He leaned into the engine compartment, the rain misting and blowing like a giant, continuous raspberry from the sky, and he checked the oil as a perfectly round, woven ball of hay sat fixed to the roof of his Toyota Yaris.
“Excuse me, sir. What’s the story with the hay,” I asked, ranging over from my gas pump at the Expressways at 13 Highway and Business 50.
“It’s an art project but also a roadside attraction that travels,” said Michael Shaughnessy, throwing away the oily paper towel and returning to graciously talk about his adventure.
I thought maybe he was on his way to feed some spoiled heifers or maybe he was delivering yard art to a friend out in the country.
No, turns out Mr. Shaughnessy is a serious artist from Portland, Maine. And he’s driving his woven hay ball across the country. He made a brief stop in Warrensburg Friday on his way to Kansas City. And he’s headed to Portland, Ore., documenting his encounters and trading photos with curious people like myself.
“OK, look at the hay ball…smile!”
Mr. Shaughnessy is quite pleasant and our brief visit was nice. But it wasn’t until I lurked on his website when I felt the gravity of this guy. And that’s when I recalled seeing one of his installations at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City years ago – some massive woven hay installation.
“We don’t have enough wonders in the world and things that just make people smile,” Mr. Shaughnessy said.
He’s shown his work all over the place, from the Lehman Art Gallery in the Bronx, New York, and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Kansas City and the University of Missouri in Columbia.
“For many years my work has involved the sculptural use of hay. As a grass it is a material that is familiar and accessible. It is used across cultures and it carries a depth of history and associations. It is seasonally based and regenerative, according to the artist’s statement on his website.
“Formally, my works embrace multiple aesthetic sensibilities ranging from minimalism to intuitive abstraction. It is highly social with a strong populist concern. It values artisanship and common and collaborative labor. By virtue of its material, its handling and forms it resonates with social/political and environmental associations and concerns.”
So, yes, his excursion across America is part traveling art exhibit and part social experiment. And it worked. On me at least.
That ball of hay pulled me from the daze of a long day staring at a screen, meetings and all-pervasive thoughts of “What next.” And, yeah, I may have smiled, too.
Go lurk for yourself: www.thehayball.com.
The soldier lay dying. He clutched at his canteen for a drink and the water spilled down his chin. He let it go and tried pushing himself up but slumped back down. He reached up, his hand clenching into a claw and it began to twitch.
“Hey Mark, are you dead or wounded?”
My son looked up at me as soon as he heard the question, and we both laughed as the guns exploded and men in impeccable period costume reenacted the Battle of Lone Jack.
Smoke from canons and black powder guns wafted over the battlefield Sunday as hundreds of people in colorful and comfortable summer clothes safely watched from behind a roped-off perimeter as men in drab gray and blue wool uniforms blasted one another.
August 16 marked the 150th anniversary of this terrible battle, and the Lone Jack Historical Society put together an unbelievable weekend to commemorate the event. There were reenactments on Saturday and Sunday, along with a candlelight tour of the old farmhouse near where Confederates conspired to take on the Missouri militia men who just rode into town from Lexington.
The battle actually took place in the middle of town. The reenactment was moved to the old farmhouse a bus ride away down U.S. 50. The owner of the house, Steve Brown, told multiple groups of people who filed into the house after the reenactment that it was built in 1882 by James Washington Noel, whose grandson lives at John Knox Village.
The house was temporarily named “Cave House” for the hotel where Union Major Emory S. Foster set up his headquarters. A yellow flag was hung outside, as it was Sunday, to designate the hotel as a field hospital.
Foster, you see, arrived in town the previous night, blasting away at a Confederate camp and inspiring Col. Vard Cockrell and his rebel buddies to take it to the militia early the next morning. Well, both sides tore each other apart – literally. After the ammo was gone, they used their hands to kill one another.
My boys and I arrived just in time to catch the next-to-last bus to the reenactment. I hustled to find the ticket table and immediately recognized the lady making announcements over a PA system. It was my old friend from Lee’s Summit, Kathy Smith. Kathy is one of the coolest people on the planet. And I realized as soon as I saw her that I missed her terribly. We only chatted briefly, but as my sons and I walked away she made an announcement that Matt Bird-Meyer, former Lee’s Summit Tribune editor, was there. Then she announced a Lee’s Summit councilman was also there.
