Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Herndon Ox Roast

I had no sooner arrived in town than I ran off a grassy culvert and was stuck. I sighed and stepped out, and had not moved three feet when a big guy rushed over and asked if I needed help.

"Yes, I do!"

He got his truck and chain, and likkety split, pulled me out. In and out of the ditch in under five minutes. It was dark. His comrade, beer in hand, stumbled in a hole and he and beer were sprawled on the ground. It made me feel better.

I was looking for Mick Moore, owner of the "Not a Hilton, but It'll Do" Motel in Atwood. I wanted to interview him for Around Kansas. People were in a partying mood and Nolan offered the services of his Polaris to search the town. As we bounced over curbs and through backyards he shared stories of the little town. He even drove up to the pit where the ox, I was promised, was in fact buried in hot coals. Truth be known, I never got close enough for even a whiff of the ox the next day there were so many people!

As we wove in and around the motor homes, there was no sign of Mick. Nolan introduced me around and another rancher volunteered his services.

"First, let me unload my four-wheeler."

Before I could protest, he had backed his four-wheeler off the trailer and away we went, clutching our drinks in our hands. We bounced over the now-familiar curbs and found a motor home bearing the sign, "Not a Hilton, but It'll Do." It was dark, and my driver yelled, "Mick, Mick Dundee!"

"Shhh!" I said, "it's okay. I'll find him in the morning."

Thus we bounced back to the vicinity of the Herndon Pool Hall and Nolan bought me a drink. He told me about the folks who put on the Ox Roast, how the event has been going on for a hundred years. I met the folks in the bar, including its owner, Chris Wood who bought the establishment in 1987, a hundred years after it was founded. She was a tiny blonde lady. As I looked at the guy at the other end of the bar, I realized I had met him years before when I had spoken in Atwood. He had actually given me a tour and taken me to a remote grave site in the county.

It is, indeed, a small, small world.

To top off the evening, Nolan gave me a dollar, had me sign my name, and pinned it to the ceiling in the Herndon Pool Hall, because even standing on the bar, I wouldn't have been able to reach it. Now, I am immortalized along with hundreds of other beer drinkers.

I drove back to Atwood, stayed out of the ditches, and spent a comfortable night in the It'll Do Motel. The next morning, cars were lined all the way back to the highway from the center of Herndon. I found a parking space next to the new museum and again, went off in search of Mick. This time I knew where to look. He was in his golf cart, eating breakfast and lining up for the parade. We visited while the firetrucks and floats went by.

Mick was a contractor, living in a Denver suburb, when he found  himself at a stoplight in the traffic one day and thought, What am I doing? He started looking for a piece of property and found one in Sterling, Colorado, and one in Atwood. He visited both the same weekend. He loves to golf so there had to be a course nearby. When he arrived in Atwood, he knew this was the place. He purchased and rehabbed the motel.

"I lived in my last neighborhood for 20 years and knew four people," he commented. "I've lived here for fifteen and I know everybody, and they know me. People take care of each other."

In fact, the sign on Hwy 36 plainly states, "Atwood: Where People Care." It also boasts, "Home of Mike Hayden, 41st KS Governor.

Mick had never been in the motel business until this venture and he loves it. He has been there long enough to have regulars coming back every year, family reunions, hunters. Hunting is big here. I ask Mick what makes this such great hunting country.

"I have no idea." He finishes off his eggs and biscuit and the vehicle goes by that says, "Hell Tornados! I survived 40 years with the Wicked Witch of the West! A couple sat in back of the pickup waving. She wore a witch's hat.

I bade Mick farewell and went off to find Nolan and met his girlfriend, Lisa Olson, who manages the dental clinic in Atwood. We visited and watched the parade, alongside their kids and neighbors. They made me a part of the the community, even though I had just arrived the night before.

This is why I love Kansas.