Dont Get Much Better Than This – Day 64

Don’t Get Much Better Than This

Day 64 – June 3, 2003 – Tuesday

I had looked forward to seeing the World’s Largest Ball of Twine more than any sight on the trip. I saw it today, and I loved it! I also visited the Geographical Center of the Continental United States, saw an amazing museum developed by the man who invented baggies, visited the National Roller Skating Museum and the Garden of Eden, and saw unique art and artists at a world-class art gallery in the tiny town of Lucas, Kansas. Oh yes, there was also the Prairie Peace Park, a highway built out of a zillion recycled tires, a wide variety of bicycle sculptures, a husband and wife entombed in glass-topped coffins in a pyramid-shaped mausoleum in the yard of their home, the Geodetic Center of the Continental United States, a home with every wall and ceiling covered in shiny aluminum foil, and a space ship. It don’t get much better than this! It was one of the most enjoyable days on the road.

The day began in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had written two notes — one to Desk Clerk Beth to thank her for sending me to Misty’s for a fabulous steak dinner last night, and one to Misty’s to introduce Beth and to thank them in advance for showing her the same great hospitality that I enjoyed. I gave the notes to the General Manager at the hotel with the money to buy dinner for Beth at Misty’s. It’s always such a nice feeling to do something special for someone as a complete surprise. My sister, Marty Windsor, introduced Random Acts of Kindness to us during the holiday season a few years ago. We got into it. My gift to Beth would qualify as a Random Act of Kindness, and it felt great.

Today was packed with two major destinations, but all the nice people I had met in Lincoln asked if I had seen their fabulous state capitol building, so I HAD to go by to see it. It was very nice.

A must-see was the football stadium at the University of Nebraska — what a history of national championship teams! There were signs noting that the Nebraska football team won the National Championship in 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, and 1997.

I tried to find the Museum of the Odd, but the street it was supposed to be on just ended. Odd — I had to give up trying to find it.

I had checked my list of things to see in Lincoln, and I noted the National Roller Skating Museum was on the way to the Capitol. What a hoot. I had to go by.

The National Roller Skating Museum was easy to find, but the door was locked. Bummer. I drove around back, but those doors were locked as well. I saw someone inside, but her back was to the window, and I couldn’t get her attention. I went to the car to try calling them when four young folks walked out for a smoke break. They asked Sandra, the receptionist, to open the door, so I finally entered and walked through the exhibit. I was surprised by all that I saw. As with so many things, you may have no idea how big or significant something is until you look more closely. It was somewhat reminiscent of the lesson I learned from my two hours with the two chicken farmers and one rancher in Maysville, Arkansas. Roller skating isn’t just boys and girls with strap-on skates, there’s inline skating, roller derby, skating competitions, roller hockey, and Olympic roller skating events. Tara Lipinski, Olympic champion ice skater, began her skating career as a roller skater. There is a big staff at the National Roller Skating Museum, and many of them are involved with the Olympics and competitive skating activities. I was glad I went and a little embarrassed that I originally went thinking it would be kind of a laugh stop.

I saw the Haymarket Square area in downtown Lincoln. I also saw bicycle sculptures all around town promoting Tour de Lincoln. I didn’t know what it was all about, but I enjoyed seeing the sculptures everywhere.

As I headed down the road in the direction of Minden, Nebraska and Pioneer Village, I spotted some strange-looking stuff on the side of the highway. I exited and did a U, and I found myself at the locked entrance to Prairie Peace Park. Quirky with a Capital Q. Lots of peace stuff. Kind of an amusement park. Someone into peace big time. It sadly reminded me of Eloy World.

On the road, I drove on a highway built out of 47,000 recycled tires.

Pioneer Village is really something. Harold G. Warp invented the baggie, and he developed Pioneer Village. His wife gets the award for the most understanding wife of all times. He spent a fortune buying and gathering up all the stuff that’s in Pioneer Village. There is building after building filled with stuff. All kinds of stuff. There doesn’t appear to me to be rhyme or reason to the interesting assortment of things, but I am very sure it was crystal clear to Harold Warp. Harold’s stated goal was to create a museum with a huge variety of items showing the progress of those items from 1920 to 1960. What he built is amazing. It would take perhaps a week to see it all and read all the little typewritten sheets that are posted next to many of the items.

