Folk Art & Pornography

share an adage, ” The definition eludes me, but I know it when I see it”. Today will be devoted to folk art.  

US 54 is an uncommon road, in contrast to the widely acknowledged US 66, the Lincoln Highway, the Sante Fe Trail, or the Natchez Trace.  Commencing a few miles north of Kingdom City, MO (think heaven) it meanders in a southwesterly path toward El Paso, TX and terminates 1120 miles later at the bridge to Juarez, MX (think hell).

We enjoy it most from Jefferson City, MO, the only US state capital not serviced by an interstate highway, to Tucumcari, NM.  Allowing a bypass of Kansas City, and an easy circumvention of Wichita, it is smooth sailing through dozens of towns, some small, others even smaller.  “Big” towns, county seat examples Pratt, KS (pop. 9437) and Meade, KS (pop. 4662) have a wal-mart, and often little else for the inquisitive, but I love the sidestreets.


In Pratt, KS, the Lesh Automotive promotes two auto marquees that no longer exist 

Greensburg, home to the country’s largest hand-dug well, has become a vibrant community, rebuilding after a disastrous EF5 tornado on May 4, 2007.  Take a moment to click on this photo, taken 12 days after the tornado, with highway 54 east-to-west in the foreground.

Most of the small towns on the highway are in a state of atrophy, shrinking gradually, in both population and economic prowess.  A haunting overture that they are becoming ghost towns in waiting. Boarded businesses, for sale, abandoned houses and shabby trailers, sprinkled among soon to fail ‘hispanic’ carnicerias and c-stores.

Enough gloom; not every lining has a silver cloud until you round the bend, cross the railroad bridge and approach Mullinville, KS ( est. pop. 28).  Here, for two hundred yards, stand several dozen metal windmills and whirligigs capturing the same currents that power the giant wind turbines in this stark, daunting landscape. Who and why they are here is a mystery;

  • no sign in advance to alert the upcoming traveler
  • no indication or recognition of the metal ‘artist’
  • no warning signs to stay away or keep out
  • no donation box

Jack and I walk to the steady hum of one mans’ passion, a sturdy, functional, patinated, and groaning passion.  Without a video, you must imagine the action as the winds whip them wildly. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if this display fails to enrich the soul, check your pulse.  Much like the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo or the VW Beetles buried nose down in NM, here is a sampling:

dscn6053.JPG The Conductor



American comic book superhero of the 1940s oversees the home of the US 7th Fleet in southern Japan


Jack’s attention turns to a pocket gopherdscn6059.JPG 

Fluent in seven languages, he failed reading in English

From here, we head west to Meade, KS, another blip on our radar.  If they don’t have a gentlemen’s club, we’ll stop and visit the Hideout of the Dalton Gang.

Binge Driving

…can be more intoxicating than a collegiate drinking marathon.  We’ve all done it.  You start early, determined to travel from point A to destination B in a prescribed time frame; in this instance 2000 miles in less than four full days. Towing a trailer is a minus, inhibiting speed for safety, but a plus when reducing chances for DWI (driving while impaired), as the sensory feel of four tons tethered to your backside is an effective antidote to a road burn induced coma.

Jack and I are traveling a capella in a Chevy truck with a season full of personal ‘stuff’, headed for the Mexican border. 


Farewell from a forlorn excella, now under 36″ of snow 

No trailer this winter, the planned route is influenced by the weather channel.  The tedium begins less than two hundred miles out of the gate, on the flatland of central Illinois.  A welcome weather anomaly brightens an otherwise innocuous ride on Interstate-55.  It is a rare sub-freezing morning fog, only 24° F and the horizon, if it exists at all, has become a seamless pearl white mist.  Red tail hawks seek the highest point on iced trees, and in the translucent distance, the faint outline of blue ceramic Butler silos punctuate successful farms.  You can find red, white, and blue, nearly everywhere, if you take time to look, a grateful reminder that a dull driving day in the USA is an elixir for the soul….where else would I rather be ?

Nearing Springfield, IL, home to the nexus of Lincoln heritage, I’m passed by a Subaru Outback.  Both driver and passenger are 20 something males, and the SUV sports a Hawaii license plate.  Really.  In the middle of the midwestern prairie, from the 50th state, birthplace of a current president working hard to emulate Honest Abe. The chance glimpse of this plate triggers an hour of random thought, and 65 miles of boredom slips through the tread of Goodyear Marathons.

A lunch of rainier cherries, salted almonds and diet Squirt means no stopping, no high fats to precipitate the bobble-head doll syndrome, every four hours these blues brothers only stop to pee and fuel up with $3.59/gal diesel.


Jack, proudly posing in his newly earned vest 

The interstate has become the skeletal system of the country__passage through the arteries, the metaphorical blood of goods, people, trucks and cars___allowing us (as an anonymous writer once remarked) to travel coast-to-coast without seeing anything.The capillaries, the blue highways, are the real exchange of O² and CO², the lifeline for the weary traveler.  Jack and I will soon find our favored westerly path, US 54, bucking the headwind across the great plains.  

Look out Linda, here we come.


Prairie Folk Art; “Linda”, as elusive as “Mustang Sally”