Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grinter House

This photograph is of the Grinter House, located in Kansas City, Kansas.  Lyndy, Evan and I toured the house late last summer.  It is on the National Register of  Historic Places.  The house was built by Moses and Annie Grinter in 1857 on a hillside on the north side of the Kansas River.  The Grinters' story is just part of a very interesting local history of this region of northeast Kansas.

In the 1820's the United States began a policy of removing Indian tribes from places like the Ohio Valley and relocating them out "west".  From roughly 1825 to 1845 more than 100,000 Native Americans were moved out of the developing eastern states.  Approximately 10,000 of them were placed in Kansas.  Many of the common Native American names in use around this part of the country do not reference the Indian tribes that were native to the area.  A lot of the names refer to tribes that were part of  this mass relocation.  For example, the Shawnee tribe's ancestral  homes were in Ohio, the Wyandot tribe came from what is now Ontario, Canada (their other name is the Huron tribe).  During the 1830's many Native Americans from the Shawnee, Wyandot, and Delaware (also called Lenape) tribes were placed in the area around what today is Kansas City, Kansas. The nearby Fort Leavenworth military base was built partly to preserve the local peace between the Native Americans and the settlers. 

A military road (for travel by the army, horses, wagons, stagecoaches, or those walking) ran from Fort Leavenworth south to Fort Scott, near the Missouri border in east central Kansas.  Right at the point where the road crossed the Kansas River, in what today is part of Kansas City, Kansas, Moses Grinter established a ferry service.  His ferry would have been essentially a large, flat, floating deck.  Several horses, or a wagon or two, or troops would be ridden or loaded aboard, and then, using a rope that connected the two shorelines, the ferry would be pulled to the other side.  A fare would be charged based upon what was being taken across.

Moses Grinter was born in Kentucky.  I couldn't find much information about his early life, but he ended up in Kansas and met Annie Marshall.  Annie was an Indian of the Delaware tribe.  Her family had been relocated during the 1830's from New Jersey to northeast Kansas.  Moses and Annie married and settled down to run the ferry service.  Over time they prospered, and eventually left the ferry business and  began operating a trading post.  It was during this time that they built the Grinter house.  It is located in a part of Kansas City, Kansas called Muncie.  Where does the name Muncie come from?  Muncie was one of the Delaware tribes, and they, too, were relocated to this part of Kansas during the 1830's.

The house is now part of the Kansas Historical Society and is officially called the Grinter Place State Historic Site.  There are a couple of good webpages with more information it it.  I like touring these old homes, and no two are ever alike.  Moses hired a brick mason to build the house, a man named Bernard Tertling.  Bernard was raised to be a brick builder, but he wanted to do something else.  He tried his hand at farming, but gave up on that and sold it to open the first brewery in Kansas.  It also failed, so by necessity he found himself returning to brick building and built this house for the Grinters.  I took photos inside, but I am not posting any of them here, I don't want to spoil it for you.  You'll just have to go see for yourself!  As you might expect in an old house like this, everything in it is pretty much custom made just for this house. 

Moses ended up living in the house more than 20 years, dying in 1878.  Annie lived here for almost 50 years, until her death in 1905.  Inside the nearby visitor's center there was a large old photograph of a big Grinter family reunion in the 1930's when descendants were still living there.  As for the Native Americans that had been moved here in the 1830's, they were eventually sent packing again.  In the 1860's, with railroad construction in full force, their land was needed and they were all relocated to the Oklahoma Territory.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two Rockets and a Plane

Lyndy and I are both on vacation all this week.  We aren't going on a trip or anything, we are just free to come and go as we want for one wonderful week.  This morning we took Evan and drove to Lake Clinton, near Lawrence.  If you drive across the dam, then circle around to the back of the dam, near the spillway, you come to a huge field.  This field is the home of the Jayhawk Modelmasters remote control airplane club.  From here you can see some pretty incredible remote control airplanes being flown, some with wingspans of several feet wide.  Knowing it would be dead on a Tuesday morning, we were there to launch a couple of rockets and fly a much more modest remote control airplane.