Kathy is so cool.
Anyway, we made it to the reenactment site and watched the action with the mayor of Lee’s Summit, Mayor Randy Rhoads. I know, probably the coolest name for a mayor ever.
The battle was good, but the Confederates chased the state militia away, again. It was impressive to see the amount of detail that went into the battle, from the uniforms to the bits of action. The only thing missing was the hand-to-hand combat.
They dropped the ropes after the battle and allowed the spectators onto the battlefield, the ground littered with spent black powder paper packages. We mingled with the troops, gawked at the guns and artillery. I jumped in line to go into the old farmhouse. Meanwhile, my boys scoured the grounds and came back with handfuls of caps and even a paper package still full of black powder.
It was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday. The sky was brilliant blue with big, puffy clouds. The action was exciting and the occasion was historic. I was happy to reflect on its significance with my boys, even if they were more interested in the guns and the old stuff.
He casually removes his ball cap, revealing dirty blond hair tied back in a ponytail, and fishes a pack of cigarettes from his front shirt pocket while discussing the finer points of futility.
“What I like to do is invest a huge amount of time in something that doesn’t make a difference,” said Tommy Thompson, lighting his cigarette.
Tommy and I sit in the shade of a large bald cypress tree, surrounded by several empty, comfortable chairs and dead butts, clearly indicating a popular gathering place for friends and neighbors.
Tommy points to a small windmill standing next to a huge white barn between his old 1913 farmhouse and the rough red barn that used to be the Hazel Hill Mercantile.
“Look at that, look at that,” Tommy says. “That’s a wind generator. I have 13 of ‘em. This is my second restoration.”
The wind machine he so fondly indicated is a Parris-Dunn. It doesn’t look like much, but to Tommy it is a useless something to master for its technical, Zen-like coolness. You see, when the wind is too strong the propeller automatically tips back to dump out the excess breeze.
“It is so hip,” Tommy says, his deep voice softening. “Put one of ‘em out there and watch it turn.”
Tommy sits relaxed in his dirty blue jeans, his face framed by a white beard. His loose demeanor indicative of a hardworking farmer who, just the other day in 90-plus degrees, was digging fencepost holes, some by hand when the auger couldn’t make it.
But he’s more than a farmer. Tommy’s a retired art teacher. He’s an avid birder, never going far without binoculars. He’s a tractor junkie, a voracious reader and a potter and watercolor painter. He restores furniture and old Jeeps. He’s also the co-founder of the Hazel Hill Mercantile.
He and his best friend Lou Atkinson, with whom he used to make Mission Style furniture, started the biannual sale some 12 years ago. They attracted vendors and shoppers from a wide area who sold and bought all kinds of stuff – pottery, furniture, jewelry, melted bottles, paintings, etched glass, cool felt hats.
It was a real destination shop in the middle of nowhere – 14 miles northwest of Warrensburg. People came from all over and I’ve heard it described more than once as a sort of picnic atmosphere. Strangers became friends, old friends became reacquainted and time just sort of slowed down to a country pace.
The two friends met while teaching at Odessa Middle School. Tommy retired in 2001 after 26 years. Lou is going on 34 years and teaches industrial arts technology.
Tommy sent a note to their vendors in August 2011 to break the news he was closing Hazel Hill. His insurance company demanded a separate commercial policy, but Tommy didn’t see the point in raising prices on the vendors just to make the same amount of money. So he closed. Lou has since reopened in a converted gas station just east of Sedalia in Smithton.
Together, the two friends thoroughly enjoy making projects that don’t make a difference. They spent a summer building a gypsy wagon, which was actually quite popular and a good marketing tool for Hazel Hill.
Walking through Tommy’s woodworking shop, he shows off the old cash register Lou converted into a rather bulky breadbox. Next to that is the wooden skeleton of a pump organ Tommy is restoring into a desk.
“We both enjoy trying to make something out of nothing,” Lou said during a telephone interview.
Hazel Hill Mercantile is done, but Tommy has plenty of things to keep him busy. He lives where the stars are unimpeded by city lights, where neighbors who might have broken down in the field readily come calling to borrow your truck. His morning ritual is coffee in a glass sunroom where the birds are easy to spot.
