Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Trip to Sun City

Downtown Sun City
 When a friend read about a fun bar and restaurant called Buster's in Sun City, Kansas, she suggested that my husband and I join her and her husband for dinner on Halloween week-end.  She had heard that patrons were encouraged to costume for the occasion, but we settled for boots and jeans.  We fit in perfectly with the other ranchers and farmers, although there were a few people in costume.

Opposite side of the downtown street
We accepted the invitation not only because we looked forward to an evening with our friends, but also because I was eager to see Sun City.  First, I remembered school bus trips to see the caves and natural bridge nearby.  Second, I wanted to see the old town where Isaac had traveled by wagon to sell potatoes.  Unfortunately, we were delayed in starting the drive (because my friend had hit a deer on their way to our house with her brand new pickup).  By the time we reached Sun City it was too dark to see very much except the well-lighted restaurant and a group of people gathered around a fire nearby to keep warm on the chilly evening.

A few days later, my husband and I happened to be nearby and detoured to see Sun City in the daylight.  The photographs accompanying this blog were taken that day.

Terrain near Sun City
As Isaac's reputation for raising quality potatoes spread, and awareness that he kept part of his crop in his cellar to use as seed potatoes became known, he developed a market in his neighborhood.  He realized that selling seed potatoes in the spring might provide competitors for his own potatoes when they were harvested later, but the cash received in the spring was needed.  As he had anticipated, at harvest the neighbors had their own potato plots and did not buy his potatoes.  Even the markets in towns were glutted.  Consequently, he had to load his potatoes into his wagon and travel to areas where potatoes were not grown.  That was how Sun City became a marketing destination.

The site where Spring Vale was located
Isaac had never traveled to that region of the country, and he described the terrain in his journal:  "Curious country around here, once a flat country but gullies started & washed by ages & frosts crumbling projecting rock flattened bluff sides down to gentle sloping & now green grass covered."  His first trip started at 3 a.m. when he arose to grease his wagon and then went to Eggleston's place to borrow a mule to hitch up with Dolly.  He spent the night at Judge Purdy's place "22 miles south of Cullison" and continued to Sun City the next morning.  He reached his destination by 11 a.m. and sold his potatoes by noon for $1 to $1.25 a bushel.  He started home, traveling through Spring Vale and Turkey Creek Mills, and spending the night in Cullison.  

Turkey Creek
In October, Isaac made another trip to Sun City, stopping this time for an overnight stay at J.P. Chinn's ranch.  The weather was colder than his first trip, and despite covering his potatoes, a few were frost bitten.  He lingered to visit with the Chinns the next morning, finding them "a clever family," but he reached Sun City by 11, disappointed to find the potato market "somewhat so scarce, finally I sold 5 bushels at Hotel & 16 1/2 to dry goods store (Douglas) all at 1.00 for bushel = $21.50"  

Isaac made his last potato trip to Sun City in early November, selling his entire load of 25 bushels to "one store W. of the Post Office, at 95 cents."  

During our visit I asked about the old hotel and was told it had been torn down when the fire station was built.  I didn't see any building that I could identify as dating back to 1887 when Isaac made his marketing trips, but I did photograph some interesting old buildings.  We went out of our way to drive through Spring Vale, where Isaac had stopped for the night on his October return home, staying overnight in the feed stable.  He stabled Dolly and the mule there, paying 35 cents, including hay, and he spent the night in the stable with them.  There are no longer any buildings.
One of the curving, unpaved roads we traveled

We had passed by Turkey Creek Mills along the way.  It is now a private club.

Although we left paving to explore the country through which Isaac traveled by wagon, we always had the benefit of graded roads.  We found it hard to imagine Isaac's trips with a mare and a mule pulling a wooden wagon loaded with 25 bushels of potatoes through the irregular terrain.


The Blog Fodder said...

Pretty country. But then I like that kind of country. Sun City must have seen better days?

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Yes, like many Kansas small towns they are shrinking or disappearing almost entirely. School consolidations meant the end for some, although populations were already small. Many have closed their churches, and without schools or churches there is not much left.

Dave Rose said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane to Sun City. It was once the home to one of the largest and most well known rodeos. The former rodeo grounds are located south of the Medicine River and back to the east of the bridge. Love the Red Hills area, which is rich in history.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Dave, Thank you for sharing the information about the rodeo. Perhaps my husband and I can make another trip and find the rodeo grounds. Kansas has so much history that is being lost to future generations. I hope my manuscript and this blog help preserve some of it!