I have been flying model rockets since I was a teenager.  I have built, launched, rebuilt, relaunched, lost, and often destroyed dozens of them over the years.  I have one rocket, now retired, that I launched just shy of 50 times in it's lifetime.  Today we launched two rather small, basic rockets.  These kind of rockets are not quite as thrilling as big ones, but they are much easier to work with and have a high success rate. 

This photo shows me right in the middle of one of the runways for the model airplanes, loading a rocket on it's launch pad.  You have to prepare the rocket for launch by getting the recovery parachute ready and stowed aboard and installing an engine and preparing it so that it can be ignited.  You have to carefully guage the wind and aim the rocket into it just right.  Too straight up and it can drift a long way on it's parachute and be lost.  Too low and it can arch over and fly straight into the ground.

Once you get it in place on the launch pad everyone gets back.  A battery powered launcher sends current to the engine though two wires.  In this photo Lyndy is getting ready to launch one of the rockets.  Both rockets flew successfully and were recovered. 

I also brought along a kind of beginner remote controlled airplane.  It is made of foam, and by the same company that makes the rockets.  Me and Evan both flew it several times until it finally landed in some standing rainwater.  We decided to stop while we were ahead and gathered all our gear together and get ready to go.  We went on into Lawrence and bought some food, then headed home on the turnpike.  Later, just before it got dark, we went over to the Washburn practice football fields and flew the plane a few more times.  Unfortunately we pushed our luck, and one of the plane's wings broke in two places.  Never fear, it is designed to be repairable, so it will fly again.  Here is what it looked like not long before the fateful flight.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The J and K Experience

Lyndy, Evan, and I went to Lazio's Coffee Shop last evening to see a musical performance by some friends of mine, Jake and Keith.  Jake played guitar and sang, and Keith played the bass.  I met them a few years ago when I filmed and produced a music video for the rock band they were in at the time. 

Since that initial meeting I have seen Jake perform live on several occasions.  Last night he was joined by Keith, and I liked the way the bass guitar really added a nice compliment to the sound of Jake's acoustic guitar.  There was a really good turnout, somewhat overwhelming the guy working behind the counter.  A coworker joined him later, and I wondered whether he had perhaps called her in to help.  I had a hot chocolate and took my new astronomy star charts in to read while we listened to the music.  We are friends with some of the other people that came to watch the show, so we did some catching up with them.  Evan got some quality time with his PSP.  The only setback to the evening was that the coffeeshop's wireless internet connection was down, leaving Lyndy unable to fight Vampires from her laptop.

BMX Racing Action

Yesterday morning at 10:00 am Evan and I were at the BMX track in Shunga Park to watch the bike races.  This is the final event of this year's Sunflower State Games that I went to to watch and photograph.  These races are always one of the more exciting events, and this is the third year in a row I've watched.  Here are some of the racers gathering at the starting line. 

BMX stands for Bicycle Motocross.  A Motocross is a type off-road motorcycle race, and in the 1970s kids began racing bicycles on the same dirt racetracks as the motorcycles.  As the sport developed, specialized bicycles began to be designed that were very light but strong.  Tracks for bicycle use only were constructed, keeping the kids away from the dangers of riding around speeding motorcycles.  There are organized leagues of BMX racing all around the world, including right here in Topeka. 

The track in Shunga Park is called  Heartland BMX.  On the races we watched, about 3 or 4 riders raced at the same time.  The race is one lap around the track.  They zoom out of the starting gate when the official starter gives the signal.  A small gate by the front tires keeps the riders from jumping the gun.  It takes them around a minute to a minute and a half to ride around the whole track.  There are lots of hills and banked turns to take.  By the time to they get to the end they are completely gassed.   

I've ridden around the track a few times on my mountain bike, and it can be very tiring.  Not to mention that while we were there it was already almost 90 degrees- at 10 in the morning- and very humid.  The sun wasn't in the best location to get good photos, but a few came out and are posted here. 