Then, it’s out to work the cows or fix something at one of his rental properties or help feed a neighbor’s herd or tinker with an ongoing project.
He used to paint with watercolors, but it’s been several years. And it’s been about nine months since he’s thrown any pottery. There’s simply not enough time. But that doesn’t mean he’s turned his back on the arts. Tommy is a member of the artists’ co-op at the Old Drum Trading Co. & Gallery in downtown Warrensburg where he has pottery for sale.
Time is precious when there’s a roof to fix, a building to demolish, additions to be built and cows to care for. But he finds time for other things. He said he was given the nickname Gonzo for his attraction to that “gonzo feeling.”
“Oh, we got us this old tractor and we’re going to take the whole day to drive somewhere and load up this old tractor that’ll maybe never run and bring it back,” Tommy said, his voice soft at first. “And when it fires up the first time and sets fire to the barn – that is quite a rush. And we did that. And all we had was snow and everybody’s grabbing handfuls of snow and throwing it on the tractor to put the fire out.”
He also has a keen eye for good stuff. His yard is a testament, not only to the hundreds of trees he’s planted, but to the perfectly salvageable items he’s accumulated. The mercantile itself is made of mostly salvaged materials, including cool rounded windows from an old building at the State Fair in Sedalia.
Three Jeeps languish behind his house, nearly obscured by the brush – more projects in the queue. And strapped to the cypress that so generously shaded us on a hot afternoon, is a massive, rusty posthole digger.
It’s a 420-pound Prewitt posthole digger Tommy salvaged from a fencerow. And he’s just as eager to describe its inner workings as he is the wind machines. The machine was manufactured in Pleasant Hill and bolts to the back of your tractor. The long Acme screw on top helps to slowly drive the augur into the ground.
“Think you’ll get it going?” I ask.
“Oh yeah! Just think about it,” Tommy says. “It’s a huge waste of time!”
Deep into a glass of Buffalo Sweat, I didn’t notice the music had stopped until the bar owner suddenly broke off our loud conversation.
“Wait, Pete’s trying to tell us a story,” said Andrea Valentine.
Then Pete Rodenberg did something he, and many other singer/songwriters, avoid – he explained the next song. He told us a story about Howdy Holmes.
It was funny at first, of course, like a couple of rural dudes greeting one another, “Howdy, Holmes!” But then it gradually became clear that the president of the Chelsea Milling Company, the makers of Jiffy cornbread mix, provided Pete a sort of epiphany.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but here we were at a small downtown Warrensburg bar, witnessing the tail end of Pete’s five-year adventure to meet the subject of a song he wrote. It is a 30-something coming of age story that began as a running joke in a restaurant kitchen and culminates in a touching and extremely catchy, lowdown twangy tune.
Five years ago, Pete worked as a manager at Stumpy’s House of Bar-B-Que in St. Peters, a suburb of St. Louis, where they made huge sheet pans of cornbread. Well, one day Pete looks at the back of a Jiffy box and reads the thank you note from the company president, Howdy Holmes.
“Well, we thought it was hilarious,” Pete said during an interview.
“Howdy, Holmes” turned into a running joke with a co-worker that quickly became well played out. But not played out enough for his buddy to eventually bring Pete some research he found on Mr. Holmes. Turns out he is a former open-wheeled race car champ who eventually became president of his family’s flour milling business that dates back to the early 1800s.
“I’m looking at this and I say, ‘You know, I’m gonna write a song about this,” Pete said.
So, he wrote the progression and then wondered what to sing about. And from his co-worker’s research, he found the perfect hook from Howdy’s grandmother, “Now Miss Mabel, you tell your father them good hot biscuits will be ready in a jiffy.”
Apparently this was uttered by the family’s housekeeper. Later in life, the story goes, Mabel came to own the family business and saw two boys sitting and eating what appeared to be terrible sandwiches. She learned that their single father, who knew nothing about cooking, made those sandwiches.
That was inspiration enough for Mabel to create a product that was cheap and simple to make. They needed a name and Mabel remembered her housemaid’s words about the hot biscuits that would be ready in a jiffy.
