Sunday, June 15, 2014

Touring: Meridians, Rivers, And Chapman KS (Road Trip Post #2, And Final)

Missouri, along US 36, looks like Iowa on I-80: lovely, rolling, hills.  The flora remains mostly green and familiar to eyes accustomed to east of the Mississippi.  Not my cup of tea, compared to the Appalachians, but prettier than the flatlands on I-80/90 between Toledo OH and western Illinois.

It's said that the true West begins around the 100th Meridian: halfway through Nebraska and the Dakotas, where the High Plains start and the climate becomes arid.  I have a modern tourist's definition: it's where you need to think about planning your stops.  This is east of the 100th Meridian, not far west of the Mississippi.  It's where you can't count on a gas station at the next exit.  US 36 is the most direct route to Manhattan, KS, from Chicagoland.  It may be a Federal highway, but it ain't crowded.

Speaking of Meridians, a duh... moment came to me on this trip.  The 90th Meridian, 1/4 of the way around the globe from  0 degrees in Greenwich, England, is near Chicago.  We're 6 hours behind London and Paris.  Six hours = 25% of 24 hours.  As I say, duh...  The 90th Meridian is actually west of Springfield and east of Jacksonville in Illinois.  For that matter, it runs through St. Louis, and is a bit west of Memphis and New Orleans.  You could say with passable accuracy that the Mississippi River Valley is 90 degrees west.

Ninety degrees west of Greenwich, England, in Illinois between Springfield and Jacksonville.

The Oregon Trail has long captured my imagination.  So of course I had to make a flying stop in St. Joseph, MO.  Along with Independence, St. Joe was the jumping-off point for the Oregon Trail.  They were where emigrants bought their oxen, wagons, and "outfits" if they were headed for the Far West in the 1840's.

US 36 in Kansas is "The Pony Express Highway."  I saw numerous signs for sites where the Oregon Trail crossed 36, or US 75 or 77, or a river or a creek crossed by both the Trail and modern roads.  The Wolf, Big Blue, Little Blue, the Republican.  Most were forded going northwest, "cross lots" toward the Platte River.  There's not much to see.  Maybe a marker for some incident in Trail history, or wagon ruts.

The Missouri River as viewed from a bluff overlooking it in St. Joseph, MO.  St. Joe hasn't done much with historical
tourism.  I had to look hard for this site, without benefit of signs even to the small local park in which it's located.
The downtown waterfront is a tangle of aging industrial sites and freeway ramps.

US Highway 36 in eastern Kansas.  It's still green, but distances can be deceiving.  The horizon and vanishing point in
this pic is not what it first appears, but a bit above it.  That's not a gap in the trees where the road passes through, but
yet another rise in the gently rolling landscape.  The true horizon is where the green stops and the blue begins.

My ex-neighbor's family has been farming land near Manteno, IL, since the 1840's.  He grew up on the farm and his younger brother still owns and operates it.  He didn't expect to live out his days in Manhattan, KS, where his son-in-law is a professor at Kansas State University.  In one of those really odd coincidences of life, his father was born in Chapman, KS where his grandfather farmed a 160-acre
"quarter section" northeast of town.  Chapman is about 35 miles west of Manhattan.  We found the quarter section--and almost got stuck.  The gravel road turned out to be about 1/4-inch thick, below which was a few inches of thick, clay, gumbo.  When I was sure we'd make it out, the line from the movie My Cousin Vinny came to mind: "Ya got muuuud in yo taaars."

We visited the Chapman Public Library to see what information it might have on the family.  None, it turned out, even though there's a street in Chapman that shares my neighbor's name.  The library had a very good local history collection.  We tried the County Historical Society in Abilene, too.  It had a plat survey from 1909 showing the name on the quarter section, and who it was bought from and sold to, but that was all.  Just the same, here's a shout out to local archivists who really know their stuff and are very helpful.  The lady at the historical society spent the better part of an hour combing through her records.

Probably the reason there wasn't much of a paper trail was because my neighbor's grandfather and father (who was born in Chapman) were on the land for a only few years.  They returned to the Manteno homestead when the opportunity arose to take control of and expand the farm there.  I can see why.  The land around Manteno is rich, dark, loam.  The land around Chapman is hilly clay with scrub growth, used mostly for grazing.

Above and below: the Quarter Section (160 acres) farmed by my ex-neighbor's grandfather, northeast of  Chapman, KS.
The name on the Quarter Section is Walter N. Wilkins et al.  The picture was shot from the north-south road, across the
Quater Section owned by Henry Krinhop.  This was as close as we could get, and we almost got well and truly mired in
the clay road where the picture was taken.  It had rained heavily, all day, the day before.  I now have a better under-
standing of why farmers drive pickup trucks. 

The main drag in Chapman, KS.  The cafe in the middle distance (bright red, street level) was newly opened.  The hours
were posted as from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. six days a week, and 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.  This doesn't quite
reverse the hours of Chicagoland eateries, but it comes close.  For that matter, I've recently stayed in motels on
Interstates that don't start serving breakfast until 7:00 a.m.  The day starts and ends early in Chapman.

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