The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 9, 1994 · Page 51
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 51

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, October 9, 1994
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Page 51
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OCTOBER 9,1994 Jj& THE SALINA JOURNAL 7 Thrown a curve After 1-70 veers north, U,S, 40 towns lose business but keep their charm >• FROM PAGE 6 At Oakley, Old Highway 40 becomes U.S. 40 again. It's still a major highway because when Interstate 70 was built in the 1960s, the four-lane was routed to the north, through Colby and Goodland, instead of to the west through Winona, Sharon Springs, Weskan and a handful of other small towns. Old-timers call the bend at Oakley the Lauterbach Curve after the Colby banker and politician who pushed to have the interstate built past his town. Having the superhighway nearby has helped Colby in many ways. It is the largest town in northwest Kansas with more than 5,000 residents. Colby has motels, restaurants, a successful outlet mall and a community college. Compare that' to . f Sharon Springs, a town of 885 that has U.S. 40, but was bypassed for the interstate. There are no fast food restaurants or chain motels to accommodate travelers. There: isn't a hospital or resident physician, although doctors from another county operate a successful clinic. There are only the people, who work day to day, year to year, to make Sharon Springs a special place. , Wallace County •Sheriff Raymond Garcia said residents don't mind a bit that the interstate went to the north. "They call it the sewer line," He said. "I'm glad we didn't get it." Garcia and his wife, Kathy, a dispatcher, operate the closest thing in Kansas to a mom-and-pop sheriff's department. Their budget is $82,000 a year. Prisoners are hauled to Goodland because it's 'cheaper than fixing up the local jail. "The office "in the""'' basement of the Wallace County Courthouse is open eight hours a day, five days a week, ; but Garcia's home telephone number is in the book and no one hesitates to call him if there's trouble. "This is a nice community," Kathy Garcia said. "People are there if there's any trouble. They don't turn their •', backs on you. People took care of ; their own in the Old West, and out here we still take care of our own." Raymond Garcia's backup is an undersheriff who lives in Weskan on the west side of Wallace Coun. ty. Their salaries and other expenses leave little money for additional programs. Garcia, a carpenter who crafted the cabinets in his '. home, uses the proceeds from the ; sale of his bread boxes and other • items to fund a drug abuse program for the town's children. I Along the interstate, 32 miles to ! the north, Thomas County Sheriff ; Tom Jones has similar problems ; — just more of them. They are ; the dark side of the interstate, • and the reason Garcia doesn't i want it in his county. ! "The interstate increased the ; amount of traffic and made crimi- •• nals more mobile," Jones said. '•<• "Most of the growth in our budget ">• is attributable to the jail, and ; most of that is attributable to In;, terstate 70. On any given day, 70 '" percent of our inmates are not lo• cal." Jones' yearly budget is $350,000, : which includes salaries for four jailers and five on-road deputies. Two days earlier, Jones spent > the night hiking through the coun- " tryside looking for a suspect who '. skipped out on a gas bill in Trego ", County. The man turned out to be ; a parolee from St. Joseph, Mo., ' who stole a car and drove to west- ern Kansas. Jones, who has been sheriff since 1985, has given serious thought to trading in his badge to become a full-time farmer. "I have lived through some good times and some bad times," he said. "I still love the job, but it has changed so much over the < years. And when you have two kids who grab you and say, 'Dad, be careful,' when you leave — that bothers me." Arnold "Barney" Okeson's gas station at Weskan is the last cut- preparation for painting, a lone worker scales the Kanopolis water tower to begin sandblasting. post before U.S. 40 crosses into Colorado. Okeson, who looks older than the 70 years he claims, was born at Chance, about 10 miles southeast of Weskan. He has operated the gas station since the 1950s. "When you live in a farming community, you need to be interested in farming," Okeson said. "That's all there is out here — farming and ranching." Weskan is hundreds of miles from the state capital in Topeka, in a sparsely populated county of fewer than 2,000 citizens. It's a place best known to outsiders for its annual rattlesnake hunt. "To those people in Topeka we're out in the middle of nowhere," Okeson said. "They think Kansas stops west of Salina." In her Topeka office, Sheila Frahm, a state senator from Colby and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, has a copy Rugged, Dependable And All New inside Chevy C/K of an old cartoon that shows Kansas City to Topeka as eastern Kansas, Topeka to Salina as central Kansas and Salina to Hays as western Kansas. Beyond Hays is the outback. Frahm isn't sure the depiction is entirely accurate. "As I have toured much more of the state in a more concentrated way, so many people seem to have their roots in western Kansas," she said. "They spent time here as a child. Their grandmother lived here. They have business ties. I'm just astonished how many people know what rural Kansas is." The feelings of alienation come in part from distance and the lack of population west of Salina. Many rural citizens fear the political clout they used to take for granted is now in the hands of lawmakers from Johnson, Sedgwick and other large counties. State Sen. Janis Lee of Kensington spends much of her time as a teacher, patiently explaining to het urban counterparts the importance of a healthy rural Kansas. Her district includes the U.S. 40 counties of Ellsworth and Russell. "We feel that those of us from rural areas have a better understanding of rural and urban because it's expected of us. The urban people don't feel the same need to be informed. We feel like we have to continually remind them of the differences." A test of that understanding is expected next session, when legislators once again take up the thorny issue of school finance. A judge earlier this year ruled as unconstitutional that portion of the law that gives state money to school districts with enrollments of fewer than 1,900 students. The decision has left some lawmakers from Salina and other towns calling for countywide consolidation of districts, a move that would be fought bitterly in the rural areas because it would eventually mean fewer schools. "One of the major issues with consolidation is transportation," Lee said. "I live nine miles from the Kensington school, and we spend an hour on the bus. We have kids at Kensington now where we have to have feeder buses to keep their ride under one-and-a-half hours." Frahm has similar thoughts. 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