Saturday, July 30, 2016

Kansas Ghost

Wheeler, Kansas
            Located in the far Northwestern corner of Kansas, Wheeler is one of those little places that reaches out and grabs the curious like me to go have a look.  Turning off the highway I drove a short distance to where the town of Wheeler used to be and I was pleasantly rewarded.  Here is a collection of old building and relics in various states of neglected decay.  There appears to be about 5 homes still lived in and one of them is the old schoolhouse. 
            The grain elevator is still in operation, which probably keeps the town from completely disappearing.  There are some classic old elevators standing and a feed store.  Probably built around 1900 to 1910. Just enough aura to transfer the imaginative back to another era on the plains of hope and settlement. 

            One of the old store fronts is in pretty good shape, the other in a state of slow crumbling.  Yet in their day they served the townspeople and others in the area that traded there.  There are vacant lots where other stores stood and homes.  There is the main road into town and two little streets, each a block long.  The schoolhouse sits at the intersection of these last two streets. The school had a long veranda/porch added to the front and facing east probably makes nice cool shade during the heat of summer. 

            I went surfing for some info on the town.  Not much was found except that it was founded in the Township of Orlando.  The Post Office was there from 1888 to 1961 and other then that?????  Nothing was found on Orlando except that it was 35.9 square miles and the town of Wheeler was located in the township. 
            Townships were usually used for school boundaries, years ago, for taxation and also for census purposes.  Being unincorporated, Wheeler had zero population but the in 2010, Orlando had 63 souls to be counted for the census. 
            Like many little towns on the prairie, Wheeler had its peak population in 1930, before the ‘Dirty 30’s” began.  The dust storms chased many early settlers out of the country, off to, hopefully, greener pastures.  Few people hung on and the ones that remain today have consolidated much land into their farms and ranches. 
            One of the other interesting things I noticed is the style of different states how they refer to their districts.  Many use county, rather then town and now a township.  Wheeler quite often was referred to as Cheyenne county place in Orlando township. 

            The railroad tracks are still there but it looks like the rails have not seen a train is a few years.  The highway was realigned and the discontinuance of rail service has a major impact on the small prairie towns. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Country Cemeteries
            One of the sidelights of chasing down the back roads looking for old stuff is the little cemeteries.  They come in sizes and shapes, many were part of a church that is now gone, a few were boot hills.  All are interesting little repositories’ on history.  Some are untended and are overgrown, others have a caretaker and are well groomed. 

            The overgrown ones, I think twice before I go walking among the weeds.  If I have a view of the ground I venture forth watching where I step.  There are the slithery critters, among others and there are the stickery ones, cacti.  So I carefully amble forth walking among the graves.  Looking for the unusual, unique, veterans and certain dates.  Over the years I collected a pretty nice collection of small grave yards. 

            Couple of the dates I focus on are 1918 and 1922.  These two dates were the years of the nastiest flu pandemics to strike across the country.  During 1918, was WWI and from what I’ve read, more soldiers died from the flu then combat that year.  Something like 50 million people perished that year worldwide.  The pandemic began in 1917 and hit its zenith 1918.  Then in 1921 the flu raised its ugliness’s again peaking out in 1922 and subsiding in 1923.

            As I walk visiting the graves, I watch the dates and 1918 starts to jump out for the number of deaths for that year.  Then I see a bunch dated 1922.  For people back then it would not be pleasant.  Medicine back then was still pretty primitive to care for people.  I quietly pause at these markers and move on.  Not all were from the flu, I’m sure there were some that were natural causes or accidents…. Hummmm maybe a gunfight….
            Some of the headstones were large elaborate stones, occasionally a family stone.  Many were just a plaque or no gravestone of any type.  If they were travelers and got sick in another town, they usually went out in the pasture to be buried.  A wooden cross may mark it for a time otherwise the land reclaimed. 

            There was one cemetery I walked that had only one marker with 1918 on the headstone.  There was a section of unmarked graves.  Yet with only one 1918 stone it was very unusual.  Many of the pioneer families would bury their loved ones out on hillside out behind the house.  Seldom were these recorded and most today are unknown to the public unless one overhears a conversation about such. 

            The other dread disease way back when was smallpox and cholera.  Many of these victims were cremated for fear of spreading the disease.   There was a local doctor who perished from treating a patient with smallpox.  He was buried in a separate grave on a hillside overlooking the valley.  Even boot hill was not a place for the valiant doctor.  Yet the doctor now has a trail and park named for him and no longer is he alone on the hillside. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Along US Rt 36

Anton, Colorado

            Across the plains of Colorado, small little towns dot the prairie.  Many have faded into yesteryear, a few hang on and some have prospered.  US highway 36 begins or ends on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Out across the eastern plains it is marked by numerous small towns.  Most have a population of some kind and some are just markers on the roadway. 
            Anton is one of those little towns that would make a nice little ghost town, except it is loaded with more businesses then residents.  Homes are pretty scarce, yet here one can stop at the local restaurant, get some gas, buy some groceries, mail a letter or get the car fixed and while waiting there is a motel or camper park.  The grain elevator sees lots of trucks and the highway department has shops on the corner.  On the edge of town is a small church.  There is no downtown of any sorts, it is strung out along the highway and the junction with the state highway. 

            Could not find any census data on the village, so I doubt it is incorporated.  Mostly Anton is a wide spot on the road junction.  Years ago, before the Interstate era, Anton was on a busy highway.  Its famous counterpart down the road is Last Chance but unlike Last Chance Anton was able to keep some of the businesses going.  What’s interesting is the population of Last Chance is probably the same as Anton.  
            There is one remaining ghostly feature of years gone by.  Next to the Post Office was a small group of cabins.  Well neglected and not much TLC.  Here is where the traveling harvest crews would stay.  Before the big luxury RV’s of today, these little cabins were a luxury for the harvest crews.  Lots of the crews, years ago, would sleep under the stars, trucks, machinery and shave and clean up under a water barrel. 

            The harvest crews would start in Texas, traveling north with the harvest season, sometimes as forth north as Canada.  Back then it was long hard days in the hot sun, sunrise to sunset.  There was no air conditioning and water was out of a canvas bag or burlap wrapped jug.  Meals were in the field, the bathroom was over there by the post.  So to have a shack with a roof over it, with a bed, place to shower and clean up with toilets…… the height of luxury. 

            Like lots of things today, Anton is a reminder of things gone by the way side.  The few people in the little village keep on going much like their ancestors did years ago, just lots more comfortable.