influence. It is a good thing that the two older brothers showed up (eventually) to rescue these two terrified children!
I talked to my brother, Clint, about it. He made a similar trip about 20 years ago. He asked if he could go with. Suddenly, a suggestion, an idea, was now a reality. We would go and look!
Clint flew in on the 20th of July. I worked a split shift, so I could go and get him from the airport. We got ready that night, and did some final preparations the next morning. We were out for a relaxed trip, so no schedules (or real plans) were set. We took off mid-morning.
A drive to Kansas from Denver is not an exciting thing to do. One can see the fertile fields of the heartland spread out before you, and around you; and, it just stays that way for many miles and many hours.
Just over the Kansas border, there was a large welcome center. It was time for a break, so we stopped. We got a good idea of where we needed to go, got in the car, and headed for Russell, Kansas.
Yes, Russell, Kansas is the home of Bob Dole!
Clint has an iPhone and we used that for most of the on-the-road information that we sought out. We knew that there were a few hotels available, so we drove around the town, while we checked out locations. We were also getting hungry, so we checked for restaurants, too.
It was a fun drive, checking out Russell. We ended up back near the Interstate highway and the hotels there. We decided to check out the Russell Inn. It seemed nice. We checked in and headed for the room. I did check the bed and bedding for bed bugs. Bed bugs are approaching an epidemic condition in the US, so it takes only a few moments to check and make sure there will be no exposure.
We asked about restaurants while we were at the office. It was suggested that we try, “Meridys.” Just across the street and down the block, it was easy to find. They serve a buffet line dinner. It was popular and a the food was good. Especially good was the freshly made mashed potatoes. Other things on the buffet were fried chicken,pulled pork, vegetable soup, pasta, bread rolls, cream gravy, pork chops and a myriad of salad and other side items.
Meridy’s was not expensive, either, and was very good. After? Back to the hotel and a good night’s sleep!
First of all… Coffee. I love good coffee in the morning. The problem was that there wasn’t good coffee at the continental breakfast. We drank what was there, but not a lot and it was not enjoyable. We went back to the room and found out about a coffee shop in town. Excited, we packed for the day, and headed out the door.
We went to the door of the coffee shop only to find out that the air conditioning was not working and the shop was closed. We tried the door and it was locked. We went next door and asked about the shop. They said that the air had been fixed, but they didn’t think that any of the employees had been contacted or were coming in. We went back out on the street, found the Maundy’s bar and eatery. We got a cup of coffee there. It was OK…
We headed for Dorrance. Dorrance is a small farming community about 14 miles East of Russell. We got on I-70 and drove that short distance. We both agreed on how to get to the Dorrance cemetery. There was a listing for the plots, so it did not take us long to find the headstone for the grandparents on the father’s side.
We did get confused about another grave. Our Uncle Earl was listed on the directory but search as we would, we could not find anything.
Just up Taylor street from the cemetery, was the house that Aunt Mildred and Uncle Earl had in Dorrance. Memories touched both of us. It looked different, but things do change in a great deal of time.
I saw the trees out front and the front porch brought back some Summer eve memories of cicadas and lightning bugs.
Clint went up to the front door to explain what we were doing. The current owner said that he was going to come out and ask. He said that the Mayor lived just down the street.
We crossed the street to talk to a couple outside of another house. They were contractors working on a bathroom remodel. They could not help but did verify the Mayor’s house. They also said that he was having a beer in the town’s single bar. We went to the Mayor’s house and knocked on the door. No one answered.
We headed toward the high school. Or, at least, where the high school used to be. The high school burned down a few years ago. The field house and the auditorium/gymnasium is still there. As is the sign. Grandfather White’s funeral service in 1963 (he was a Christmas death) was held in the gymnasium/auditorium and the entire town attended.
While we were at the high school, a car pulled up. They didn’t say anything, just pulled over and parked watching us. Small town people take care of each other. It is obvious. I walked over and explained who we were and what we were doing. The people didn’t say anything, but nodded and took off.
We got back in the car and drove a couple of blocks to the town bar. The Mayor was not there, although he was pointed out to us. He was at the other ‘bar’ in town. 2 picnic tables, 3 coolers, and 3 people sitting in the shade. We introduced ourselves and explained that we’d like some information about the cemetery. We talked for a bit, and then the Mayor went for some keys.
While he was gone, the other 2 people explained that they were there for the Summer, and sold beer out of one cooler, soft drinks out of another, and water out of the third. We declined a drink. The Mayor took us over to the city council building.
He showed us a map of the cemetery. The map showed people actually buried in the cemetery. Our Uncle Earl was not on the map. The Mayor brought out an old registry book. It was a listing of people that owned lots in the cemetery. Uncle Earl Yarnell was listed on that as the owner of the lot next to the grandparents. At least, that mystery was solved.
We headed toward the door thanking him for his help. When we got outside, we wondered if he knew where the old farm house might be. He said he did not. He looked down the street , then looked at us again. “I see Larry is at his shop,” he said, “He’ll know!” He slapped the side of the nearest car and called out as loud as he could, “Larry! Larry!”
A guy down the street glanced toward us. He waved, hopped in his pickup and came over. The Mayor explained our situation. Larry looked at us, then said that he thinks he knew where we wanted to go. He gave us simple instructions and we parted ways. We headed back out of town.
The Farm House (Or is it?)
