Rail-Trail Elbow Room
We watched out the front window as our son and some friends on off-road
motorcycles climbed rock ledges, bounced down into creeks, across and up on
the other side. The fellow from Florida, accustomed to the monotony of sand
dunes, turned away from the crowd and headed up the driveway toward our house.
He flew past where we were watching and on up that “really great mound”
behind our house -- and plunged waist-deep into the pond!
He was one of hundreds of persons with whom we’ve shared our 160 acres in the
thirty-five years we’ve lived on this farm. We’ve laughed with these people
who became our close friends. There was Gloria, a Christian College student
who’d never seen a rainbow and Doty who thought our farm was a giant
planetarium and MaryAnn who cautiously fed the bull a handful of grass in the
We’ve laughed at them too. Dee asked if the cream I skimmed from a jar was
“real, like the cream we get in the store? Or is it from a cow or
something?” And Frances thought the hen was choking when she cackled after
laying an egg.
For more than 30 years we’ve shared our land with hikers, bikers, persons with
handicaps, campers, college students, scouts, church and 4-H groups, anyone
who came to the door and asked permission. Our rewards are: we’ve made new
friends, shared their campfires and singing, gone stalking with unsuccessful
bow-hunters, helped them find wild mushrooms or sassafras roots. Many of those
who came as strangers became good friends.
We’ve taught them a lot about the farm and food and their dependency on us
farmers. They were surprised to learn that seven cents of rice costs over a
dollar when it’s puffed and boxed. Old Daniel Boone loved the wilderness with
its sounds of birds and trickling water, the smell of wild blossoms and a
distant skunk, the freedom of quiet open spaces, the sight of an occasional
raccoon mother and her young. These are universal joys--needs, actually--not
just for pioneers and today’s rural residents but especially for city dwellers
who seek renewal in the country.
It’s a joy to help city dwellers identify the whip-poor-will in our lane at
night, the hazelnut with its ruffled hull, autumn’s first colored leaves which
are actually the dreaded poisin ivy. Sharing with them gives us a deeper
appreciation on things we country people take for granted.
Late in the 1800’s, farmers who owned fertile Missouri River bottom land
hauled products by team and wagon over mud roads. They needed contact with
markets in Chicago and on the Gulf of Mexico. They offered a strip of their
land to the railroad, many offering easements for the right-of-way and others
selling the 100’ wide strip for a total price of one dollar! The railroad
followed closely along the Missouri River bluffs, along those fertile fields.
Loading chutes and docks were located every four or five miles along the train
track. The train stopped when flagged. Mail and supplies were brought in, farm
products went out. Some flag stops grew into communities with stores,
blacksmith shops, churches and post offices.
Farmers prospered. They bought more of the good river bottom land and
increased production. Many left their children “well fixed” by dividing the
property among their descendents.
Trucks and motorized farm machinery eventually came to most farms and
railroads were not neeeded, as in the early days. The flag stop communities
suffered and many died. In 1990, the once active town of McKitrick didn’t even
have a place to buy a can of pop! Hamburg with 157 residents in 1918, is not
even on the map, today.
Missouri’s 200 miles hiking and biking trails has changed “flag stations”
into active communities again. After being set back by the Flood of ’93, many
towns are spruced up and going again.
Bed and breakfast homes, enlarged restaurants, bike rentals and repair shops -
as well as general stores, gift shops and grocery stores are enjoying the
business boost which travelers bring to Central Missouri.
Like Daniel Boone, hikers and bikers seek rural areas for rest and re-creation
that their “elbow room” And like Dee they’re learning basic things such as:
“Cream does come from a cow or something.”