We saw 4 or 5 crashes, and in this shot I by total luck happened to capture a kid in mid-air as he flew off his bike.  None of the kids who crashed were hurt, in fact they all jumped back on their bikes and took off trying to catch up.  They are all wearing virtually football uniforms, too, which probably helps when they crash, but must've made the heat even more unbearable.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Swimming and Archery

A little after 9am this morning I went to the Capital Federal Natatorium at Hummer Sports Park for the Sunflower State Games swimming competition.  In case you were wondering, natatorium is a Latin word that means "place for swimming", though in modern times this very ancient word is usually used to imply an indoor swimming pool.  I worked my way around the huge pool and shot photos and video of some of the races.  There was a good crowd watching, and it's pretty loud in there with the p.a. announcer, whistles, cheers, and all the splashing.  While I was there the swimmers were racing one length of the pool, however far that is.  It was little kids at that time, so they must start with the youngsters and work their way up through the adults.  The race lap times are shown live on a giant scoreboard on one wall, and at the end of the race all the swimmers turn at the same time and look at it.

I left the swimming action and drove way out south to 97th and S. Topeka Blvd. for the archery competition.  There is a long line of targets at the far end of a field, and a covered area for the competitors to stand and fire their arrows.  The bows they are using are amazingly hi-tech.  I didn't dare touch or bump into one.  You don't want to have to pay to repair one, and you don't really want to anger a burly guy in camo holding onto sharp pointed weapons.  The guy running the show went over the rules, then the first round of competitors lined up to fire.  About 15 people all fired about 10 arrows each.  I stayed safely behind the caution tape and captured the action.  The commissioner guy sat under a brightly colored umbrella and watched down the line as they fired.  Once everyone was done they all walked down and wrote down their scores and retrieved their arrows.  Next weekend is the final one of the Sunflower Games, and there are still a couple of good events worth photographing.

Evan Takes the Gold

Yesterday morning we went to Hughes Park, which is in the 800 block of Orleans St. in Topeka, for Evan's Pickleball competition in the Sunflower State Games.  Pickleball is similar to tennis, only  you use a wiffle ball and kind of like a large ping pong paddle to hit it with.  The court is not as large as a tennis court.  It is much like playing tennis, only the ball doesn't fly back and forth so fast.  You still get a great workout because since the ball is flying slower, you have time to aim your shots to send your opponent running all over the place.  And where in tennis it's a lot to hit it back and forth more than four or five times, in Pickleball it's not uncommon to have 10 or 15 hits or more in one rally.  I have a couple photos here of Evan in action. 

Evan was the only person in his age group registered for the tournament, so he automatically won the gold medal.  He was placed in a bracket with three guys who were in the 61 and over group.  All three of them were pretty good players.  One of them had come up from Wichita, though he was kind of a complainer about having to play outside (apparently in Wichita they play indoors most of the time) and he even disappeared for a while, causing one of Evan's matches to have to be rescheduled.  When it was time to get his gold medal the commissioner announced his name to the crowd, and everyone clapped.  Here is the moment when he is shaking Evan's hand and giving him his medal:

Later in the day Evan and I went over and watched some of the Sunflower Games Horseshoes tournament in Gage Park.  This sport is mostly older guys who all seemed to be taking the competition quite seriously.  There was one younger guy in his 20's, and he was a bit of a hot-head.  A couple of times he slammed a horseshoe into the ground in anger after missing a shot, and once he threw one into the fence.  His behavior may have been unspectacular in a basketball game, but in a horseshoes competition it seemed a little out of place. 

While we were there they were doing the segment of the horseshoes competition brackets for the top level players, those who are rated as having a high percentage of ringers.  Sort of like having a low handicap in golf, I presume.  As Evan and I watched we discussed the likely origination of a game like this- some bored cowpokes hanging around the barn inventing a game to pass the time while they waited on television to be invented.  I doubt some businessman in New York invented it. 

I'll end this entry with a photo of your intrepid reporter on the scene, taken by Evan.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Let the Games Begin

Last evening Lyndy, Evan and I went to Hummer Sports Park for the Sunflower State Games opening ceremonies.  This is the third year we have gone.  Some of the games have already been  held.  For example my event, disc golf, was last weekend. However, there are only a couple other events held that first weekend.  The second weekend is when it really gets going, and they have the ceremonies the night before.  The track and field competition was held today, and when we got there they were still pole vaulting.  I positioned myself alongside and to the left of the runway and took some photos.  It also happened to be a nice, shady location. 