There are 28 buildings crammed full of antiques at Pioneer Village. Most of the buildings are huge. There are hundreds and hundreds of cars, trucks, wagons, tractors, horse-drawn vehicles, thimbles, salt shakers, wrenches, kitchen appliances, etc., etc. I thought Pioneer Village might be a little funky, but it was really interesting to see.

As interesting as it was, I have to say that Pioneer Village had the least courteous employees of any place I had yet been. The lady at the cash register was just plain rude. I came in contact with five or six of the people who worked there, and they all shared the same totally unfriendly unhappy-to-be-there attitude. For the late Mr. Warp’s sake, I hope someone has the sense to get some nice folks in there so the place doesn’t die of apathy and rudeness.

As I was leaving Pioneer Village, I grabbed Nebraska and Kansas maps as I was altering the route to spend the night in Salina, Kansas. As I considered the various two-lane options to hit the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, and the Geographical Center of the Continental United States in Lebanon, Kansas, I happened to see “Garden of Eden” listed on the map — next to the town of Lucas. I’d have never noticed such an entry on the maps of busier states like California or Florida — just too many towns to list and too much print, but on Kansas, the wide open spaces made it jump off the page. We’d been to the Fountain of Youth, so I figured the Garden of Eden was a must-see. Off I went.

I had a poor lunch at the Southfork Drive Inn as I drove out of Minden. Bland food and unfriendly people. Not even a napkin. Minden, Nebraska will be in the running for the most unfriendly people and worst service. What a contrast between Lincoln and Minden.

Next stop was Cawker City. I really have looked forward to seeing the World’s Largest Ball of Twine more than any other sight on the trip. Everything from the Grand Canyon to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine — that’s how I’ve summed up the trip for folks. There isn’t anything much in Cawker City except the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, so I had no problem driving right up to it on the main street through town. This sucker is BIG. It’s housed in a very nice open-sided building where you can walk right up to it and smell it and touch it. Frank Stoeber started the ball of twine on his farm in 1953. By 1957, it weighed 5,000 pounds, stood 8 feet high, and had 1,175,180 feet of twine on it. Stoeber gave the ball to Cawker City in 1961. He died in 1974. At last count, the ball weighed 17,554 pounds (that’s almost 9 TONS). It has a 40-foot circumference, and it consists of over 7,009,942 feet of sisal twine. If stretched out, it would extend 1,325 MILES. Like I said, this baby is BIG.

Frank Stoeber created it, and since he died, folks bring balls of twine, and they are weighed and measured and added to the giant ball. I bought a ball of brown “sisal” twine (the only type of twine that is accepted), and I left it in the box that’s there for that purpose, so my twine would soon be a part of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Be sure to take your own ball when you visit! It was wonderful to see that the townsfolk stepped in to build this special place for the Ball of Twine after the creator passed away.

The Cawker City Community Club is now the official owner/caretaker of the Ball of Twine. Each year a Twine-a-thon is held in conjunction with the annual Cawker City Picnic and Parade, so the ball never stops growing. The picnic and parade are on the third Saturday in August, with the twine winding held the Friday before. The Ball of Twine is located in “Downtown” Cawker City right along Wisconsin Street (Highway 24) on the south side of the highway. It is half a block west of Lake Drive, but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it (small town and big ball).

I looked for something else exciting in Cawker City, but when I didn’t find it, I headed for the center — the Geographical Center of the Continental United States. It’s on a farm near Lebanon, Kansas. I took a photo of the monument, and I took photos looking north, south, east, and west. Nothing too earth-shattering. The photos look a lot like four photos of a field on a farm in Lebanon, Kansas.

According to my fact-filled State of Kansas Road Map, the Geodetic Center of the Continental United States was perhaps 10 miles away. I had no idea what a Geodetic Center was, but I drove to the spot, and there were no signs or anything, so there didn’t appear to be many people who really cared what a Geodetic Center was. I would have tried to find a human to ask, but the sun was heading down, and I still needed to see the Garden of Eden.

