Yield: Wabaunsee County gravel travel
Faithful readers, I don’t want to bore you with a personal travelogue, so if you’re not interested in reading about my experiences on a two-day Old Boars’ Tour of Wabaunsee County on Gravel Roads, now’s the time to quit reading and move on to something more interesting.
For those readers still with me, this column is about the two days that my Platte City, Mo., buddy, ol’ Canby Handy, and I spent last week touring Wabaunsee County — right in the heart of the Flint Hills — from north to south and east to west on gravel roads as much as possible. In all, Canby’s pickup truck racked up more than 300 miles in the county and my pickup racked up close to 150 miles. That’s a lot of gravel travel.
As general information, Wabaunsee County has incorporated communities of Alma, Alta Vista, Eskridge, Harveyville, Maple Hill, McFarland and Paxico. The unincorporated communities include Volland, Wabaunsee Townsite, Wilmington, Hessdale and Chalk. There are 13 townships in the County: Alma, Farmer, Garfield, Kaw, Maple Hill, Mill Creek, Mission Creek, Newbury, Plumb, Rock Creek, Wabaunsee, Washington and Wilmington. As of 2008, the population of Wabaunsee County was 6,922. The county covers approximately 791 square miles.
Of all the places listed above, Canby and I were in all but Wilmington, Hessdale and Chalk, but I’m sure we were in all the townships.
So, here’s the highlights of our trip. First off, we met in the county seat of Alma and I checked in with the sheriff just in case he got a call about two suspicious potential cattle rustlers driving aimlessly around the county in a pickup with Missouri tags. Then we set off to explore the county freelance style — by that I mean we just drive and talk to anyone we see who will take the time.
We headed southeast toward Hessdale, but never made it there because a spunky young ranch woman walking down Boot Hill Road after checking a pen of heifers, told us that the historic restoration of Mission Valley Ranch was just three miles ahead of us. The original ranch was settled in 1859 by the Kuenzli family, Swiss immigrants, where they built their stone home in 1862. Ultimately, the home included a spacious, for the times, upstairs and two arched “cheese storage” cellars. One of the cellars is huge. They named the place Stonebridge.
Eventually, the home went into disrepair and was used as a barn for nearly 100 years, only to be purchased by Bill and Kathy Hogue in 2004 who lovingly restored the home and the “summer kitchen” to its original splendor and opened it to the public. It’s well worth a visit.
Meandering around the east central part of the county we encountered a Mr. Higgins, idling a fancy UTV in the middle of the road. He’s the owner of several limestone quarries. We followed him to an immense stone cutting enterprise out in the middle of nowhere. He graciously showed us his “as large as any in the world” diamond saw for cutting limestone blocks. The cutting blade is 12-feet in diameter. Without prompting from us, he flipped the switch on the immense saw which when at full speed of 360 revolutions per minute whined and howled like a big jet engine.
Mr. Higgins was more than generous with his time.
Wabaunsee County is home to numerous limestone quarries which are a major part of the county’s economy, along with cattle ranching.
After leaving there, we ate lunch in Dover, just one mile into Shawnee County, at the Somerset Cafe. The food was delicious. Then we headed north and passed several renowned purebred cattle ranches, but stopped at the Davis Hereford Ranch, operated by an old friend of mine, Dean Davis, and his son and daughters. We hadn’t seen each other in decades, but you couldn’t tell it. We spent 45 minutes in his driveway catching up on old times.
From there we traveled to Paxico just off I-70, home to a restored old-time small town America and full of touristy shops. We drove back to Alma to pick up my pickup and we went through McFarland, another historic little community. From Alma, we traveled to Wamego, just across the Kansas River into Pottawatomie County, where we had supper with old friends, the Rickstrews and the Joneses.
The next morning we crossed the river back into Wabaunsee County and walked to the top of a historic mound that played a role in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape the Civil War aftermath. From the top, the panoramic view is spectacular. From there we went to the little community of Wabaunsee to see the historic Beecher Bible and Rifle Church, which has been in continuous service since it was built in the 1850s by a group of prominent Connecticut citizens who brought with them both rifles and bibles. The bibles were used in church and the rifles were used in bloody Kansas conflicts during the Civil War.
We left the northeast corner of the county and headed south to catch the Scenic Drive west out of Alma. First stop was the restored Mill Creek Lodge at Volland Point. The Claussen Ranch family restored the old stone home into a bed and breakfast and the old stone barn into an events center with rental lodging in the former horse stalls. The Mill Creek Lodge is a fine place to enjoy all outdoors Flint Hills’ activities. It’s also a fine place to spend the night or even to get married.
I’ll conclude the rest of the Old Boars’ Tour of Wabaunsee County on Gravel Roads next week.
Meanwhile at Damphewmore Acres, the garden is up and growing. The apple trees and cherry tree surprised me with blooms. The Canada goose pair hatched six goslings and I saw a newly-hatched batch of killdeer chicks. We’ve cut the grass.
So, until next week, remember these words of wisdom: The older I get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for — mostly becuz I can’t remember what I was waiting in line for in the first place. Have a good ‘un. ❖
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