 The opening ceremonies are in a parking lot near the Hummer Park football field.  They have food, vendor booths, music, etc.  It's fun to walk around and see all the stuff.  KU had a booth there giving away information and posters about the upcoming football season.  There is also a 5K/10K running race, called the Governor's Cup.  But first, they light the Olympic Torch.  The person lighting it is usually a long-time Sunflower State Games participant.  I got this shot of the big moment. 

We watched some more pole vaulting, then found a location to watch the Governor's Cup runners start their race.  There were somewhere in the range of 150 or 200 runners in the race, so I snapped about 6 photos as they streamed by. 

They circled around the parking lot, then headed out into the city.  Police cars were all over blocking traffic and clearing the race route for them.  After the runners had moved on we headed to the car.  We were very hot, so we headed down 6th street to G's Ice Cream to cool off.  I ended up having a cherry limeade instead of ice cream.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Live AId

Live Aid was 25 years ago today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Konza Prairie

This photo was taken a couple of summers ago at the Konza Prairie, just south of Manhattan, Kansas.  The Konza Prairie is about 8,600 acres (about 13 square miles) of unplowed tallgrass prairie, located in the Flint Hills.  It is owned by the Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University.  Kansas State uses it for research in their biology department, and it is also part of the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER).  The LTER is a collection of nearly 2000 scientists and students doing research in 26 different locations in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Antarctica.  A lot of the land is off-limits to the public and is used by the students, but there are several hiking trails available for everyone's use.  The longest trail covers 7 miles.  On the day I took this photo Lyndy, Evan and I walked for probably two miles.  From the parking lot we crossed a creek on a bridge and then walked through a wooded area.  Eventually we moved out of the trees and out onto the wide open prairie. 

There is a very nicely maintained walking trail.  There have been over 30 different mammals observed in the Konza, and over 200 different species of birds.  The open prairie land here is exactly what it was like here a couple hundred years ago when the only people around were Native Americans.  There is very little of this original tallgrass prairie left in the country.  Over 600 different plant species can be found here.  The most common are big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass.  These grasses grow to a height of around 3 feet.  We didn't see them, but there is a herd of 300 bison roaming around.  If you want to do some not too strenuous hiking through some of the last remaining areas of Kansas as it used to be, you might consider the Konza Prairie.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Going for the Gold

Today was the Sunflower State Games Disc Golf singles competition, held at Shunga Park.  There is an open division, which all the younger guys play.  I play in the Masters division, which is for those 40 and over.  There is a division for 50 and over, 60 and over, and then 70 to infinity.  For today's tournament, everyone in Masters division or higher were all combined into one division, so there were 5 guys competing for the gold, silver, and bronze medals.  In the morning I played really well, throwing a three over par 57.  That ended up being the third lowest score by anyone in the entire tournament.  In the afternoon I didn't do as well, slipping to a 63.  Still, it was good enough to win the gold medal by one stroke.  I also won a free disc from the guys of LS Discs, who put on the local disc golf tournaments.
What is disc golf?  It is basically the same as golf, only you throw special frisbie discs and the hole is a basket with chains that help to catch the disc and drop it into the basket.  I have been playing pretty regularly for about 15 years now.  There are three disc golf courses in Topeka- an 18 hole course in Shunga Park, another one out at Lake Shawnee, and a nine-hole course by Rice Community Center.

Here is a photo of me taken this evening by Lyndy in our back yard wearing my gold medal.  I'm standing next to a disc golf basket which I have in the yard for practice.  You throw the discs at these baskets.  If you can hit the chains, the disc will usually just fall into the basket.  They are not normal Frisbie type discs.  They are smaller and are very hard plastic that can be thrown a long way.  There are two main brands- Discraft and Innova.  Just as you carry a lot of golf clubs in regular golf, you use a lot of discs in disc golf.  Different discs fly in different ways, depending on the shot you need to take.   The holes are generally anywhere from 100-250 yards long, and on most courses they are all par threes. 

