We Made It To The Middle, and other Roadside Shenanigans

We hunkered down for an extended stay at a couple unexpected stops in Missouri and Kansas. Thor has been running rough, and we want someone to check it out. Problem is, not a lot of folks in this part of the country have ever seen a Vanagon. Another issue is this is American-Made Truck Country. So, finding a foreign car repair person has required us to push on, but taking it quite slow. We found a European Auto Repair shop in St. Joseph, Missouri – or as the locals call it, St. Jo. We camped nearby in a species rich, wet prairie.

wet prairie and a small bridge

Springtime in a wet prairie

boardwalk over a wet prairie

long boardwalk so you won’t lose your shoe!

We hightailed early in order to get in front of the shop at 8:00 sharp Monday morning. Unfortunately, Harlan was a couple men short due to the “brown bottle flu.” The van couldn’t be looked at until sometime after lunch. So we explored.

The Start of the Pony Express and The End of Jesse James

Doing some quick research at the public library, we decided to hit the Patee House Museum. I about died when reading the welcome center description: ladies are fascinated by more than 2,000 antique perfume bottles. For the men, there’s a 1920s style service station complete with a Model T Ford, plus antique cars, trucks, fire trucks, and a 1921 race car.  Oh brother, we’ll see it anyway. Originally a 140 room luxury hotel in the mid 1800’s, it now houses everything St. Jo. My highlight was not the perfume bottles, but the re-creation of the old downtown.

walking through saloon doors

Wild West Woody

It included a saloon, a toy shop, soda fountain, the AT&T switchboard office, and the dentist office of Dr. Walter Cronkite. Dr. Cronkite is the father of anchorman, Walter Cronkite. I always loved the story that Woody’s sister Lori, believed Walter Cronkite was the President. No small wonder, he was always on TV, and frankly, quite presidential. He is St. Joseph’s native son. We easily killed the first few hours walking through that Museum.

We learned the Pony Express started from St. Jo and was headquartered in the Patee Hotel. It cost $5.00 to send a letter to Sacramento! The journey would take 10 days. For such a short lived enterprise, a total of 18 months, it sure has captured an almost mythical appeal. Maybe that shouldn’t be too surprising. Here’s a wanted ad which would appear in various publications along the route:

Pony Express Wanted Ad

“Orphans preferred”


Pony Express Stables

Nice cozy stables. . .

Around the corner of the Patee Museum was the home of Jesse James. We’ve seen a handful of “JJ’s been here” tourist stops along our way. But, it was here he was shot in the back while straightening a picture. Supposedly living here

Home where Jesse James was shot

Jesse James home

to start a path of being a standup citizen, it was a member of his old gang who shot him. The fellow thought he may be better off as a bounty hunter. It backfired, the shooter was also a wanted man.

The diagnosis for Thor was undetermined. They did replace a very dirty fuel filter however.


Kansas = Roadside Attractions

I’m sorry Kansas, I don’t mean any disrespect, but my takeaway of our trek was all about the cheeky roadside attractions. There’s something undeniably enjoyable about stopping and taking it in. Take a big ball of twine, for example.

world's largest ball of sisal twine

not quite a “ball”, more of a hemisphere (igloo?) in Cawker City, KS

It was a chilly, windy day and yet there was a fellow visiting from New York available to take our pic. We both agreed, “well, it’s a thing.”

Another thing, perhaps less cheeky, was stopping at the center of the United States. Now, that’s pretty cool. We’re halfway there Mom!

standing at the center of the US, near Lebanon, Kansas

the center of it all is in the middle of nowhere (near Lebanon, Kansas)

little chapel at the center of the US

With room for about 8 parishioners, it has to be an intimate ceremony

Just past the middle of America, we had to locate another mechanic. Still an extremely sluggish Thor on our hands. No luck in Colby, so we move on to Goodland, and found a great guy who was enthusiastic at the opportunity to look at such a van, but admitted he doesn’t get to work on them often, or at all, for that matter. He did a ton of diagnostics, and everything checked out. He could only conclude we have a tired engine.

The stop resulted in another great roadside attraction. The World’s Largest Easel. Being the Sunflower State, it seemed fitting they placed a Van Gogh sunflower painting on the easel.

World's Largest Easel

World’s Largest Easel

Well, Jarod left us with a couple things to fret about with the engine, but we’re plowing on. He gave us some road routes that are off the interstate, and that helps tremendously. We figure we’re striking distance from Denver (Woody says that translates to “tow distance”) so we we’ll just continue with the slow & steady plan. I’m certain Colorado will have several Vanagon experts to lend a hand.

About Hali

Just a travel junkie trying to find my voice in the blogosphere. I enjoy sharing my photography and fast facts I learn in the places I travel through.

9 thoughts on “We Made It To The Middle, and other Roadside Shenanigans

  1. Mormor

    Ooh poor Thor. I bet he is just cold after all that Florida heat! Hope it doesn’t set you back too much (in more ways than one). So looking forward to seeing you. Xoxox

  2. Sheryl Chapman

    So entertaining! Love the poster for the Pony Express, that’s priceless, don’t want to leave any grieving mothers right? Hope you find a sober mechanic out there! xoxoxoxo

    1. Hali Post author

      Found a mechanic that has nothing but the highest marks in reviews(don’t see that too often. ) We have an appt to meet him Monday morning. Denver has been a fun city to be “stuck” in.


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