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:
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 gopher
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.