Abilene Kansas – Visit Dwight Eisenhower and More

From Scotts Bluff Nebraska we went east on Interstate 80, turned south from North Platte Nebraska to US 36 (the Pony Express Route) then eventually went south to I 70 at Hays Kansas, eastward to Abilene. Don’t be fooled, there is plenty to see in Kansas.

Drive from Scotts Bluff Nebraska to Abilene Kansas

Why Abilene Kansas? Because we have taken a more northern route in the past over US Highway 36 from St. Joseph Missouri through Kansas and this time we wanted to see roads we have not traveled while Rving. If we were eventually headed over I-70 towards Kansas City, why not stop and see the President Dwight Eisenhower exhibits in Abilene. Pay our respects to the man, not only because he lead the country through WW2 in Europe but because he was the father of the US Interstate System that we all now enjoy from our RVs. If I recall the stories correctly, Eisenhower was impressed with the German Army’s usage of highway systems to quickly move their troops from battlefield to battlefield. He pushed for an improved interstate system here in the United States for both military and commercial usage. I’d read where interstates had to be designed in a way that aircraft could land on them every so many miles of roadway.

From Scotts Bluff Nebraska we stayed at two locations we have camped at in the past. One in Ogallala Nebraska and then on the high prairie near Norton Kansas at Prairie Dog State Park.

We love Prairie Dog State Park in Norton Kansas because the area is secluded. The reservoir with surrounding trees is an oasis among the tall grassland prairie. They have a conventional RV park and then several areas scattered out in more remote areas. Among which are six grass RV spots overlooking the landscape. We camped in site 304 which was 50 amp and water but a little hard to level the RV. Last visit we stayed in site 302 with only 30 amp and water but was easier to level the RV.

We had a great drive along I-80 with no wind. We did not stop at North Platte Nebraska but had considered a day trip to see the home of Buffalo Bill Cody. I’m not sure why Wyoming thinks they can make such a big deal of Buffalo Bill being a local legend. He is actually more from Kansas where he got his start on the Pony Express, Stagecoaches, working with the railroad and army. His parents had moved the family to Leavenworth (Kansas Territory) from Iowa.

We also did not stop to see anything in Hays Kansas where there is a lot of roadwork just before an I-70 on-ramp that will include the wildest ride through several roundabouts. You know, those roadways they install which supposedly help with traffic flow and reduce the number of stoplights! I’ve gotten to the point when we come up to a two lane roundabout I tow the trailer down the center, taking up most of the space in both lanes thereby leaving enough room on the sides of the trailer in case we need to turn left or right. I do my best never to allow more than four feet of room to the side of me when I’m taking up an extra lane, thereby preventing any cars from thinking they can pass me in the narrowed lanes. If you tow/drive a large RV I’m sure you understand the concept of taking up more roadway to make sure you can take a curve without hitting the curb and damaging tire sidewalls.

If you are planning a drive across I-70 through Kansas then do some research about the Flint Hills. I’m getting ahead of myself, but want to pass along the interstate through the State Capital in Topeka is no big deal other than a tight curve where there are warning signs well in advance. We would later pay about $6 at the toll booth east of Topeka towards Kansas City. The turnpike roadway is very smooth with places to stop for food or fuel. But – 70 miles west of Topeka is perhaps the best stop on the route – Abilene!

Abilene Kansas – Boyhood Home of President Dwight Eisenhower

We camped for a week at Walt’s Four Season Campground in Abilene. Nice camp store, to include meats. Plenty to do with a large swimming pool and miniature golf. Karen and I prefer to stay home at least every other day and see the sites outside the campground once we are well rested. Personally, I don’t like having anything on my calendar two days in a row. For Gods sake I’m retired!

Two feathery friends that quickly figure out which campers will feed them. One morning I got up to find them taking a bath in our dog Wyatt’s water dish. I turned the outside faucet on for a few minutes so the ducks could finish their shower.

A couple months prior to arrival I found out the Dwight Eisenhower complex was closed due to the pandemic. At the same time President Beidon had also issued mask mandates for federal property which are within any area where they have a breakout infection. Well, one day after the “mask mandate” we were in the middle of nowhere Montana at a national monument and had to wear a mask inside the visitor’s center. The locals had not heard anything about a virus breakout. When we arrived later in Abilene we found the Eisenhower exhibit still closed with not even the chapel where he is buried being open for limited viewing. I thought, why the heck did I get vaccinated with an experimental drug back in April if I now can’t even stand over a president’s grave? The grounds are owned by the federal government. The entire town was open for business, but not the federal site. This is the fifth time since January 2021 we have experienced a closed federal facility when everything around it was open.

When Dwight Eisenhower decided to run for president, both the republican and democratic parties asked him to run on their ticket. He was that popular with the American people. Now I can’t get in the church to pay my respects at his graveside. I told another visitor, while standing outside the church door, that I could get a pry bar out of my truck if he would watch for the park ranger 🙂 The ranger must have been on break. I went looking for him and his key to get in. The fed’s spent over two million dollars during the pandemic renovating parts of the facility. No one has been able to see the results. Hope the workers did not get COVID. Oh well, there was plenty to see outside the buildings and the dog had a good time walking in the large areas of grass.

President Eisenhower is buried inside with his wife and son.
Through a crack in the the door of the chapel I was able to snap a photo with my phone. No – I did not use a pry bar. From research I knew which side of the chapel the President was buried on so I went to that corner outside for a moment of silence.

So having been upset the Feds, or at least some high-ranking asshole, believing the buildings should be shut down at the Eisenhower facility, I needed a way to get past the stress of it. Russell Stover Candy to the rescue. The business is based in Kansas City Missouri and has two factories in Kansas, one of which is in Abilene. Everything is about half off the retail prices and even more if you buy a bag of candy that did not come out right on the factory line. Even the ice cream with chunks of chocolate was different than I’ve ever had. The next day, Karen rode with me back to the Russell Stover Candy factory to make sure I developed diabetes. They have RV and bus parking so don’t miss it if you come down I-70.