Yes, so it all fit together perfectly. Pete basically put the history of Jiffy muffins to song. But he shelved the unfinished tune, and it wasn’t until he and his girlfriend split and Pete moved from St. Louis to Kansas City that the song became fully realized.
His roommate, Josh Bach, had a recording studio in his home. Pete pulled out the Jiffy tune, played the hook and Josh says, “Stop, get in the car.” They drive to a Guitar Center so Josh can buy a new Telecaster.
Pete is hesitant, but Josh insists it’s necessary. “Don’t worry about it. We need this.”
The next day, Pete returns from work and Josh had finished the song. There’s the Telecaster twang, organ, harmony, drums and Pete’s acoustic guitar and harmonica.
It’s brilliant. And it’s called, “(Now Miss Mabel) You Tell Your Father Them Good Hot Biscuits Will Be Ready in a Jiffy.”
The following year, Pete is teaching English as a second language at Western Illinois University in Macomb for the summer. He’s bored one day and thinking about a Howdy Holmes quote he remembered reading. So Pete looked up the Chelsea Milling Company address, wrote a note and sent the song in May 2009.
“I broke up from this long-term relationship, so I’m in disarray and I’m trying to figure out what I need to do,” Pete said. “I realize I made some poor decisions and I need to pick myself up and fix myself.”
The quote goes like this: “When I look back, I can’t believe I really did that,” Holmes said of his career as a racecar driver. “To be fortunate to be able to make a career out of what you love, very few people are able to do that.”
Soon Pete gets a call from Chelsea, Mich. The caller wants to verify that he is, indeed, the Peter Rodenberg who sent the company this song before Howdy Holmes calls. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, Mr. Holmes calls. The two share a long conversation and Howdy says how much they all love the song. Mr. Holmes sends Pete a package, including some witty T-shirts with sayings like, “If you don’t know Jiffy, you don’t know muffin.”
Pete eventually decided to get his master’s in ESL and, two years later, celebrated his degree by buying Phish tickets for Deer Creek, Ind. Four hours north is Chelsea, Mich., and Pete planned to visit the Jiffy factory before the two-night concert.
He makes it to the factory and he’s waiting for a tour. A lady tells him that, unfortunately, the tours for the day have ended. Pete then tells her why he’s really there.
“Oh my god, that’s you!” the lady exclaims.
It wasn’t long before Howdy walks in and they meet and share another long conversation. Howdy walks Pete through the plant, via the employee door.
“We started chatting, just like we did on the phone,” Pete said. “He wanted to know about me. I was, I don’t know. I wasn’t shocked. I was flattered, really.”
So, Pete gave him a condensed version of his life, including the job he has teaching ESL in China at the end of August. And Pete could tell Howdy was impressed that he has goals and he’s working toward them.
Pete hooks up with a company liaison who takes him out for lunch and, the next day, on a jaunt to The Henry Ford, the amazing museum of Americana and innovation in Dearborn.
Jiffy doesn’t advertise, so they really have no use for Pete’s song, other than to fully enjoy the cool tune. But Pete walked away with quite a story.
And it was that night, June 30 at the Neptune in downtown Warrensburg, when Pete was making his way back home from his jaunt to see Phish and meet Howdy Holmes.
“That meant a lot to me that you guys, the five people at the bar, were that interested in what I was saying, to be honest,” Pete said. “That’s what life is about – is to make these whole stories, is to do something, you know?”
You can hear the full version of the song here: http://www.reverbnation.com/peterrodenberg.
My car’s ignition cylinder failed…again.
Unfazed, my son suggested we take the minivan. We were not going to be denied our Saturday afternoon adventure.
My mind dwelled on the stupid car that wouldn’t start and how to get it to the shop on Monday. We parked at the entrance to the Turkey Foot Prairie on the western edge of Warrensburg as large puffy clouds with dark bellies hung in the sky.
Then we saw the sign and I remembered Oz. And, for a moment, I forgot about my stupid car and nothing else really mattered.
The park was dedicated several years ago to Oz and Dorothy Hawksley – a couple whose lives centered on conservation. Oz helped create this tall grass prairie in 1997 as a member of the Park Board, and 15 years later it is thriving.
I don’t know why, but today was the first time I visited the prairie. And it is magnificent.
A trail wanders through this seven-acre prairie, and immediately we saw blackberry bushes, Black-eyed Susans, and grass as tall as my chest.
