Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wellington, Kansas

Many of the 1,689 libraries Andrew Carnegie funded in the United States are now privately owned.  They have been converted into law offices, homes, churches and an assortment of businesses, including a restaurant, a book store, a real estate office, a car company, a travel agency, a hair salon and more.  And another of these historic, noble edifices is available for purchase--the Carnegie in Anthony, Kansas, south of Wichita, down near the Oklahoma border.

The For Sale sign out front did not list a realtor, just a phone number--316 641-1800.   It is a fine brick building on a large corner lot with the usual Carnegie features--a staircase to its entry, high ceilings and large windows, a lamp post out front and a hundred year history and an aura of majesty radiating the goodwill and positive energy it has accumulated from its thousands of patrons over the decades.

It also has a unique plaque honoring Carnegie next to its entry along with "CARNEGIE LIBRARY" inscribed high above. 

It would make a fine residence in this quiet, small town that has seen better days.  It is only a few blocks from the plain new library on the outskirts of the town.  I could have spent the night in the Carnegie, as its front door was unlocked and it was near the end of the day.  But it was too hot and musty after a ninety degree day, so I found a field to sleep in besides an abandoned shed a few miles down the road.

It was my first two-Carnegie day of these travels.  I am half-way across the state, into its more settled eastern half with the towns not so far apart and the fields more green and productive. The other Carnegie came in Kingman, thirty-five miles to the north.  Its Carnegie was still thriving, and a hub in the community.  It had an undetectable addition to its backside that doubled its size a few years ago.  It was the third Carnegie on my route across Kansas, and, like the other two, resided on a brick street.

The librarian told me that when they put the addition on the library they were concerned about the quality of the original bricks of the building, as some of the brick buildings in the town had been constructed with inferior bricks and had started crumbling.  Fortunately, the library hadn't been short-changed.  It was a warm day with temperatures predicted to reach ninety.  The library serves as a retreat from the heat for some.  It wasn't such a hot summer this year.  Not once was the electrical bill over one thousand dollars for a month, unlike the past couple of summers.

While I glanced at a book about the Carnegies of Kansas that the librarian pulled down for me, a husky, soft-spoken guy a few years younger than me  asked if I was the bicyclist.  He had seen my bike out front.  He had never met a touring cyclist and had always felt the urge to give it a try.  He had a farm twelve miles down the road and did a little biking.  He had just returned from a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  He had taken along his bike and did a little exploring but never more than twenty miles at a time.  

He was so genuinely interested in my experiences, I was reluctant to turn the conversation to his life as a farmer, much as I would have liked to.  He was most amazed that I camped off in the brush every night.  He didn't think that would be safe at all.  He kept guns and would be concerned about other gun-toters coming upon him if he were camping in undesignated places.   I told him I had camped wild thousands of times over the years and the ease of it was one of the great joys of cycle touring.

After half an hour or so, as he kept wishing to prolong our conversation, he asked if I followed The Tour de France.  Little did he know what he was in for, but when he learned that I had actually biked its route the past ten years, he said, "Golly, gee whiz, I sure am happy I asked you about The Tour.  I don't really have any friends who are interested in it and there's so much I wanted to know."  He loved watching it on television, especially all the helicopter shots of the beautiful French countryside.  He also enjoyed Christian's commentary, though he didn't know he was a Chicagoan.  

He'd tape the morning broadcast of each stage while he was out working in his fields in the relatively cooler morning temperatures and then watch it later in the heat of the day when he didn't want to be outside. Our conversation went on and on, neither of us wishing to end it, though we both needed to get down to our business for the day. He has had the urge to go to Colorado to watch the annual August week-long race there, and now will do it next year for sure.  

If he weren't on his way to a larger city to the north to pick up some much needed supplies, he would have gladly accompanied me down the road despite the twenty mile per hour headwind from the south and its accompanying heat.  I didn't mind letting the conversation go on and on knowing the conditions that awaited me.  I only regretted that I didn't divert the conversation to his life on the farm, especially with the record high yields this year that are driving prices down.  But he had such an even and amiable temperament, I doubt I would have gotten a negative word out of him.  

The next day was another two-Carnegie day.  It was great to have that wonderful anticipation of the next Carnegie shortened after having to go a day or two for the next during the first ten days of these travels.  The Carnegie in Caldwell was closed down and was being used for special events by the school across the street from it.  As I circled around it, a guy in a pick-up truck stopped and told me the new library was a few blocks away on the main street through the center of Caldwell.  He said he had been the maintenance man at the library and had done the same work at this one.  He added that he didn't miss at all going up and down the steps to its entrance.

The Carnegie in Wellington, thirty miles away, still served as a library.  It had an addition to its rear that didn't detract in the least from its grandeur.  Like all four of the Carnegies of these two days it was prominently identified as a "Carnegie Library" over its entry.

It was also embellished by the addition of a sculpture of a girl reading a book by its entry. 

I hadn't even found a socket to plug in my iPad when the librarian informed me the library would be closing in fifteen minutes at five pm, it being a Friday.  I needed more time than that to cool down from the heat, so had to resort to the shade under one of the large trees out front.  Fortunately the water from its drinking fountain came out ice cold.

If the winds aren't too contrary I will continue to have two or more Carnegies a day for the next few days until I get into central Missouri.  As always, each is a unique and genuine treasure that never fails to make my day.

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