I searched “Geodetic Center” on the Internet, and I learned that the “Geodetic Center” is the point at which all measurements for North America are taken. While the plaque is in Osbourne, Kansas, the official marker was on Meade’s Ranch, off the highway. The Geodetic Center of the United States Plaque – posted on a historical marker sign reads: “On a ranch 6 miles southeast of this marker a bronze plate marks the most important spot on this continent to surveyors and map makers. Engraved in the bronze is a cross-mark and on the tiny point where the lines cross depend the surveys of a sixth of the world’s surface. This is the Geodetic Center of the United States. The “Primary Station” for all North American surveys. It was located in 1901 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Later Canada and Mexico adopted the point and its supporting system as the base for their surveys and it is now known as the “North American Datum.” What Greenwich is to the Longitude of the world, therefore, a Kansas pasture is to the lines and boundaries of this continent. It must not be confused with the Geographic Center of the United States, which is 42 miles north, in Smith County.” – Erected by Kansas Historical Society and State Highway Commission.

When I reached Lucas, I saw a flying saucer hovering over a LUCAS sign at the city limits. I knew this was going to be a great stop.

Lucas is tiny (population 300), and there were plenty of signs directing me to the residential area that is home to the “Garden of Eden.” On a quiet little street with small homes, there it was on the corner of Kansas and Second. A small home with a giant sculpture filling the yard. What must the neighbors think! When I learned that it was built from 1907 to 1929, I figured the neighbors knew what they were getting into when they purchased their homes. I didn’t see any “for sale” signs. It wasn’t quite as bizarre as the Orange Show or the Beer Can House.

113 tons of concrete. Adam and Eve and the bright red apple. Okay, it’s pretty Quirky. I was very surprised to learn that it was so old. It was almost 100 years old!

Samuel Perry Dinsmoor, a retired schoolteacher, Civil War Veteran, farmer, and Populist politician, began building the Garden of Eden and Cabin Home in 1907 at the age of 64. Over 22 years, he fashioned 113 tons (2,273 sacks) of cement and many tons of limestone into his unique “log” cabin-style home with its surrounding sculptures. He opened his home to guests, conducting tours on the first floor and through the yard from 1907 until a few years before his death in 1932. Now owned and operated by a group formed to preserve it, the site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and welcomes more than 10,000 visitors annually. Mr. Dinsmoor and his wife are both entombed there in a pyramid-shaped mausoleum that he built right next to his home. I understand his casket has a glass top. I’m not into seeing dead folks, so I was glad it was closed for the day. For more information, see

I thought the quality of the sculpture was quite good. It hadn’t been a particularly pretty day, but the clouds disappeared as I arrived, and I had a beautiful blue sky that gave me some nice photographs. It was closed for the day, so I was only able to see the outside. I took so many photos at Pioneer Village that I had to pull the laptop out at the Garden of Eden and download photos to free up more space on the memory stick in the camera.

As I turned after the last photo to go back to the car and head for Salina, I happened to notice a little sign that said “Grassroots Art Center — 2 blocks.” I didn’t know what a Grassroots Art Center was, but I was sure going to invest two blocks of my time to find out. Two blocks took me to “downtown Lucas.” Just a few buildings on the wide main street. I parked in front of a building with a small sign that said “Grassroots Art Center.” It appeared to be a museum. I tried the door, but it was locked. I peeked in the windows, and it looked really interesting. Disappointed, I hopped in the car and planned to hit the highway.

As I was pulling out, a lady came out of the Grassroots Art Center and opened a car door. I stopped the car, jumped out, and asked if she was an artist. She replied: “No, I am the director of the museum.” I responded that I was writing a book, that I really enjoyed seeing the Garden of Eden, and that I wished I had gotten to town earlier in the day to see the museum as well. I met Rosslyn Schultz, and I was delighted when she agreed to open up and give me a personal tour!

In we went. I was blown away just inside the door. Here we were in the little bitty town of Lucas, Kansas, and I was standing in a world-class museum. Quirky, but absolutely world-class.

“Grassroots art” is defined as art made by people with no formal artistic training — usually done by folks of retirement age. Some folks call it outsider art, naive art, primitive art, folk art, raw art, recycled or trash art, intuitive art, art brut, self-taught art, and probably a few other terms. As I looked around, I immediately realized that a lot of the Quirky stuff we had seen over the last 64 days would qualify as “grassroots art.” I learned that grassroots art environments tend to be rather ephemeral, with ninety percent of the sites destroyed at the death of the maker. As I thought about Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia (Day 45) and how much Boz and I have hated to see the past gone or decaying, I immediately became a big fan of grassroots art and the work being done by the Grassroots Art Center and other groups to preserve this art.