We followed his instructions. We went out then under the interstate, and on to Homer Street. We followed that East to 200th Street. We turned and followed that a long block or 2 to a driveway. There was an older farm house just a way off of the road. We examined it and the surrounding area looking for things that we remembered. This is a list:
1. The farm house.
2. A barn.
3. An outdoor privy (vault toilet).
4. A windmill (ours was wooden).
5. A root cellar.
Keep in mind, that it has been 20 years since Clint has seen the place. Longer than that for me.
We looked about, spent some time there, but it just didn’t look right, though. The house had a mansard roof, there wasn’t a root cellar, and a barn was on property and was complete. We took some pictures, trying to jog our memories. Nothing was coming to either of us. We decided to keep looking.
We went back the way we came on 200th, then further East on Homer. The next county road, we turned left and went as far as we could in the little car. There was a windmill in the distance, so we got out to walk it. Outside temperature was about 104 degrees by that time. We walked a while, then checked it out. That wasn’t the right place either.
So… End of Day one in Dorrance.
We spent the night at the Russell Inn again. We were also hoping the coffee shop would be open the next day.
After we visit Dorrance again, we were going to head for Colby, Kansas. An Aunt and Uncle lived their last years in Colby and we wanted to see their graves. We did some internet research and found out where they were buried.
Day Two – Dorrance (And other places)…
I run 5 days a week. To facilitate this weekend I ran 4 days in a row, so I’d only have to run one of the days we were out. Saturday morning was that morning. I ran a total of 3.8 miles. I ran down Fossil street past Wichita Street, to 3rd street. I ran East of there (including a dog buzz by), until I reached a halfway point. I headed West. I passed Fossil but didn’t realize the mistake until I reached Main Street. Well, it would be a longer run than I planned. I did make it back to the hotel. It was hot before I even went out to run. It was really hot when I finished.
I got back to the hotel. I did some computer until Clint woke up. I showered and we went to breakfast. We had a bit of coffee but didn’t want much as we were sure the coffee shop would be open today!
We packed up and packed the car. We checked out and headed to the coffee shop!
Know what? Still closed! The owner must have taken advantage of some bad luck to get a weekend off! Oh well!
Why visit Dorrance today? The original premise was to see the churches. We were in the Bible Belt, and Dorrance always had at least 2 operating churches. Why, the Grandfather was a preacher and a deacon in the Methodist church.
I remembered the Mercantile that was in the town’s largest building. We started there. Although, no longer a store, it is a historical site in the town and did contain some exhibits. As we took more main street pictures, we noticed that Larry was at his shop (he has an in-town shop for repairing farm equipment – his and others). Clint decided to talk to him again about the farm house. We explained what we found, and his thoughts were that we missed the farm house he was thinking that it was. He offered to take us out there if we’d follow him in the car. We jumped at the offer.
We took the same route that we took the day before. Where we turned to go to yesterday’s farm house, he kept going. Both of us looked at this ruin and knew, in a round-about way, that we were once again ‘Home.’
There was no way to explain it, but the farmhouse that we knew was right in front of us. Larry did an outstanding thing that we really appreciated. Most of the Farm stead was gone or leveled. The barn had foundation rocks, There was a ruin of a side building to the barn or perhaps a back part of the barn. There was the front yard fence and the backyard fence. The limestone fence posts were still in place. There was a flat spot where the windmill was. There was the cement floor and the seat post for the outdoor privy. The root cellar was there. Most of all? There was the farm house!
This house was it. We were both sure. It had a gable roof. The root cellar was on the South side. We walked around the house lost in our own thoughts. The walls were built of quarried, large limestone bricks. The East side wall had fallen away from the frame of the house (part of it anyway). There was the bedroom addition.
It had been 50 years since the farm had been abandoned. It was recognizable still. We recognized the parlor, the kitchen, the sitting room, and the 1st floor bedroom. We recognized the stairs to the second floor where the children would sleep in the heat when we visited. We could not see the bathroom (which was installed during the final years.
We could not go in. The floor was sure to be rotten wood. Plaster had fallen from all of the ceilings. We never stepped over the door thresholds to look inside. At every doorway and in every window, we experienced new memories. Clint talked of what he remembered and I spoke of my memories.
One of Clint’s memories was that my Grandmother would not have the older boys in her house with the dirty clothes from working in the fields. They were required to strip to their underwear outside before they could come in. After a certain phase of their lives it was an uncomfortable thing to have to do.
My words are not eloquent enough to describe either the farm or the memories, so I’m going to show some pictures, instead.
The Farm House <– A Farm House Video (Click on it)
Time was up for this reminiscent period of reflection. It was time to move on. We headed for Russell and a lunch at Meridy’s again. After that, we filled up and returned West on I-70.
We knew that Aunt Mildred (Dad’s sister) and Uncle Earl were buried in the Beulah cemetery. We knew where it was and we found it easily. There was a directory (with a book) and we were able to find their graves.
Aunt Mildred died in November 2010, so her grave was still fairly fresh. It is a good feeling to see their final resting place and to say a silent goodbye and thank them for spending some of their time in their life with us.
We did a car tour of Colby. We found a hotel. We also found a grocery store with dark roast bean coffee. We got some of it, some coffee filters, and knew that tomorrow mornings coffee would be the best of the weekend!
Breakfast the next morning was much better fare than we had been having. They even had a pancake machine, eggs, breakfast meats, and juices. It was a great breakfast. They were people to talk to and we did.
All too soon, our time to visit Kansas and explore our past was coming to an end. We packed, loaded the car, and drove back to Denver.
The brother, Clint
Let’s End It With Some Fun!
I talk to turkeys! <– Click this!