The first thing I noticed upon my arrival in Ft. Scott, KS was a large mill, similar in design to Springfield’s own “Messiah Mills.” However, whereas Messiah Mills exist in a heavily developed area, Ft. Scott’s mill has been left more or less alone, and is surrounded by a small shanty town of outbuildings, large and small. I eagerly awaited a chance to explore the mill and its surroundings.
I was hesitant to go alone due to the potential danger involved, but was unable to find anyone to join me, so after some procrastination I took it upon myself to venture inside.
I set out on a Sunday morning, wanting daylight yet hoping to avoid prying eyes. Luckily, being in the buckle of the Bible belt most people were in church at the time, and the rest were still home in bed.
I began by scouring the building’s perimeter for a way in. Most possible entrances were securely sealed, but I eventually happened on a way into the basement area, and another that would allow me into a wooden tower running parallel to the silos, though it was a tight squeeze and the only thing inside was a ladder to the top which I was completely unwilling to climb without someone around to retrieve my body.
I then tackled the surrounding structures, all of which were accessible, in various states of decay, and utterly fascinating. They ranged from sheds to shops to a huge fan for drying grain, large enough to walk through. The biggest building, outside of the main silos, was several stories with a basement, and connected to the main tower via a series of rickety catwalks. A feeble wooden gate barred entrance, though it was easily circumvented, and a thick wooden ladder connected the various floors. The first floor seemed to be a power house of sorts. The lowest level was completely flooded, and the upper levels were rendered inaccessible due to my unwillingness to climb higher than I could reasonably walk away from falling.
Once I was satisfied, I proceeded down into the main building. I entered through the basement, which was horrible, as basements in these type buildings tend to be. The floor was covered in a layer of muck, mostly decaying grain, and the walls and ceiling sported a thick layer of cobwebs. Luckily an old conveyor belt ran throughout the length of the building, which provided a more pleasant walking surface. There were rooms and offshoots to the left and right, though all were empty and some were barred by impassible sheets of webbing.
Disappointment came when I arrived at the foot of the tower. While there was a stairway, making for an easy ascent, it was completely surrounded by what can only be described as a “moat” 6-8 feet deep and too wide to leap across. I’m normally not opposed to getting my feet wet in the name of exploration, but this was the kind of water I did NOT want to find myself submerged in. After trying everything I could think of to reach the stairs, short of actually swimming across, I was forced to admit defeat.
If ever I return I’ll bring along a raft of some sort, and hopefully a friend, though I imagine the upper floors were very much the same as every other mill I’ve been to.
The first thing I did when I got to KS was make a bee-line for West Mineral, near Joplin, MO. Why, you ask? To see Big Brutus of course!
For those who aren’t in the know, Big Brutus is an enormous shovel of some sort, and while it might not be the world’s largest, it’s probably the biggest one in Kansas. Brutus was previously used for strip-mining coal beds, but has since been retired in a pit of his own making, just outside the small town of West Mineral.
The journey there was long, made longer by a road closing and surprise detour which rendered my Mapquest directions obsolete. I was forced to navigate my way there simply by attempting to drive in the general direction. Arriving an hour or two behind schedule, I caught a glimpse of Brutus from miles away, looming over the distant horizon.
I wasn’t quite as impressed as I thought I would be upon my arrival, but that was due in part to the lackluster visitor’s center/museum greeted me. My first sight was of an American flag, tattered nearly to shreds. A 6-foot wooden cross, complete with purple robes and hot-glued crown of thorns, stood nearby.
I was soon informed that Brutus was being repainted, and its innards were closed to visitors, though I would still have to pay full admission price in order to see it. I grudgingly paid, and was then informed that, not only was I not allowed inside, but I was to maintain a certain distance on account of the paint crew. Their first rule was heeded. The second was not.
With little to do in or around Brutus, outside of standing in the mouth of its enormous shovel (large enough to drive a truck into!), I was forced to occupy myself with some of the other attractions, which included in no particular order: a cable, a mine cart, a rock, and a smaller shovel, similar in design to Brutus, yet made primarily of wood. There was also a sign, pointing out some nearby fossils. The sign specifically asked visitors not to destroy said fossils.
The smaller shovel was the most interesting exhibit, and also happened to be the only one that was open to the public. Climbing inside I inspected the engine, and then settled into the driver’s seat after removing a few cobwebs.
After milling around Brutus a while longer I headed back into the museum area, where I viewed some scale models of various types of mining equipment, and watched a short film about Brutus’ creation and ultimate defeat. I purchased a refrigerator magnet on the way out, and received a scolding from the proprietors for failing to follow their instructions.
About this time a year ago (hey, better late than never) I took some of our newer (at the time) members out and showed them around Ritter Springs Park. The park is just north of Springfield on Fantastic Caverns Rd. We met up on the northside, and after some discrepancy over where, exactly, we would be meeting, we managed to make it to the park without losing anyone (barely).
Raccoon, MJames, Colt 45, and Darkcloud of the RACCCC (the Reaching and Cooning Cave Caver’s Club – though I may have added an extra “C”), all showed up, along with Piplnr and his wife, and a few strays, mostly local high school kids.
There are three caves at Ritter Springs, two of which are normally open to the public. The third, Bat Cave, is barred and only accessible by special permission… though there may or may not be another way in. After a long walk to the lake - and a cursory search for snakes near the waterfall - we plumbed the first cave; a fairly basic, linear cave with a few crawls and tight corners, but nothing too difficult and no decorations to speak of.
I did manage to find something new in the first cave, that being an odd vertical shaft that Piplnr and I were able to completely stand up inside, though not at the same time of course. It reached almost to the surface, and the ceiling was little more than earth and roots hanging over our heads.
Two of the smaller members of our expedition were also able to squirm down a ridiculously tight side-passage I had never before noticed. I began to follow them, but thought better of it as I watched their feet disappear around a tight corner. The rest of us were left standing around for what seemed like an hour with no way of communicating with the pair. At one point we heard banging sounds coming from inside the wall, and I was afraid they were trapped, but they eventually found a place big enough to turn around and we all made it back all right.
Next I led the group out to see the Bat Cave entrance, and we were able to check out some of the new trails along the way. We eventually reached a bridge, which led me to realize we were going the wrong way, but we weren’t far from the cave, and I had no trouble finding it once I got my bearings.
Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky when it came time to track down our third and final cave of the evening. The third cave is actually a large crack in the ground, around 20 feet deep, with cavernous offshoots. There’s not much to it once you get down there, but the climb down is worth the trouble.
The trails get pretty hairy en route to Cave #3, and we all seemed to have different recollections of the park and different ideas on how to get there. After wandering around for an extremely long time a few of the group decided to split up. We did eventually find the place, but we lost a few people along the way, and it was getting dark by the time we got there. Luckily it’s a short cave, and only a couple of people felt like braving my rope, which was barely attached to a nearby outcropping. The airflow was also pretty bad at the bottom, and quickly filled with CO2, prompting us to make a hasty retreat.
It was dark by the time we got out, and we had to use our flashlights to find our way back, which made crossing the river a lot of fun. There were only a few of us by the time we got back, but luckily one of the people we lost was waiting for us at the parking lot. Piplnr and some others had given up long before we got there.
When we got ready to leave were all horrified to find the front gates closed ahead of us, meaning we were all locked inside the park – or so we thought. I was furious at this point, after being lost in the woods for hours, and considered just ramming the fence, but I decided to check the lock first and lo and behold, some kind-hearted individual had only fake-locked the gate. I waited until everyone else was out, and then fastened the padlock behind me.
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