This photo shows me and some of the competitors walking to one of the tees.   The bags we are carrying are full of discs.   At this point in the course you have to cross this parking lot.  Today's tournament was two rounds.  They add together your scores from both rounds to determine the winners for each division.  The first round started at 10:00 am and finished about noon.  For about three holes it was raining pretty hard, then the sun came back out and it was very steamy on the course.  After the morning rou nd ended we broke for a quick lunch.   I don't live far from the course so I went home and ate, took a shower and changed clothes.  The second round started a little after 1:00 in the afternoon and finished around 3:15.  It never rained in the afternoon but it was very humid.   This was my third year of competing in the Sunflower Games disc golf tournament.  I won a gold medal last year, and a silver medal in 2008.   There are a lot of disc golf players in Kansas, and there is a tournament almost every weekend somewhere in the state, part of what is known as the Oz Tour.  I have competed in quite a few of these tournaments since my first one in 1995.  I conclude this article with a scan of my three Sunflower State Games disc golf medals (L-R 2010, 2009, 2008).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sunflower State Games

Starting this weekend, and continuing the next two, are the Sunflower State Games.  This is like an Olympics for amateur Kansas athletes.  It's not just track and field though.  There are dozens of sports, such as tennis, sailing, shooting, bowling, softball, raquetball, etc.  The Sunflower Games have been held each year since 1990.  If you are a Kansas resident you can enter any event.  The first several years the games were held in Lawrence.  In recent years they have been held here in Topeka.  I will be playing in the disc golf competition this year, for the third straight year.  Since sports make great subjects for photography and video, I enjoy going to a lot of the other competitions.  This morning I drove up to the 7000 block of N. Topeka Blvd. to the North Topeka Saddle Club for the Junior Rodeo.  While I was there they were doing the calf roping competition. 

After climbing the fence surrounding the arena I took this photo.  A calf has just been released and the contestant is just beginning to take off after it on his horse.  All the contestants in this redeo were young people.  When I first got there some really little kids, wearing crash helmets, were riding on sheep.  I was amazed by the size of some of the horse trailers parked around the outskirts of the corral. 

This afternoon I went to Washburn University where they were holding men's basketball games in both Lee Arena and Whiting Gym.  They have a full allotment of teams this year, so there was action in both gyms were all day long.  The first games started at 8 am, and the last didn't end until 8pm.  On Sunday 12 of the 24 teams move on to elimination round.

 I took this photo of a Jordanesque leap into the air by one of the players.  Of all the sports in the Sunflower State Games, and I've been in attendance at nearly all of them, the basketball games are always the most intense.  A lot of the sports competitions are very laid back affairs, more like a weekend of fun with your buddies.  But the basketball is always high on emotion.  The only other sport that seems to have this level of seriousness is perhaps the wrestling, where I've witnessed similar tension.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Happy Birthday Ringo Starr, he turns 70 today.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Chief Drive-In Theatre

These photos I took of the old Chief Drive-in Theatre marquee in south Topeka date back to March 9, 1993.  At the time, I had been reading about Wal-Mart buying the land where the drive-in had sat, closed and decaying for over ten years, to build a new store.  So, on that nice spring day 17 years ago I wandered around in what was left of the old outdoor cinema, photographing what I could before the construction of the Wal-Mart began.  

The sign in these photos was located at the entrance to the theater, on the west side of Topeka Blvd, just a little south of 37th St.  You entered here, drove west along a dirt road, stopped to pay, then drove on into the parking area, facing south towards the huge screen.  The Chief opened in 1953.  It was not Topeka's first drive-in. That honor goes to the Community, which was located at 25th and California.  They were eventually joined by a third, the Cloverleaf, located where the Dillons now is at US 24 Highway and Rochester Rd.  

