B-17’s and the Great Plains Fly-In, Humbolt, Kansas

(Frank Chaffin) Today Around Kansas starts with a look at World War II’s B-17’s and the Great Plains Fly-In in Hays. Then learn how Humbolt, Kansas honors two homegrown baseball greats from the 1920’s. Next meet a Kansas horse who placed 8th in the Kentucky Derby and we’ll end with the many wartime photos taken by Topekan Col. James C. Hughes.

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(Frank Chaffin) Good morning, I’m Frank. (Deb Goodrich) I’m Deb. (Frank) This is Around Kansas. Here we are on May 31st. Do you get May Baskets on May 31st? (Deb) I knew that was coming. I knew that was coming. (Frank) Am I that predictable? (Deb) Yes, you are Frank. You’re sadly that predictable, but I knew that was coming. Maybe you could get a June bug tomorrow, instead of a May basket, you get a June bug. (Frank) [Chuckles] A June bug? (Deb) Yes. You want that. (Frank) My wife and I were a part of the Dale Easton Players out at Apple Valley Farm at Lake Perry. Of course, we were in a barn and when June would come, of course – (Deb) A June bug? (Frank) – when you’re on stage and you’re singing suddenly – we ate a lot of June bugs out there at Apple Valley Farm. [Chuckles] (Deb) Like a dive-bomber. (Frank) They’re good for you. (Deb) Yes, like a dive-bomber. Poor people in the back in the hills tied June bugs to a string. Yes. Did you ever do that? (Frank) No. Tell me about it. [Chuckles] (Deb) This trumps your May Basket, tying a June bug to a string because they’re big and they would flutter. It was like having a cheap toy. [Laughter] June bug on a string. They’d fly it in circles and all that stuff. (Frank) Does that fall under animal cruelty? I guess not with bugs. (Deb) Not in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it doesn’t but I don’t know. Animal cruelty is, I guess, a relative thing. There are people that think that killing cows for food is cruel. There are people that you treat the animal well while it’s here and then shabang. The poor June bug had to have a boring life until we tied a string to it. (Frank) What a mental picture, a June bug on a string. Oh, my. We’re up too early in the morning. (Deb) That was before we had apps on our Android phones and all that stuff, Frank. We had June bugs on a – (Frank) We have to string around then let them go. [Chuckles] (Deb) Sometimes. Sometimes they got away on it’s own volition, you know? Just took off. (Frank) Oh, my. (Deb) Some of the things we devised to entertain ourselves. (Frank) But also, in addition to June bugs, it’s also, of course, time for lightening bugs. (Deb) We put lightning bugs in jars. (Frank) I think everybody does that. Lightning bugs in jars. (Deb) I do have very fond memories of having my jar of lightning bugs: my cannon jar with the holes punched in the top. See, as not to be cruel to allow the bugs to breathe and taking those to bed with me at night. (Frank) The whole jar? (Deb) Yes. I had that big jar of lightning bugs in the bed with me to watch them all night long. (Frank) Cool. (Deb) It was cool. (Frank) We really do have some good stories today folks, yes we do. (Deb) We do. We’ve got some exciting stuff going on. Lots of cool things happening, lots of exciting stuff. (Frank) May 31st, wow. (Deb) May 31st, my God. That just reminds me of everything I’ve got to get done before July. (Frank) Well, at least when you get into June you only have to mow the lawn maybe once a week instead of twice. I guess that’s something else to look forward to. (Deb) Well, our horses get out and graze on our lawn. (Frank) There you go. (Deb) Basically, it’s keeping the fire weed knocked down is the biggest challenge in our yard, but yes that’s – the grass is long burned so. (Frank) We’re going to ramble on and we’ll be back. (Deb) We’ll see you in a minute.

