Growing Up Kansas: The Night I Walked on Water

Like Jesus, I once walked on water. His reason was much more noble than mine since it was all about faith. Mine was based on pure, unadulterated terror; it was all about fear.

I never understood why monsters only come out at night. I could reach under my bed anytime during the day to retrieve toys, the cat, or the lizard the cat was after, but let the nightfall and not even Jesus could get my leg over the side of the bed.

My older siblings routinely ignored the warnings not to tease me about monsters hiding under my bed. Hey Rick, if your leg touches the floor at night the monster will drag you under and we’ll never see you again. This, apparently, is hereditary because, once I had sons, I heard them do the same thing to each other.

The scariest movie I ever saw was the Wizard of Oz until I went to New York to visit Jeff and his family. If you live in Kansas, then Oz is part of your DNA. Along with learning how to write in cursive, we were taught all the lines and to cackle wicked-witch-of-the-east-like, I’ll get you my pretty.

There is a striking parallel between the movie and my real life. Mine, too, is the story of an innocent young child in Kansas being tormented by a wicked witch from the east. And where did my niece Colleen live? East of Kansas in New York.

The Wizard of Oz helped me much later in life to converse with people when they discover I’m from Kansas.

Stranger at a party: “You’re from Kansas? Do you have a pair of red slippers?”

Me: “Nope. I gave up cross dressing when I broke my ankle.”

Stranger: “How’s Dorothy and Toto?”

Me: “Dorothy’s in a nursing home and they stuffed Toto and put him in the Smithsonian.”

Stranger: “How’s the lion, the tin man, and the guy made of straw?”

Me: “Fine. They’re all in Congress now.”

My first mistake was letting Jeff keep me up one night to watch a horror flick, The Skull. I sat with my ten-year-old feet drawn up in a fetal position for two hours of pure black and white panic. Jeff was accustomed to this kind of terror since he lived with Colleen and they giggled through it like it was Gilligan’s Island.

The worst part was when it ended and I had to go sleep with Jeff in his big bed in the basement where monsters hid under the stairs and ate little children. Jeff said there were numerous stories in the Red Hook Gazette about them.

After my heart slowed to the rhythm of a rabbit thumping on three shots of espresso, I finally drifted off to sleep. That was my second mistake. Jeff decided to crawl down to the end of the bed and clamp both hands on to the calf of my leg.

After my tent almost killed me in the middle of the night, you would have thought my parents were accustomed to the sound of a dying rabbit. That was not the case; Mom stood at the head of the stairs and growled out something about “who in their right might thought it was a good idea to let that little idiot watch a scary movie and you’d think by now I could tell the sound between a dying rabbit and Rick squealing like a stuck-hog. She didn’t want to go down the stairs either.

Although most of the monsters I encountered were imaginary, I did, however, meet a real, live, I’m-going-to-eat-you-and-all-your-babies monster the next summer when Jeff came back to Kansas.

Jeff had a crusty old bald-headed uncle that was a legendary fisherman in our parts, Max Graves. Any bait shop within a hundred miles had a Polaroid of Max holding a behemoth flathead catfish that was large enough to eat three small children at a time.

Jeff asked me one night if I wanted to run bank lines with Max on the Walnut River. That was like being invited to climb Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary.

Max was no nonsense and let me know it was a rarity for him to take little kids fishing.

“I’ve heard tell that you scream like a rabbit dying.” Max said.

“Maybe.” I replied.

“Okay, well, if you do I’ll just have to use you as bait. Catfish like little kids that scream like dying rabbits and thrash around in the water.”

Many of the catfish Max caught could easily eat an ten-year-old boy. I wondered if he’d hang me from a bank line or just throw in the deep part of the river on the trotline.

During the spring, the Walnut River screamed through the fields of Kansas like me running from Jeff after he clamped his hands on my leg. However, in the summer it was a lazy, muddy river that snaked through Kansas during the humid nights of July like a 500-pound person motoring around Wally World on a scooter.