Prior to the construction of these drive-ins, all of the movie theatres in Topeka were located downtown.   But now the suburbs were what was happening in the U.S., and in Topeka, too.  The early 1950's was the  heyday of the construction of new drive-in theaters.  In 1948, there were only 11 drive-ins in all of Kansas.  Just six years later, in 1954, that number had jumped to 107.  The peak year was 1958 when there were 125 of them in the state.  Then began the decline:  80 in 1967, 55 in 1977, and only 15 in 2000.  The Chief's last movie was projected in 1982.  The last movie I saw there was the re-release of Star Wars in 1979. It contained the first trailer I ever saw for the upcoming Empire Strikes Back movie, so that's probably why I remember it. 

At the time I took these photos there was nothing being mentioned in the news about what would happen to this sign.  Capturing it's image for posterity was the main reason I went over and took these pictures.  There wasn't much left of the drive-in itself.  The screen had been torn down, and none of the posts that held the speakers remained.  About all that was left, other than the marquee, was the foundation and some of the floor of the concession stand building.  I took photos that day, and shot some video, too.  The giant movie screen stood very close to where the front of the Wal Mart is today.  As it turns out, Wal-Mart ended up sending the Chief sign back to the company that originally built it to have it restored.  It was then  moved around to the 37th St. entrance of the Wal-Mart, where it still stands today. 

Why did drive-ins decline while movies overall have remained popular?  There are several reasons.  One big one is all the land required.  Back in 1950 you could cheaply buy some rural land just beyond the edge of town and put up a drive-in.  Land values have rendered the cost involved not really economically feasable anymore.  Many drive-in theater owners sold their lots for more money than they could make showing movies.  People also prefer the hi-definition sounds systems of modern indoor theaters over the poor quality drive-in speakers.  I just think indoor comfort and quality is what people want on a consistent basis for a night at the movies.  Drive-ins are now (if you can find one open) more of a place to experience nostalgia than a serious destination for a first run movie.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Railyard

I took these photos a couple of summers ago from off the E. 6th Street bridge in Topeka, between Adams and Branner Streets.  I went there two different times about two weeks apart.  I would wait around for a few days until the sun was in just the right place, and there were the right kind of clouds to balance out the top half of the picture, and there were a good number of trains in the right spot on the tracks.  When everything was just so I would park and walk what turns out to be quite a long way to the part of the bridge that overlooks the tracks.  Each time I went I shot about 50 photos. 

This shot is looking north along the tracks towards the direction of the Santa Fe shops.  On the far left you can see the Amtrak depot and track.  The Amtrak depot was built in 1950.  All of the trains in this shot are Santa Fe trains.  This section of railroad has likely been around a long time.  The Atchison and Topeka Railroad was chartered in February, 1859 by Cyrus K. Holliday, one of the founders of the city of Topeka.  Santa Fe was added to the name in 1863 to represent Mr.  Holliday's desire to develop the line to that city.  For over nine years the railroad only existed on paper.  There was no track for the trains to run on, but that's ok, because there weren't any trains, either.  Finally, on October  30, 1868, ground was broken in Topeka for the construction of the AT&SF track.  On April 26, 1869 the first section opened, a six mile run south to Pauline.  I was not able to confirm it in my research, but the section of track in this photo is likely part of that inaugural route to Pauline.  Meanwhile, the main focus of the track building was westward, and they reached Dodge City on September 5, 1872, and the Colorado state line in December, 1873.  Oddly, Holliday ended up abandoning the idea of connecting Santa Fe to his railroad due to the expense of building in the difficult terrain in the area and the sparse population at the time.  Nevertheless, Santa Fe remained in the official company name.

Here is a shot for the black and white photo fans.  Trains are a good subject for photography.  They are also a good subject for paintings, literature, songs, movies, travelers, fans of hobos, you name it.  Railroads and trains are often quite romanticized.  In a time before automobiles they represented their own kind of freedom, and speed, and according to a lot of movies they represented adventure, crime, and espionage.  When trains came along they fascinated and scared people.  They were huge, belching steam and quite intimidating to someone who usually took a horse and buggy.  They freightened livestock, made a lot of noise, reduced a trip to the west coast from months to days, and were sometimes tempting to robbers.  Today there are a lot of people who are devoted to seeing and logging as many different trains as possible, tracking all their movements and learning to identify and recognize trains on sight.  I don't do any of that, I just like peering down on them occasionally from bridges.