My son walked ahead and immediately I thought, this is fun and there’s no line. There’s absolutely nobody around. It’s quiet except for the birds and the wind. The blackberry bushes are full of fruit, and I felt proud to tell my son that this is what a natural prairie looks like.
We have Oz to thank for this great park.
I’ve written about Oz a couple of times, and the last time was for the university’s alumni magazine, Today. Our interview was the day before his 90th birthday and his memory was still just as sharp as his cussing.
Oz is fascinating. His park is fascinating. Oh, and he helped protect scenic waterways, published a popular guide to Missouri waterways, published research on caves and the fossils discovered there, started a scientific journal, a statewide caving organization and a Kansas City-based floating group that still exists some 50 years later.
Anyway, the trail curves and makes its way back near the entrance. The trail also splits here and veers off into the woods. You end up at the soccer fields, but the trail picks up on the other side.
This is the reason my son wanted to come to this park in the first place – for the creek. We peeled off the trail and headed down a ravine to the creek, which basically follows the trail back to the parking lot.
Minnows and crawdads are everywhere. There are little waterfalls and a small pool in one spot where the granddaddy minnows congregate. Wading upstream through the chilly water, checking out the rocks, the steep walls of the ravine and animal tracks – we didn’t have to buy any tickets, wait in any lines or worry about other people to have a wicked summer adventure.
Sometimes you go do a story about a church being dismantled board by board and come back with something much more.
Ok, this is my first story about a church being dismantled, recycled actually. But my point is this – Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church is doing more than gracefully razing its 123-year-old clapboard church.
Shiloh is branching out, forming a new nonprofit organization to expand its food distribution and community outreach programs.
“The goal of Manna Harvest is going to be to reach the community and the needs of the community and support this community in a way that we can go after poverty, that we can educate on poverty and that we can build support systems that will enable us to be better than we are today,” said the Rev. Dr. Terrence Moody. “I hope that by the work that we do, that people will see that this endeavor was never meant to be…to build a mega-church, but to build a sovereign and caring community that other communities could look at and say, ‘Hey, we’d like to do that to our community.’”
If you’ve wandered through Old Town Warrensburg (west of Main Street) on the first or third Saturday of the month, you’ve witnessed the great work of this church. Cars stretch around the corner of Main and Market streets some two, long city blocks to Second Street with families waiting in line for groceries.
That’s Shiloh’s Harvest of Hope Food Distribution program, also known as Manna Harvest. Between 200 and 300 families queue up each Saturday to receive free food. Not only that, Shiloh’s Nehemiah Feeding Project feeds up to 75 people every Monday and Tuesday restaurant-style inside the church’s fellowship hall. Shiloh also partners with Harvesters for its BackSnack program to ensure that kids on free or reduced lunches have something to eat over the weekend.
These are certainly faith-based programs, but they are open to people of all faiths (or no faith). They do not discriminate by race or the type of car you drive. You need help? They are there to help, not to proselytize, question your situation or stare you down.
“Most of all, I believe in hope,” Moody said. “And I believe in a country that has been prosperous all these years, and it’s prosperous because of their ability to look after one another, share with one another and when need be cry with one another and support one another during difficult times.”
Back to the old church. Shiloh has the $10,000 to dismantle the sweet old building. It does not have the funds to build a new facility – one with a walk-in cooler and freezer. That push will come shortly after its Manna Harvest program receives its nonprofit status. The idea is to put the church in the background so Manna Harvest can truly reach out with no strings attached. Volunteers can only do so much, and Moody said Manna Harvest is likely to require some permanent jobs once it’s up and running.
Eventually, Moody said he’d like to see the program expand to a 20-acre tract somewhere where all of the city’s and county’s support resources could be better leveraged under one roof.
In the meantime, the floorboards from the old sanctuary were sold to a church in Kansas City. Moody said other churches will benefit from the recycled lumber.
I remember nine years ago when Shiloh tore down the old Anderson House, the church parsonage, at 202 N. Main St. to make way for the new church at 212 N. Main St. It was the oldest house in town at the time, and a history of Shiloh that Moody provided notes that the parsonage was purchased and remodeled in 1889 – the year the original church was built.