We spent the late evening baiting the bank lines and trotlines with live perch. We went back to sleep for a bit, then woke up in the middle of the night to run the lines. You’d be surprised how noisy a summer night can be on the banks of a Kansas river when all the critters come out to play. It is a veritable chorus with the crickets carrying the rhythm, the bullfrogs thumping out the base like a car-full of teenagers at a stoplight, and the coyotes howling in harmony. I occasionally sang along in high soprano when a spider dropped off a branch on to my lap.

Max climbed in the middle of the old johnboat to be the oarsman and I got on one end, Jeff in the other. A dark river without any moonlight and only a wienie flashlight with dying batteries is downright creepy. But Max had built in night vision so he navigated us from bank line to bank line and around the logjams.

After a bit, he decided to park the boat and fish. We threw our lines in and did what all catfishermen do; waited. And waited. Then we waited some more. Max finally grunted about having something on his line and it was big and he hoped it didn’t break his line and you boys be ready it might be a snapping turtle.

Snapping turtles are mistakenly named; they should be clamping turtles. They have ferocious prehistoric jaws that are meant to lock on and not let go. They hiss, call you names, and dare you to stick some body part in their mouth. Ten-year-old boys are known to take them up on this dare and live to regret it. It seems the only thing that makes the turtle let go is the high-pitched sound of a dying rabbit.

Max bent his rod and lifted the snapping turtle up to the edge of the boat for us to see. That thing was the size of a truck tire and had already formed some pretty negative opinions about us. In fact, he came to the surface shouting out all kinds of turtle cusswords at us and threatened to consume the whole lot of us before the battle was over.

Max grunted a heave-ho and the growling monster landed at my feet; the snapping turtle, I mean, not Max. Mr. Snapper looked at me and assumed the hook in his mouth was my fault. He started thrashing around amidst the tackle boxes, fishing poles, and my tender little bare feet. Ten little toes wiggling in the night looked a whole lot like earthworms drowning in the river so he tried to take a few bites. My toes had finally gotten over the trauma of the this-little-piggy-went-wee-wee-wee-all-the-way-home game only to be traumatized by a prehistoric carnivore that thought they were hors d’oeuvres.

I knew I couldn’t scream or I would become bank-line bait, but that end of the johnboat was not big enough for me and Mr. Snapper. One of us had to get out of town before sunup.

And that’s when I walked on water. Or at least tried; I made it a few steps, then sunk, just like Peter.

I never did get to go run lines with Max again. My next encounter with him at a river in the middle of the night was when he dove eighteen feet off the old stone bridge at our favorite swimming hole to show us punks how to dive. He came up bleeding.

From then, on we reverently, and affectionately, called him Misguide Missile Max.

Not to his face, of course; none of us wanted to be catfish bait.


PHOTO: Drinkwater & Shriver Flour Mill, Cedar Point, Kansas – I took this on the Cottonwood River- one of Max’s favorite place to fish

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Snapping turtle playing this little piggy went to the market wee wee wee all the way home.








Dr. Kone and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad

Meet My Newest Hero: Dr. PV Kone

He once walked across the African plains over 300 kilometers (186 miles) to see is bride-to-be; then he walked back home; then he did it again. That’s like walking from Wichita to Kansas City, or Kansas City to Des Moines, or Baltimore to New York City. Back and forth: twice. Before he could marry her, he had to kill a lion with a spear because that was expected of a Maasai warrior.

Maasai Village in Tanzania

Maasai Village in Tanzania

He’s now one of the most influential political leaders in arguably the most progressive country in Africa: Tanzania. His name is Dr. Parseko Vincent Kone – he prefers to be called just Kone – and he is my newest huggable hero. I recently had the pleasure of traveling with him for a week through Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa to develop partnerships with Kansas State University, University of Missouri, and Iowa State University to turn 8,000 acres of arid Tanzania land into a research-based demonstration farm.

