HILL CITY From the Garden of Eden to Big Brutus, Kansas University employees sampled some of the most bizarre and awesome sights that the Sunflower State has to offer.
The busload of Kansas University faculty members rolled across Graham County in search of adventure.
After four days on the road, 50 folks on the 1999 Wheat State Whirlwind Tour -- many new to KU and the state -- had learned to inhale the unfamiliar. The horizon held new links in their growing educational chain.
Problem was, a middle-aged guy in a straw hat, joined by two friends, stood in their path on U.S. Highway 24.
Who are those nuts?
"Fortunately," said KU chancellor and hitchhiker Robert Hemenway, peeking out from under the wide brim of his hat, "they stopped."
And so it went on last week's five-day, 1,700-mile clockwise tour of Kansas, where the roadtrippers walked on hallowed ground in Mound City, stood 16 stories high on the shoulders of Big Brutus, gulped the spirit of Carry Nation, danced with Laotian immigrants, ricocheted over pastures where buffalo roam, experienced Polly Bales' pecan pie, sensed the grit of Kansas farmers, and faced temptation with Adam and Eve.
Lucas -- Samuel Perry Dinsmoor's vision of domestic bliss was a must-see for a KU group trying to get a grasp the character of Kansas.
The Civil War veteran fashioned a concrete jungle and limestone cabin known as the Garden of Eden. The home and 50 sculptures of biblical and populist figures is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"He had a lot of problems with people sitting on his fence and making fun of him while working," said guide Lynn Schneider.
His pointed response was to set nails sharp-side-up along the fence's ridge.
Most KU guests paid respects to the man's creative frenzy by peering into his 67-year-old glass-covered mausoleum in the back yard.
Independence -- The tour mixed low-tech building methods exhibited by Dinsmoor with sanitized, upwardly mobile construction techniques implemented at Cessna's single-engine plane factory.
Cessna executive Chuck Stump led a KU crew down an assembly line of riveted aircraft, which fetch $150,000 to $350,000 each.
It was a look-but-don't-touch tour for those with delicate skin.
"Don't touch the planes if you have lanolin on your hands. We can't get it off, and where you touch the paint won't stick. We learned that the hard way," Stump said.
Mound City -- Sacred Heart Church was built to commemorate Rose Philippine Duchesne, a French nun canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.
"Believe it or not," Beverly Boyd, KU professor of English, told the tourists, "you're right in the middle of the Louisiana Purchase."
Duchesne was born in France in 1769. Her father was one of the architects of the French Revolution.
At the age of 50, she received permission to sail for America to minister to American Indians dispossessed after the Louisiana Purchase. She founded a series of schools but didn't work among Indians until 1841 in Linn County.
Boyd said she was known as Qua-Kaka-Num or "The Woman Who Prays All the Time."
Dormant earth eater
West Mineral -- Big Brutus moved a maximum of .22 mph, but could lift enough dirt and rock in one scoop to fill three railroad cars.
Brave Whirlwind participants climbed narrow metal ladders 160 feet to the top of the world's second-largest electric shovel. They could see more than 10 miles in any direction from the outdoor museum.
"What a view," marveled Barbara Ballard, an assistant vice chancellor.
The 11-million-pound giant of southeast Kansas coal mining was silenced in 1974.
"It was costing them a lot more to strip the coal than they were getting for coal under the contract," said guide Janet Britt.
Fences for a century
Sylvan Grove -- Duane Vonada would like to put to rest the idea it's possible to break stone fence posts from the ground by pouring water in holes and allowing it to freeze overnight.
"I watched my dad cut stone when I was 5 years old and I never heard of it," said Vonada, now a grandfather who is among the few Kansans still practicing this style of stone cutting.
Partner Dan Naegele demonstrated the technique for KU guests.
He had cleared dirt and clay from the layer of desired rock. He drilled a series of holes, drove spikes into each and popped a post weighing nearly 400 pounds.
Once in the ground, it can stand for more than a century.
Salina -- On the tour's final day, the group sat under trees at the Land Institute for a chicken and biscuit lunch from Brookville Hotel.
They also took a moment to digest their experience.
"There forms a kind of learning community on the bus," Hemenway said. "This kind of exchange is invaluable."
Deb Ortega, assistant professor of social welfare and a Los Angeles native, said the tour opened her eyes to the importance of creating a classroom environment inviting to students of all backgrounds.
"There are students who come from towns with 100 people. That's as big as my extended family," she said.
"In practical terms, it taught me to not only react with pride in Lawrence but pride in the entire state," said Reggie Robinson, counselor to the chancellor.
Tour coordinator Erin Spiridigliozzi said about 125 KU employees had completed the tour in the three years since it started. They've broken through their own stereotypes of Kansas and altered preconceptions others had of eastern Kansans, she said.
"You can't do that unless you spend some time out there."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is email@example.com.