Tearing down that old house in 2003 to build a large metal building for a new church in 2005 was a little controversial at the time. But it was necessary to move forward, and it turned out OK. Shiloh is thriving, and their outreach programs are extremely popular.
So, here they are tearing down another old building in Old Town. Well, let’s face it. There’s no denying the old building needed many thousands of dollars of work. The electrical system was unsafe and the plumbing was shot. And the bathrooms were sizeable for a home, not a public facility.
Moody said the old church was significantly altered some time ago, apparently foiling any chances of being listed in the National Register. Dismantling the building and reusing the materials elsewhere is a graceful way to close the final chapter for the old church.
But it also marks a new beginning. That new beginning requires some tough choices that are practical and rational. As cliché as it sounds, Shiloh has grand plans to help those who are hurting. And there are clearly plenty of folks around who are.
“We said (the new church) would be a facility that would minister to the community and we would make sure that it wasn’t about having church but it was about how we would impact families and how we would impact this community,” Moody said. “We’ve looked to make sure that we are sensitive to needs, not just homeless (needs), not just individuals without work, but we want to focus on helping people not get homeless, helping people not go upside down.”
For more information, visit smbctoday.org or call 660-747-5685. Financial donations to the church food programs can be sent to 212 N. Main St., Warrensburg, MO 64093.
We approached the B-25J Mitchell World War II bomber with high expectations of going up in the rumbling giant.
“Got any more room?”
“Sure, got room for one more.”
“I’ve got three here.”
“Oh, three, you know it’s three ninety-five, right?”
“Hmm…I figured there was a cost but…”
Indeed, the cost was three ninety-five as in $395 – each.
Well, the press release simply said the B-25J was “available for rides” without mentioning just how much. Let’s see – jingle, jingle – nope, that’s more coin than I have in any of these pockets.
In fact, there were many aircraft rides to be had Saturday during the Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport Expo. It cost $60 to go up in one of the University of Central Missouri planes and about $125 for a ride in the Fairchild PT-19 open-cockpit plane. Johnny Rowlands was there giving helicopter rides with his company, KC Copters.
My two boys and I had fun watching. We lurked around the Mitchell bomber, checked out the guns and remembered seeing her at the Whiteman Air Force Base air show not too long ago. As we ducked under its belly to look at the bombs docked in its bay, the editor from the Daily Star-Journal appeared.
“Can I borrow your boys?”
So, he instructs my youngest to stand here, look there, lean over, smile and so on. He then asks the crew if he could get my oldest into the front gunner’s seat.
“Can you wait a few minutes? We’re getting ready to go up.”
“Oh, it won’t take but a minute.”
So, he gets my son inside and pops a few more posed shots.
Anyway, seeking a ride in the Mitchell was just one reason why I wanted to attend the airport expo. I also wanted to see how the airport master plan was shaping up.
There are three new T-hangars built next to a large new tarmac. The hangars have 30 bays, 11 for the university and the rest for the public. Three more hangars are already planned to be built nearby to meet the high demand for space.
“Most of these were full pretty quick and I already got another guy who called me on another hangar,” said Tanner Rindels, the new airport director. “(The new hangars) just opened up less than a year ago and they’re already full.”
The university also has plans to build a fixed-base operator facility and expand the runway. Rindels said extending the main runway from 4,200 feet to 5,500 feet would open Skyhaven to larger cabin-class corporate jets – basically everything except airliners.
The airport now owns most of the necessary land for an expansion, except for the Skyhaven gas station and convenience store, which would have to be removed. But the expansion depends on funding – government, university and private funding.
In the meantime, Rindels said the airport stays busy, both with student flight training and commercial traffic.
Family Video officials land at Skyhaven. Lowe’s and Wal-Mart officials use the airport, and people from Carmike Cinemas come in a Leer-45 jet.
“We’ve had Jimmy John’s that flew in here,” Rindels said. “They looked at coming to the city because we had an airport.
“There’s several companies in town that utilize this airport. So, it’s a big economic impact for the community.”
Rindels said the expansion would help make the Warrensburg area more attractive to companies that own a large fleet of aircraft.
That would certainly be good news for our town – especially if, say, Target liked what it saw here. So, how about we annex out to the airport and maybe encourage development along U.S. 50.