Kone is one of 53 children; yes, you read that right, 53 children. His father had 13 wives and Kone was sent to school with other children, but there was something early on about his intelligence, wisdom, hard work, and winsome smile that elevated him into various leadership positions. He’s served in the Tanzanian Parliament under four different presidents and was appointed ten years ago to by President Kikwete to be the Regional Commissioner of the Singida Region; that would be the equivalent status of a U.S. Governor. Unlike the U.S. which elects governors, the President of Tanzania appoints Commissioners. He serves as the Chairman of Board for Tanzania National Parks (including the world famous Serengeti) and chaired the Foreign Relations Committee while in Parliament.

Dr. PV Kone

Dr. PV Kone

That he has been Commissioner for nearly a decade speaks to his integrity and ability to get things done. Since he has been Commissioner, he has implemented over 700 medical dispensaries in the region, elevated the importance of education by securing more funding for teachers and education, and instituted numerous civil engineering water projects.

A couple of years ago, he partnered with the founders of Outreach, Inc. – Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton – to purchase the 8,000 acre Shallom Farm which was part of the Mzeri National Ranch that the government of Tanzania is parceling out. Floyd and Kone’s vision is to develop the ranch into a research-based demonstration farm that creates an integrated agriculture model that is sustainable and provides economic prosperity, educational opportunities, and environmental enhancement through public and private partnerships. The focus will be to help the smallholder farmers in the region, especially women since most of the world’s farmers are women.

I like my heroes to be people I know, people I can hug or at least shake their hand. They are the ones that inspire me, not the make-believe Hollywood actors or spoiled rich athletes; I like people who can kill a lion with a spear.

Sometimes we are in the presence of greatness but only realize it after the moment has passed. However, I have the good fortune of understanding when I am sitting in the refreshing shade cast by a giant. A week with such a gentle, soft-spoken, humble giant reminded me that greatness lies in deeds, not in rhetoric; Kone is a man who gets the job done.

Our world is a much better place because of him.

P.S. If you’d like to know more about Shallom Farm, email me: I’d love to share with you what I know of this incredible project!


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Rip Em In The Hills

This is How Real Cowboys & Cowgirls Play Golf

wayne bailey

Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey remembers being five-years-old and sitting on a horse at the railroad yard in Matfield Green, Kansas, watching cattle from Texas being unloaded.  The scrawny, long-horn steers were run through a dipping tank to kill all the vermin on their hide before cowboys herded them on the twenty-mile journey across the Flint Hills to spend the summer grazing on the best grass in the Midwest.

“Dad would tie me in the saddle so I wouldn’t go to sleep and fall off and get trampled,” Wayne said, “but I was expected to share my part of the load just like the rest of the cowboys.”

Now, that’s a cowboy. Other than a few years fighting for our country in Vietnam, Wayne has spent his life in the wide-open spaces of the Flint Hills. Wayne has the reputation being the toughest cowboy in the area. Shake his hand and you’ll agree.  Wayne also has a reputation as a good time looking for a place to happen; Wayne has lots of fun tickets. There was a time he built a little airplane he could fly over parades in the small, rural towns in our area so he could drop water balloons on people. That worked swimmingly until he crashed the airplane.

Marsha Bailey

Marcia Bailey

Twelve years ago, Wayne and his wife, Marcia Stout Bailey, decided to invite a few of their friends out to the ranch for a few holes of golf. If you know the legends of the Flint Hills, the Stout name is widely known and respected as pioneers and ranchers; Marcia carries on the family tradition. Thus began the Annual Rip Em In The Hills Golf Tournament where Wayne and Marcia turn their cow-pie-filled pastures into golf course with 15 foot tall pins so you can see where the holes are.

Here are some of the rules copied off the flier, exactly as it reads:

  • Only 46 balls per player (they need every one of them!)
  • No fishing on course ponds
  • Proper golf attire is NOT required 
  • Repair all divots so the beauty of the Flint Hills is not disturbed.
  • Taxi service for those too drunk to drive home (I doubt it! LOL)

I’ve heard about this legendary game before, but never managed to be in town the same weekend they hosted it. But this time I was, so I loaded up the cameras and headed 17 miles down country roads east of Cassoday, Kansas (THE Prairie Chicken Capital of the World). I’ve been to their ranch several times before to photograph an annual 18 mile cattle drive from their place up to Matfield Green. Thank God they have the kindness to give me something with four wheels instead of four legs to help get me around!

