Independence, Kansas, is FUN-FUL

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One of my earliest blog entries was about a brief visit four years ago to Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas, on the way home from seeing my cousin graduate from Lawrence High School.

Kiddy Land, Independence, Kansas

Last Saturday, my uncle was celebrating his 50th birthday, so I drove myself and the toddler north, stopping in Riverside Park for a couple of hours on the way up. (There were also the requisite Sonic stops -- three in all.) We spent some time looking at the animals in the Ralph Mitchell Zoo (did you know porcupines could climb?), letting the toddler explore Kiddy Land, a nursery-rhyme themed playground created by the local Lions Club, walking through the big kids' playground, admiring the statue of a corythosaurus (a bit of Forgotten New York from the 1964 World's Fair), riding the carousel (still just a nickel) and the train (only a quarter), and envying the crowds cooling off at the city's water park.

FUN-FUL ladder casts shadows, Riverside Park, Independence, Kansas

In that earlier entry, I described in detail the wonderful old-fashioned playground equipment, much of it bearing the FUN-FUL brand. These are playground pieces you don't see in parks anymore for fear of litigation. This time I took photos and posted them on Flickr.

FUN-FUL slides, Independence, Kansas

I should note that it was a pleasant surprise that we were able to ride the train and carousel. That was the last Saturday afternoon for the carousel and train to be running; the weather is getting too hot. I believe they still will run on Sunday afternoons, but the rest of the week only from 6:30 to 9:30.

Our route took us through the area along the Oklahoma-Kansas border that was so badly flooded only a week ago. Johnstone Park in Bartlesville was closed, but people were at work in the Bartlesville Playground (the Kiddie Park) getting it cleaned up. (The park was not yet open for business.) Highway 123 between Bartlesville and Dewey is flood-prone; the old KWON studios were built on stilts. A big tent, the kind used for outdoor sales or wedding receptions, was set up in front of the old radio station, and the stain from the flood reached at least two feet higher than where the roof met the sides -- probably 10 feet above the ground. Mud stains on the trees lining the highway told the same story.

Further north in Kansas, we could see where flood waters had matted down corn fields. The east side of Coffeyville, which we passed through on the way home, nearest the Verdigris River, was like a ghost town. Only the lights along the main road were lit; all other buildings were dark, and the flood stain reached five or six feet up the sides of the buildings.

We also took a detour into Chanute on the way home, in search of a place to buy gas and rest for a minute or two. I was surprised to see how lively the downtown was at about 11:00 p.m. The center of activity seemed to be Fire Escape, a spacious and inviting Christian coffee house on Main Street. (Had I not had a sleepy toddler, I'd have dropped in.)

Some years ago, the Kansas highway department rerouted US 169 to bypass most towns between Coffeyville and Kansas City. They did such a good job, it's often hard to know when you're passing a town. Chanute signed its own business route to help travelers find their way off the main road, through town, and back to the highway.

The toddler slept for the first half of the trip home, but he stayed awake after we stopped. We listened to Bob Wills, and I passed him back his water cup, Pringles, and rolls that my uncle sent home with us.

I'm going to repeat a question I asked after our drive through Kansas four years ago:

I am a proud Oklahoman, and yet I can't help but notice a quality and pride in these Kansas towns that I don't see in towns of similar size in Oklahoma. These Kansas towns seem to be surviving and thriving, while many similar towns in Oklahoma are on the wane, with Main Streets falling into disrepair, storefronts vacant or filled with sub-optimal uses and public spaces showing signs of neglect. The pride I've observed in Kansas I've also seen in many parts of Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Illinois. What accounts for the difference?

What do you think?

MORE: FUN-FUL playground equipment was made by General Playground Equipment, Inc. of Kokomo, Indiana, a successor to the Hill-Standard Company of 116 Fun-Ful Avenue, Anderson, Indiana. Here's the story of one man's effort to save a spiral slide in Burlington, Iowa, that was made by the company and which had been installed in the 1920s.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 16, 2007 10:13 PM.

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