After leaving the Missouri Mines State Historic Site on Thursday, Aug. 3, I headed west on MO-8 through rolling hills, trees, and meadows until I picked up I-44 heading southwest. After staying on it for about 60 miles, I exited and headed north, then west, to Bennett Springs State Park and camped for the night. I was behind schedule again (I spent too much time at the lead mine museum, but it was worth it) so the next morning I wasted no time in getting up and on the way. I continued west from Bennett Springs State Park about 15 miles, then headed north and picked up US-54 and turned west and on into Kansas. I discovered that I should have gassed up in Missouri, it was a good 15 cents per gallon cheaper there, but I eventually found a place in the town of Gas, Kansas that wasn’t too expensive (it seemed a good place to get gas . . . ) then continued on west on US-54. In El Dorado I made a wrong turn and stayed on the 54 which turned south toward Wichita, but should have continued west. My goal was to pick up US-50 and stay on it most of the way home (I grew up in Deseret, Utah which is just three miles south of US-50). Once I discovered my mistake, I turned around and went back to El Dorado.
I had noticed a large oil refinery to the southwest of town along with oil pumps (“jacks”) in the fields nearby, and had seen a sign for the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado. I hadn’t known there was oil or gas in Kansas, and hadn’t known about this museum. Once I got back to town, I reconsidered and decided to visit the museum even though it wasn’t on my itinerary. I thought I’d spend an hour or so, then still have time to get to Hutchinson, Kansas and the Salt Mine Tour there. Three hours later they had to kick me out because it was closing time. This is one of those gems of a museum that not only tells the story of the oil business in Butler County, Kansas but also the ways in which it effected the culture and economy of the region. There was both an excellent interior display and a good collection of equipment outside, including a complete steel oil derrick, various portable drilling machines, and restored vehicles such as a nitroglycerine torpedo explosives truck.
On my way out of town I stopped to photograph and videotape some more oil jacks in operation. They are scattered around the fields all over this part of Kansas, with several jacks pumping into a series of small tanks where oil trucks can load up the petroleum and take it to the refinery. This oil field is an extension of the well-known oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma. I had never known it continued this far north.
This was one of those serendipitous discoveries that often happen when you’re mind is open to possibilities and you’re not in too much of a hurry. Many of my best experiences and accomplishments have come from just being ready (prepared) in the right place with an open mind when a chance opportunity came my way. Of course, if I am so busy or hurried that I can’t even see the nose in front of my eyes, then I often miss these chances. So I’m glad I turned around and went back to El Dorado even if it did put me behind schedule. Since the oil discoveries here were made in the 1920s, it allows me to tell another chapter in the story of petroleum that started at the Drake Well several days before.
I picked up US-50 as planned and drove the few miles to Hutchinson where I was too late to take the salt mine tour. I had planned to stay at Sand Dunes State Park, but discovered that there aren’t any camping facilities there, just walking and riding trails. So I found a hotel in Hutchinson and crashed for the night.