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the photos narrate the story.

Wayne and Marsha's horses see the golfers coming!

Wayne and Marcia’s horses see the golfers coming and they run!

4-Wheelers race to find balls from the tee-off.

Golfers in 4-Wheelers race to find balls from the tee-off.

rip em 2

They may or may not find any of the balls they hit. That’s why they bring 46 balls each..

rip em 5

Cactus is NOT considered a hazard; you play where it lays!

rip em 6

A LOT of time is spent looking for balls or telling people where to look for their balls (mostly, the latter!)

"Chipping" takes on a whole new meaning with a pasture full of cow chips.

“Chipping” takes on a whole new meaning with a pasture full of cow chips. This is why golf is called “cow pasture pool!”

If you don't a 4-wheeler for you clubs, any John Deere tractor with a bucket will do!

If you don’t have a 4-wheeler for you clubs, any John Deere tractor with a bucket will do!

All you have to do is land it in a chalk-drawn circle. Oh, and miss the pond, too.

All you have to do is land it in a chalk-drawn circle around the 15-foot-tall pin. Oh, yea, that and miss the pond, too.

Like any good Kansas cowboy, patriotism means a lot.

Like any good Kansas cowboy, patriotism is paramount, especially for a Veteran of a Foreign War.

Cool beverages seemed to help them enjoy their game even if it didn't help improve their scores.

Cool beverages seemed to help them enjoy their game even if it didn’t help improve their scores.

Standard form of transportation, the 4-wheeler.  Notice the clubs sticking up out of the back.

Standard form of transportation, the 4-wheeler. Notice the clubs sticking up out of the back.

rip em 13

A little family time; a grandpa spending some quality time with his grandson.

FIVE! Instead of yelling, Fore, when their shots went errant, they yelled, FIVE!

FIVE! Instead of yelling, Fore, when their shots went errant, they yelled, FIVE!

To see more photos, follow this link (you’ll need a free Dropbox account to view them-  but that’s really easy, just go to Feel free to download them.

Wayne tells me the next Rip Em In the Hills will be the last Saturday in April, 2016.  This, my friends, is Kansas culture and you’ll be a better person for spending a day with real, live cowboys and cowgirls.

If you like Kansas stories, I’d encourage you to follow along on my Growing Up Kansas Series.  They are mostly true stories of my childhood living in this same part of Kansas. Here’s one of my stories that includes Cassoday and is called, Meet the Elmer Fudd of Hunters.  Just search for the Growing Up Kansas series on my website to enjoy several of these short stories.

Also, my first novel about this part of the world, Voices on the Prairie, will be published this summer! Sign up for this blog  and to to the “subscribe” for updates on when the book will be released.

Furthermore, there is a great book about the People of the Flint Hills by John Brown that tells you a lot more of Wayne and Marcia’s story.

A must-read about the Flint Hills is by Dr. Jim Hoy, Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales from the Tallgrass Prairie.


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Dam Bait Shop

Growing Up Kansas: The Tent That Almost Killed Me

The first tent I owned darn near ruined me for camping. I’m not complaining that it was too big, but it required two elephants and a dozen Amish barn builders to erect. It wasn’t like a pup tent that weighs 3 ounces and pops into shape when you throw it on the ground. No-sir-eee-bob, ours could hold a battalion of Marines. My sister’s Boyfriend thought he could win us kids over by giving us an old army tent and he was right; everyone has a price and ours was a tent.

The tent was big; it was green; it was ours; and it almost killed us. However, the Boyfriend’s status diminished considerably each time we went camping.

