With D.L. Moss in the Flint Hills
May 5, 2013
The Darwin Awards were created to recognize those individuals who eliminate themselves from the human gene pool in the most absurd ways, thereby supposedly enabling the human race to evolve. The web page for the Darwin Awards states, “Natural selection deems that some individuals serve as a warning to others.” I thought of the Darwin Awards and a story I had read there years ago as I was crossing Kansas. The individual in this story only received an honorable mention because he had actually not eliminated himself. But the story is worth noting given the impulse that arose in me as I steered straight and fast through miles of prairie. To be brief, this individual was rolling along in his RV and thought he could put it into cruise control, step away from the wheel and go make a cup of coffee in the kitchenette. You can guess the rest. He survived. I wished I had a La-Z-Boy recliner, a cup holder (for a cup of decaf), and cruise control on my motorcycle. I would have been tempted to kick up the foot rest, lay back, sip coffee and watch the countryside go by.
Kansas is long and flat. It has rolling hills, but the road remains long and straight. I suspect parts of the Southwest will be longer and flatter. The road was so straight with so little traffic I broke my own safety rule: I stopped, removed my helmet and leather gloves, hopped back on my bike and accelerated to 75 mph and felt the road disappear behind me. At the end of the day it seemed as though it took my body an hour to stop vibrating.
Whoa, what a thrill!
Before I hit the longer, quieter stretches of road I pulled off at a rest stop in eastern Kansas at the prompting of a sign that said, “Historic Marker Ahead.” The weather was still cold, damp and cloudy from the weather front that was swirling through parts of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, so I needed frequent stops to warm my cold wrists. I discovered I was in the Flint Hills. It’s a huge natural pasture that became one of the world’s largest beef feeding grounds. It covers four and a half million acres of green grass. Click on the thumbnail picture to the right to read more about it.
It was here at this rest stop that I met D.L. Moss, a rancher from Missouri who was transporting a 1950’s tractor back to his home in order to restore it. D.L., or Don as I learned his friends call him, saw me reading the sign and came over to talk. He had a thick southern draw and an easy-going manner that invited conversation. After he asked me where I was coming from (“God’s country!,” he exclaimed when I said Vermont) and going to, he began to tell me about his ranches in Missouri and Colorado. But his businesses of most interest appeared to be fabricating trailers and making custom saddles for horses.
I wanted to learn more from this first cowboy I met on the road. I asked him if he’d mind that I recorded our conversation and took some pictures. He seemed ready to pose the moment I asked. As I snapped pictures he told me a story of a woman who took some pictures of him during one of his trips west. She said he was a real cowboy and she wanted pictures. She posed with him. But when she sent him a copy of the picture in the mail, his wife inquired as to whether he was having an affair with a younger woman. It all worked out. He’s still married.
He asked me if I had ever seen any of these. He showed me some old Indian Head nickels that had been scratched and changed. They became known as Hobo nickels in the 1800’s because they were particularly popular among hobos. One of his coins was an old English Pound with Queen Elizabeth on it. He had scratched a glass and straw on it so it looked like she was sipping from a cup.
I had never seen a Hobo nickel. I asked him about it. He started telling me about his father, who was a hobo before he settled in Arkansas as World War II was starting. In this recording you can hear some of the fascinating history of his family, as well as D.L.’s history of the Civil War (or War between the States, as he told me it’s called in the South).
Before we parted, D.L. had some words of advice for me:
“Get some of that Orange Hand Cleaner for your bike. Just rub it on any of the metal and it’ll shine it up right nice,” he exclaimed.
“Get some lunch down the road at that restaurant that says Chinese Food. It ain’t Chinese. I had me the best pancakes there this morning.”
“Take Route 160 across Kansas. Hardly any traffic. Great motorbike road. You’ll enjoy it!” I took it. I enjoyed it immensely – so much that I wished my bike were a La-Z-Boy recliner that I could sit back on and watch the prairie go by.
Never call the war that occurred from 1860 to 1865 the “Civil War” if you’re in the South or speaking to a Southerner. Call it the “War between the States.”
With that, I gave D.L. a nod, thanked him for allowing me to take pictures, and turned my bike back to the road. Some hours later, as the skies began to clear and the prairie started to flatten out and open up, I spotted a massive wind farm in the distance off the right side of the road. It seemed too far to chase, despite my curiosity. I had never seen so many windmills in one place. Not much farther down the road I stopped for gas in the town of Medicine Lodge. It was here in 1867 that the United States government signed three separate peace treaties with five different Indian tribes. You can probably guess what happened later. The treaties were not honored. I got to talking with a Blackfoot Indian who was tending the counter at the station. I wouldn’t have guessed he was Native American, but he claimed his grandmother was a pale red-head and thus the reason for his pale skin. He said he’s commonly known as Blackfoot Willie.
I came into the station to pay for my gas before I pumped. I had been noticing that many of the smaller gas stations didn’t have credit card devices on their pumps. Hand-written signs stated, “Pay before you pump!” So I walked inside to pay.
Before he introduced himself he said, “You didn’t have to pay before you pumped. You coulda just pumped and paid after. I was gonna tell you over the intercom, but I seen ya and decided you needed a little exercise. If you’d pumped and run you wasn’t gettin’ outa town before I had the cops on ya anyway.”
He gave me a wry smile. I couldn’t help but smile back and agree. After I filled up I returned to chat for a bit. I expressed my surprise at the wind farm I had seen coming into town.
“Oh yeah, just go back outta town, turn left at the maintenance yard, then turn on Ridge Road at the top of the ridge. That’ll get ya there in 15 minutes. That’s the biggest cluster of windmills in the country. ”
I had to see it close up. So I hopped on my bike and made my way for Ridge Road.
I intended to ride another 50 miles before setting up camp, but I stopped back into the station on my way back from the windmills to tell Willie how impressed I was. He told me to grab a camp spot on the lake outside of town. It sounded inviting. Free public camping – a first on this trip. I set my tent up next to a small lake. These were my companions.
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