Dickinson County Historical Museum and Independent Telephony Exhibits

In the same area of town as the Eisenhower facility are several other things to do. I visited the Greyhound (Dog) Hall of Fame, there is a train exhibit to include taking a ride, old Abilene buildings and the Dickinson County Museum.

Within the Dickinson County Museum is something for everyone to include the kids. On the grounds are many buildings that were moved to the location to include an enclosed carousel, like they have at carnivals. This carousel is actually a registered national landmark anyone can ride if you ask them to turn it on. The county museum is well worth the $7 admittance fee. Check out the photos below:

On the right side of screen is a quarter to judge the size of this tooth.
Probably should not let the dog chase the chickens.
A huge building full of antique farm equipment
Dozens of antique containers inside the old store.
Working lumber mill. Powered by a belt attached to a tractor.
Belt driven blacksmith shop

History of the Telephone

A large portion of the Dickinson County Museum included the history of the telephone. In the late 1800’s Alexander Bell’s patents ran out. Small independent phone companies sprang up to include Dickinson County’s Brown Telephone. This small company would grow into what we know today as Sprint. I worked for the company at one time in Corporate Security. I had always wanted the chance to visit Abilene just to see the phone history.

Like so many other’s at Sprint, I really respected Chairman Paul Henson. He retired and a new Chairman took over at which time the corporate culture changed. Once early in the morning I was walking down the hallway where the top executives have their offices in Westwood Kansas (suburb of KC). It was not uncommon for Paul to be in the office well before the building opened for general business. He was supposed to be in Europe with his wife and there was noise coming from his office. I walked in as Paul was coming out of the bathroom located in his office. He was suffering from cancer and I could tell was not having a good morning. We talked. He was always approachable. I believe he created the term “open door policy” meaning any employee was welcome to talk to anyone in the company despite their position, to include bringing up complaints. I asked why he was not in Europe with his wife Betty. He joked and then said he missed work. Knowing he was under doctor’s orders to work half days I asked if he was going to be okay and added he should take the time off. Paul gave me some of the best advise I ever received regarding work. He said people should work at jobs they would do without pay. He said that was why he was in the office. Well, that advise stuck. I had been working as a part-time police officer. Later I left the corporate world for a job I loved so much I’d do it without pay and became a fulltime cop.

Mr. Henson was a fine person. He was totally against laying anyone off within the huge corporation, preferring to make sure the job was absolutely needed before anyone was hired into a position. His vision of the telecommunication industry forged the technology we all enjoy today. I recall his speech to employees at what would be his last company Christmas party. In the room full of hundreds Henson talked about telecommunications and its future. He had already bet the farm on the world’s largest fiber optics network. Having clearance to corporate labs because of my position in security, I knew what they were working on and a few potential applications. Paul described the amazing future of the industry in what some thought were impossible expectations. I had been asked to give him a ride back to headquarters so he could met up with his buddy Charlie Brown, the AT&T Chairman. The two took trips together bird hunting every year, often leaving after the Christmas party. I had been standing on the sidelines waiting for him to finish his annual speech and overheard a conversation where one employee commented the cancer must be effecting the Chairman’s mind saying what Paul was describing seemed impossible and that his speech was not well organized. I knew the Chairman did not feel well but powered through the speech. We got back to headquarters where he livened up, moving his shotgun from the trunk of the Cadillac to a rental SUV Mr. Brown was driving. The two left on their hunting trip. This was another fawn memory of Paul I had. You see he always acted like the common man, at least around employees at my level. Years later wireless broadband became part of our everyday technology. And like Paul said, accessible from a handheld devise we call cell phones. Paul passed away. It was good to see his photo among the others at the history museum.

For my friends at Sprint I recorded a walk through the museum. I want to also take this time to say it should have been Sprint acquiring T-Mobile, not the other way around. Executive management after Paul just was not up to the task. I’m sure they have excuses why Sprint did not do better but I’ll not be excepting those excuses. The culture changed for the worst. In his retirement office at the Corinth building, before I left the company, I used the open door policy one more time and told Mr. Henson I noticed the culture change and named the man I thought responsible. Paul was gracious, even though I had criticized one of his decisions in hiring a person. He said he was no longer the Chairman and made the best decision he could at the time. I feel honored to have known the man for any length of time. I was a lowly employee that got lucky to have had access to the wisdom of a better man.

Here are some interesting photos from the museum:

Brown Telephone of Abilene would become United Telephone/Telecom. Then after a partnership out of Texas would have a name change to Sprint
Old truck with United Telephone of Indiana printed on the side.
Paul worked his way up in the company becoming President at the age of 38.

For more amazing and unexpected history of the company started by Brown and the man’s history read this article.

More information about Paul Henson. His death was reported in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. More importantly, he is missed by thousands.

We are currently stopped near Platte City Missouri for a month visiting family. Karen and I will be taking a short trip without the RV to Michigan to see her elderly mother. Then on to our fall trip through Mississippi and eventually Florida.

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2 thoughts on “Abilene Kansas – Visit Dwight Eisenhower and More

  1. What a great post! We’ve been wanting to go to Abilene and had hoped to stop there on our way to Nevada, only to discover, like you, that the Eisenhower Presidential Library was STILL closed. I was so disappointed. However, had we known about the telephone museum we would have stopped. You know Dean’s background and he would have loved this, so it is definitely on our list whether the Presidential Library is open or not. What a shame! Our world has gone crazy!

    Liked by 1 person

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