I was taught never to look a gift horse in the mouth so I won’t start whinin’. In my Dad’s estimation, Whinin’ was right behind Cussing and Sassing in his Top Ten List of Deadly Sins. So I’m not whinin’, I’m just sayin’ that a ten-year-old boy’s first tent ought to be one he can put up with the help of a dog. But all I had was my younger nephew Kendall who disappeared at the first hint of manual labor. Always.

Furthermore, the tent should be light enough a little boy can go camping on the spur of the moment instead of having to hit the weight room and steroids for two months in advance.

There are a number of problems for a ten-year-old camping in Kansas with a tent the size of a Winnebago. One problem was that the tent, like us, wasn’t all there. Three of the stakes, one of the poles, and six of the tie-downs were missing.

Another problem was the wind. Kansas was named after the Native American tribe, Kansa, which, roughly translated means south-wind-that-blows-harder-than-Brian-Williams-on-the-six-o’clock-news. 

We don’t find our true north in Kansas by looking for a star or seeing what side of the tree the moss grows on. Instead, we look at which direction the trees lean; they all lean to the north since the wind predominantly blows out of the south. My sister, Carmen, once took a sapling home to New York where the wind never blew and, sure enough, the tree leaned to the north.

An additional problem for little boys camping in Kansas was coyotes. Just to be clear, they are pronounced kuy-yotes, not kuy-yo-tees. When coyotes start howling, well, little boys have been known to wet themselves in broad daylight. Coyotes are attracted to high-pitched screams, like those of a dying rabbit. It turns out that dying rabbits and ready-to-wet-themselves ten-year-old boys emit the same sounds.

For us, the prime camping ground was the shores of Hobson’s Pond. However, there was one significant challenge: The Cows of Hobson’s Pond. It took a lot of courage to set up the tent because we knew the ridicule we would suffer at the hand of the cows. Cows were like our mothers, the Generals, who had an opinion about every little thing we kids thought, said, did, or wanted to do.

We tried camping on Hobson’s Pond once, but they stood outside our tent all night long, mooing. Cows are like college kids; they’ll pull an all-nighter if they think there’s fun to be had.

Maude, the cow, whispered after it got dark, “Hey, hey little kids. The boogey-man is coming to get you.”

“My Mom said there’s no such thing as a boogey-man.” I wailed.

“Oh, yeah? Well, we see them hanging around outside your bedroom window all the time. And if the boogeyman doesn’t get you, the coyotes will.”

“I have a gun!” I quivered.

“Oh, is this the same Red Ryder you shot your Mom with? We stood up for you once, buckwheat, but you’re camping in our house now.”

“I’m not afraid!” I shouted through the tent wall.

“Did you know Charles Manson broke out of prison and he’s coming this way? He’s riding with the Hell’s Angels, too. They like torturing little boys. And Walter Cronkite said the Russians are going to nuke us tonight. Besides that, the Rapture happened twenty-minutes ago and your Mom and Dad made it, but you didn’t. You’ve been Left Behind! We’re calling Truman Capote, too. He’ll like this story.”

Conversations like this are the reason The Cows of Hobson’s Pond are responsible for my neurosis.

We lasted ‘till about midnight then decided that the quarter-mile run home dodging cow pies in the dark was better than the increasing terror the cows were inflicting on us.

Next time, we decided to camp closer to home in our yard under the big cottonwood tree. We called the Amish, hitched the elephants, and set the tent up. The Amish volunteered to bring their families of ten kids each and spend the night with us since there was plenty of room, but we took a rain check.

Dad: “You boys know there is a storm coming tonight?”

Me: “Yep, but we’re not afraid.”

Dad: “Okay, we’ll leave the light on for you just in case.”

The tent had no floor, so we threw our sleeping bags on the grass and cuddled up with the chiggers for the night. When I think of my childhood, my first thought is often of chiggers. Once they came out during the spring, I was covered with chigger bites until the first frost. The only relief I got was to fire up Dad’s belt sander and remove my first layer of skin. I spent my childhood looking like I had a perpetual case of the measles or the Russians had finally nuked us.

