Day 5: June 13, 2011
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I had been on the road about half an hour when I spotted flashing red lights in front of me. The dropping gates soon helped me identify them as a railroad crossing. I came to a leisurely stop and watched the freight train speed by. It was a pretty long train -- and pretty close, too.

I've only driven across Kansas once and that was as part of a caravan of Corvettes that were routinely churning through 500 mile days. I've heard many people talk about the monotony of Kansas but the day that went from Denver to Topeka didn't seem any more monotonous than the day before or the day after. Today I met the real Kansas. With just a few exceptions, US 36 is two-lane all the way across the state. It's arrow straight two-lane that looks like an expressway and you sometimes have to remind yourself to look carefully before pulling into the left lane to pass that truck. Kansas itself is an interesting state and there is even some interesting scenery along Thirty-Six but the road itself is far from exciting.

Once in awhile, I'd punch up that application on the Garmin to see if there was anything worth turning off for. Usually there wasn't but suddenly things changed. By pure luck, I happened to make a check when "The World's Largest Ball of Sisal Twine" was just nineteen miles directly south of me. The most direct road was dirt and I almost headed down it but I studied things a bit and decided it would take less time if I continued on to the next paved road then turned back east on US 24 just a bit. The next paved road was KS 181 and by the time I reached it I learned that the geographical center of the continental United States lay the other direction up the same road. This could have been a real dilemma for someone less accustomed to behaving impulsively behind the wheel. I quickly decided to go through with the big ball run then head on north after I returned.

I'd finished the southbound leg and most of the eastbound one when this eye catching display of trucks and parts of trucks appeared . It held me up slightly but I was soon on my way again.

The town of Cawker is rightly proud of being home to this wondrous orb and I'm quite proud of having seen it. The sign at the city limits doesn't mention it but the word "sisal" is used on one of the signs at the ball itself. Does that mean that there is an even bigger ball of non-sisal twine out there somewhere?

Cawker is much more than a ball of twine. Or at least it was. Fame doesn't seem to have brought fortune but there is evidence that things were once brighter. There are certainly a larger number of interesting looking buildings here than one might expect in a town this size. I was seriously impressed. The first little cutie is directly across the street from the twine ball. One block up looks like a wild west set but there's not much activity there. The tiny former library with its tiny columns is one block north. The last two buildings are both on US 24 west of the twine. I stopped for a beer at the real Corner Bar even though Cawker has one of the most attractive carry-outs I've ever seen.

Then it was back to where KS 181 becomes US 281 at US 36 and onto what was the geographic center of the entire United States of America when the marker was erected in 1940. It's really quite a complex with a display trailer that must be used only on special occasions, a picnic shelter, and a tiny chapel. I'm proud to have been here, too.

This has absolutely nothing to do with US-36 and I have no story to go with it. It just caught my eye and I thought I'd share. It's about five miles west of Phillipsburg.

This sign, just a little east of Norton, Kansas, took me by surprise but gave me an opportunity to inject something I'd sort of intended to mention when I went through Indianapolis but, thanks to the Bremers, there just wasn't room or need. Indianapolis was the original eastern terminus of US-36 but that only lasted about six years, until 1932. Denver became the western terminus four years later, in 1936. But, even though Indianapolis and Denver were never simultaneously the end points of Thirty-Six, much has been made of the fact that it connected them. I imagine that may be due to boosters in and between the two cities and the fact that there were other popular ways, like US 40, to get to Indianapolis from further east.

One of the boosters' slogans, as illustrated by the pictured brochure, was "Travel The Perfect 36". The exact date of the brochure is not known but it is most likely from the early '50s. It was a different time when points of interest were in the eye of the beholder.

The day ended in Oberlin, Kansas, at the Frontier Motel. It's a nice and clean 1950s vintage place with a nothing-fancy but pleasing restaurant attached. My room is here.

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