Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ah Kansas!

Ah Kansas! Even if your vacation budget doesn't allow a trip out of state this year, there are plenty of hidden treasures to explore in the Sunflower State.

Our Discover Kansas event for Master Farmer-Master Farm Homemaker took us to north central Kansas in May. We explored Cloud County the first day and then went to neighboring Republic County the next.

Our first stop in Republic County was the Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings. He may not have "engineer" in his title, but Paul Boyer's ability to put carve figures or combine wire and gears and make them move is amazing.
We didn't get to meet Paul Boyer, but his two daughters, Annie and Candy, manage and operate the museum in Belleville. Paul doesn't make blueprints for his designs. He says if he can see it in his head, he can build it, though he has only an 8th grade education. He made his first carving at age 12. But it wasn't until 1965 that Paul began carving and creating in earnest. At that time, he was in an accident and lost his leg. Then, he contracted Hepatitis C through a blood transfusion.

He made the majority of the 65 carvings featured at the museum since that time. His animated, hand-carved figurines include people, animals, farm machinery and other vehicles. He hand paints each figurine. His largest animated sculpture is a lady on a bicycle outside the museum. During the summer, the Boyer Museum is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 1 to 5 PM and other times by appointment.
Our next stop was the Belleville Highbanks Museum. The highbanks is called the world's fastest half-mile dirt track and is the oldest continuously used dirt track in the U.S. The track was built in 1910 for racing everything from horses to motorcycles.
Photo from the Belleville Highbanks website - Photo credit - Kenneth Naysmith
In the 1930s, a limestone grandstand with banked oval was built at the Republic County Fairgrounds as a Works Progress Administration project.
With the exception of the war years, 1942-45, the track has operated continuously. Every summer, racers from across the nation come to compete at the Belleville Midget Nationals car race. The Belleville Highbanks has launched many racing careers.
Photo by G.T. Miller from the website
Racing names such as Andretti, Unser and Foyt raced there 50 years ago. More recently, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer have raced on the Kansas track. This year, the 39th Midget Nationals will be on August 5 and 6.
The museum has some of the cars which have made their mark on the highbanks clay track, which has a 23-degree bank is is 80 feet wide.
Our final stop in Republic County was the Pawnee Indian Museum State Historic Site.
The Pawnee were the dominant power on the Central Plains. The Kitkehahki or Republican band of Pawnee settled along the Republican River about 1820.
Trees line the banks of the Republican River today (about at the mid-point in the photo).
The walled Indian community, which had more than 40 large earth lodges, had a winter population of 1,000 Native Americans. By 1830,the village was abandoned and the band of Pawnee moved north, closer to other Pawnee bands.
In 1901 about half of the area of the village was given to the State of Kansas for preservation and portions of the site were excavated by archeologists in the 1940s and 1960. In 1967, a museum building was built around the excavated floor of one of the largest earth lodges.
If you have a day for a short trip, Republic County offers several options for sightseeing. If you combine it with the attractions in Cloud County, it could easily provide a weekend getaway on a tank of gas.

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