Kendall and I told a few ghost stories, agreed that this was more pleasant than the night with the Cows, and vowed that we were staying in the tent even if a tornado came. We then drifted off to dream of hunting bears with Daniel Boone.

Daniel’s musket exploded at the same time the first clap of thunder levitated our little bodies above the bed of chiggers. The pelting rain and wind slammed against the side of our tent like our Moms yelling at us to quit playing in the street. Soon, water started running in on the bare ground but, by golly, after Mom made fun of us for coming home early from Hobson’s Pond, we weren’t about to go inside.

The tent flapped the way Dad described one of the Lollipops (Little Old Ladies of the Party Line Society); her tongue is hinged in the middle and flaps on both ends.

We moved closer to the middle but the groundwater found us and started us on the journey to Hypothermia-ville. However, we were so determined to ride out the storm that only the Rapture could have dislodged us from that tent. Never have two young souls more earnestly prayed for the return of Jesus.

The pelting rain turned into large dump trucks unloading entire lakes of water on us. The tent might have stayed upright if all of the parts were accounted for, but they were not and it did not. It collapsed around our shivering little bodies like a wet towel the size of Texas covers two drowned mice. My gosh it was heavy.

Coyotes usually stay in their dens during a storm, but the sound of dying rabbits above the clamor was too much to resist. It seemed like no matter which way Kendall and I crawled, the sound of them howling moved in front of us.

Mom was waiting for us when we finally stumbled inside just before the coyotes ate us. She had big, dry towels and was muttering something about who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to let these little idiots set up a tent with a storm coming and I wonder what happened to those dying little rabbits outside?

Dad handed out medals for bravery and said that discretion is the better part of valor. The next day, he took the tent to the Army surplus store to trade for a smaller one.

The owner recognized it. “Yeah, some guy came in here a while back and traded me out of that tent. He said he was going to use it to bribe some idiot kids of a chick he was dating. I told him it was not quite all there and he said that’s okay, the kids aren’t either so it should work just fine.”

Dad got a smaller version we could handle without the Amish.

We never saw that Boyfriend again.

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How The Direct Mail Marketers Finally Tricked Me

The professor in our marketing class told us to collect all of our direct mail for a month in a bag, then throw it on the floor and see which one we opened first.

So we individually collected junk mail for a month then emptied the contents on the floor. Know which ones that got opened first? The ones that bulged with something like a pen or a key chain.

I don’t like spam and I don’t like junk mail. I wish I had a spam folder on the side of my physical mailbox like I do for my email. That way the mail carrier could just store stuff in my Trash and not fill up my mailbox.

I haven’t opened a piece of junk mail for years no matter how much they promise me utopia or a better body. I can spot a piece of junk mail as easy as I can an email from someone in the U.K. who wants to transfer large amounts of cash into (or out of) my bank account.

However, I finally got tricked. In fact, I opened the piece of mail and was so impressed I laid it on the counter and began to applaud. Well, done, my good man, well done.

Here’s how they tricked me: they made it look like it was personal card. It looked very much like it was a hand-written address and the little return label that set a bit askew in the upper left hand corner was like those you get in the mail from the DAV.

I was tricked because it looked like it was a personal letter. They tapped into my innate desire for relationship.

I was reminded of one of the business principles of the founder of Outreach, Inc., Floyd Hammer: People buy from people. He credits his philosophy from his first boss and the 13 Business Principles of J.B. Clay, (but the fact is that some of those principles belong to Floyd).

  • People buy from people because trust is the most important part of any transaction.
  • People buy from people because there is a story that can be attached to the item.
  • People buy from people because, at the end of the day, good relationships are what we value the most.

It turns out I didn’t buy what my new friend from California was selling because it turns out he or she worked for a massive company. They broke one of the first rules of relationship; trust.

I was tricked and I’m impressed they tricked me based on the idea of relationship.

But kind of like getting bit by a dog once, I’ll make sure that dog doesn’t bite me again.


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