The Grassroots Art Center exhibits and promotes the appreciation of the work of self-taught artists, especially those whose work tends toward environments rather than individual works. Its galleries display the work of local artists as well as regional self-taught or “outsider” artists.

Rossyln informed me that Lucas is home to not one, but four unique grassroots art environments. Two sites, S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden and Florence Deeble’s Rock Garden still survive in the town. The concrete and stone sculptures of Miller’s Park on the west edge of Lucas were sold and removed from the site. The Grassroots Art Center exhibits an extensive collection of work by Ed Root which has been preserved from the original environment south of Lucas. I learned that Kansas ranks third among the states in the number of grassroots art sites, after Wisconsin and California. You could understand California, but Kansas and Wisconsin???? Perhaps it is because there is not so much to do in rural Kansas or Wisconsin, and it causes retired folks to turn to art and their yards to occupy their time.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and I was fascinated by what Rosslyn showed me and told me. Each artist was unique. I found Leroy Wilson’s work to be especially interesting. I couldn’t wait to hear the story after I saw a display that seemed to consist of some kitchen cabinets and a section of a wall. It turns out that Leroy farmed north of Luray, Kansas, and like many farmers, he moved to a comfortable house in town after his retirement. But Wilson liked to paint, and he spent the next 12 years transforming the rooms in his basement with colorful mosaic and quilt-like patterns on every available surface. One after another. He’d dream up an elaborate design in his head, and he’d start painting. When he completed every room, he immediately had another design in his head, and he started the process again. He did this over and over and over again for 12 years.

The grounds of the Grassroots Art Center includes a display of Postrock Limestone art in the Courtyard.

After the great tour, Rosslyn mentioned that I might be able to catch one of the artists at Florence Deeble’s home. Rosslyn told me to go back toward the Garden of Eden, turn left, and it was the second house. I did as she said, but when I got to the “second house,” there were houses on both sides of the street, and they both had some Quirky stuff in the front yard. I picked the Quirkiest and walked up and knocked on the door. (The Shanklins, my dad, and others who have expressed concern about my newfound penchant for just walking up to strangers in the middle of nowhere will just croak when they learn that I did this.) Bingo. Pilar greeted me with a big smile. She had no idea who I was or why I was there, but she immediately commented on how much she liked my “happy beads.” I told her Ros had sent me, and she welcomed me in like a long-lost friend.

It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a home with every wall and every ceiling draped in shiny tin foil. For the next three hours, I really enjoyed speaking with Pilar, seeing her wonderful “assemblage art” work, learning how she works, and more. Pilar loves junk, and she just “listens” to the junk she has, and it tells her what to put together to create her pieces. I picked up some of the junk, but the only voice I heard was one somewhere inside my head that told me I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. Pilar kept telling me I’m wrong about that. Maybe I will magically get some artistic ability when I get older like most of the good grassroots artists, but I doubt it.

Pilar’s latest creations were “Re-Barbs.” She adorned Barbie dolls with all types of junk to create elaborate costumes and personalities.

Pilar is an amazing artist and a most interesting and delightful person. I REALLY enjoyed spending several hours with her, and I will be on the lookout for some good junk to send to her.

Regretting that I had not reached Lucas earlier in the day, I finally left the tin foil, the Re-Barbs, and Pilar, and I drove to Salina for the night. Even though I didn’t have a single piece of pie and had just one poor meal, Day 64 ranks as one of the best days so far.

When my sister challenged all of us in our family to practice Random Acts of Kindness during the holiday season a few years ago, I got with the spirit. I paid the toll for people behind me at a toll booth. I gave a big tip to the lady working the drive-through window at Whataburger. I scrambled to open lots of doors and carry things for people. There were some funny experiences. I have forgotten all that happened, but I remember trying to pay for the baggage cart for a lady at the airport, and she screamed at me to get away from her. I guess she thought I was a dirty old man up to no good. With rare exceptions, it was a very gratifying experience, and we have encouraged friends and business associates to try it. The challenge was to try to do at least one Random Act of Kindness every day during December. It would be wonderful if we all made it a conscious effort to do Random Acts of Kindness.

Dont Get Much Better Than This

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
Lincoln Nebraska — Nebraska Capitol — National Roller Skating Museum — University of Nebraska — Prairie Peace Park — Pioneer Village — World’s Largest Ball of Twine — Geographical Center of the Continental United States — Geodetic Center of the Continental United States — Garden of Eden — Grassroots Art Center