Thursday, July 30, 2009

Little Town on the High Plains

I'm no expert on Cawker City, Kansas, but I did stop for about 15 minutes the other day on my way to Nebraska. Having lived in Kansas for 43 of my 47 years, I've heard a lot about "The World's Largest Ball of Twine," Cawker's pride and joy. So when I had the chance to visit, I took it.

The ball of twine is indeed quite impressive. It's impressive because of its size--it weighed 17,886 pounds in 2006 according to a nearby sign--and its age--Frank Stoeber started it 56 years ago--but also because it has given the town something to advertise as uniquely its own. Some of the sidewalks have a "string" painted on them, as if the ball has started to unravel and begun to roll around town. According to a sign next to the twine, Cawker City holds a "Twine-a-thon" on the third weekend in August. Do people bring their pieces of twine, saved since the previous August, to add to the record-holder? Do people show artwork made from twine? Wear twine-woven skirts and vests? It sounds like an intriguing and interesting weekend. Across Highway 24 from the shelter where the ball sits is the Ball of Twine Inn, a cozy-looking little place that I didn't take further time to explore. Maybe some time in the next 47 years I'll make a stop!The part of the town that I saw, running along US 24, has clearly seen better days. Abandoned storefronts dot the blocks, and abandoned pieces of farm equipment seem to be the main decor. Not that old trucks and tractors don't have their own unique appeal--I took several pictures myself--but they are obvious evidence of a town that's struggling to stay alive, like so many small Kansas communities. These wrecks, rusting yet picturesque, show the energy that used to invigorate Cawker City, as family farmers worked the surrounding fields on small tractors, hauling their crops to marker in trucks with no modern amenities like air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, or even radios. They would make a proud parade, if only someone had the knowledge, will, and money to restore them before they deteriorate beyond reclamation. If they haven't already.

I must say, I was impressed with the efforts of an unknown local artist who has painted reproductions of several famous works of art and posted them in windows of buildings both occupied and empty. I saw Van Gogh's Sunflowers and a couple of Impressionist works. The people of Cawker City have no excuses to be unaware of their artstic heritage! I wish I had had more time to see what other paintings I could have spotted, but the road called, so I took one last look at nearly nine tons of sisal twine sitting under its custom-made shelter, then crawled back into my car and followed a farm truck out of town.

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1 comment:

  1. Danton, Thanks for highlighting Cawker. It was a great place to grow up. When I was little there were 3 grocery stores, several cafes and gas stations, and various retail stores. By the time I graduated in 1972, we were down to one grocery store. The drugstore where I drank many a nickle cherry coke was closed as was the dry goods, furniture and appliance stores. Just to the west of the ball of twine was the Co-op station. My dad drove a tankwagon for Co-op for over 40 years. Frank Stoeber was one of his customers. My mom did bookwork for the station for many years. It really hurt to see the station torn down.
    Without the businesses, the buildings continue to deteriorate and it's hard to watch. Most of the people that are moving into Cawker are retirees, coming to enjoy the lake. It's tough to attract younger people when there are no new industries and equally hard to bring in new industries when there aren't enough people to employ. The old Catch 22! Maybe if we could qualify for some stimulus money!!

    Cher Olson is the artist behind the twine paintings. She and her husband, Ross, brought a lot to the community. Her work really provides bright spots along main street. I just hope she'll come back to brighten them up now and then.
    I like your idea about twine art. I'll pass it along. The picnic is a chance to visit with neighbors, enjoy some homemade ice cream and watch a small town parade. And this year we'll celebrate the 89th birthday of a really great lady!