(Frank) We’re back again. I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m still Deb. (Frank) Yes, she is, and you’re not – bad joke again. I don’t know why. I just loved that particular cast on Saturday Night Live. They were just the very best. (Deb) They were the best yes, absolutely. (Frank) Isn’t there a country song, something about don’t play B17? (Deb) Yes. Because it breaks her heart and maybe she breaks the bar up or something. (Frank) “Don’t play B17”. I know I’m being a little bit facetious but it’s a segway into what we’re going to talk about next. (Deb) That’s a pretty pitiful segway, but anyway. (Frank) Well you know. (Deb) From the jukebox B17 to the bomber, yes that’s – (Frank) Getting the real B-17. (Deb) Brilliant, Frank. That was brilliant. We got B-17 Bombers, don’t play with those either. It reminds me when I had the boys, my grandsons, and they had National Guard Day at the Capitol. We’re driving by, and there’s a tank sitting out there. Bubba’s like “Grandma, can we ask can we go in the tank? Not shoot it or anything”. Obviously, it had crossed his mind that he’d like to shoot it. But if you want to take a ride in a B-17 Bomber, this is your chance. This weekend in Hays. Is that cool or what? (Frank) Yes. (Deb) I would like to take that ride, I would. Let’s take a look. In 1935, a four-engine plane took off from Boeing Field in south Seattle on its first flight. Rolling out of the Boeing hangar, it was simply known as the Model 299. Seattle Times reporter Richard Smith dubbed the new plane, with its many machine-gun mounts, the “Flying Fortress,” a name that was adopted and trademarked. The Army Air Corps designated the plane as the B-17. The plane had gone from design board to test flight in 12 months. The first B-17s saw combat in 1941, when the British Royal Air Force took delivery of several B-17s for high-altitude missions. As World War II intensified, the bombers needed additional armament and armor. The B-17E, the first mass-produced model Flying Fortress, carried nine machine guns and a 4,000-pound bomb load. It was several tons heavier than the prototypes and bristled with armament. It was the first Boeing airplane with the distinctive, and enormous, tail for improved control and stability during high-altitude bombing. Each version was more heavily armed. In the Pacific, the planes earned a deadly reputation with the Japanese, who dubbed them “four-engine fighters.” The Fortresses were also legendary for their ability to stay in the air after taking brutal poundings. Gen. Carl Spaatz, the American air commander in Europe, said, “Without the B-17 we may have lost the war.” Nearly thirteen thousand B-17s were built through a nationwide collaborative effort with Boeing joined by Douglas and Lockheed, Vega. Only a few survive today, featured at museums and air shows; most were scrapped at the end of the war. One of those bombers, dubbed “Sentimental Journey,” arrived at the Hays Regional Airport yesterday and will be there til June 4th as part of the Great Plains Fly-In. Rides will be available for a fee, though the event itself is free. In addition, the renowned WWII fighter, the P-51 Mustang, will be at the airport June 3 and 4. Rides will be available daily those two days as well.

(Deb) Welcome back folks. If you’ve been watching any time at all you know that Frank and I are both baseball fans. If you’re a baseball fab, you couldn’t live in a better state than Kansas. Could you, Frank? (Frank) Yes, it’s amazing. The more we do this, the more we discover even more famous baseball players out of the state of Kansas. Of course, one of the more famous is Mickey Mantle. (Deb) Can’t get any better than that. (Frank) There you go. People don’t realize that. In fact, there’s a Mickey Mantle Ball field down in southeast Kansas that kids get to play at. Major League scouts came to Kansas all the time. I know when I was growing up in Newton, White Sox scouts were there all the time watching the kids in high school and in summertime play and all of that. But anyway, I’m going to do a story next on Walter Johnson, who happened to be from Kansas and one of the first inductees in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But you’re going to find out in this story that not only did he come from a small town but two major leaguers came from the same town. (Deb) We grow them right. (Frank) Yes. Watch this. (Frank Chaffin) Here’s a story written by Ron Wilson, Director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University. The World Series. It’s a great event for baseball fans. But we are reminded of a time before racial integration when there were two World Series: One for Major League baseball, and a second for what was called the National Negro League. Today we’ll learn about two young players who led their teams in each league. Incredibly, those two players both came from the very same small town in rural Kansas. Thanks to Meredith Wiggins of the Kansas Humanities Council whose article served as the source and is used here with permission. Walter “Big Train” Johnson was an icon in big league pitching a century ago, playing for 21 years with the Washington Senators. He was the dominant power pitcher of his time, described as “one of the most celebrated and dominating players in baseball history.” Several of his pitching records still stand today, more than a century later. Walter Johnson was well known to have come from a farm near Humboldt, Kansas. What is less well known is that another major league player also came from Humboldt during that same time. He was an African-American named George Sweatt who made his mark in the Negro Leagues. George Sweatt grew up at Humboldt. He attended Pittsburg State where he was a decorated track and field athlete. He pursued baseball and made it to the Negro Leagues where he played with the famous Kansas City Monarchs and later with the Chicago American Giants. Sweatt, sometimes called “Sharkey” or “The Teacher,” was a combination infielder and outfielder known for his wicked hitting. However, he and Walter Johnson were also both known for their sportsmanship. Johnson had a terrifying pitching arm, but he was remembered for his polite disposition. He was even known to throw easier pitches to opposing players with low batting averages. George Sweatt was also remembered for his good sportsmanship. He was actually a schoolteacher in Coffeyville. If the baseball season overlapped with his teaching duties, there was no question which he would pick, according to Negro League baseball historian and author Phil Dixon. “Sweatt was kind of an academic and a ballplayer,” Dixon said. “He would leave the team early enough so he could go teach. He was a tremendous individual.” Walter Johnson had a lengthy big league career. In his 18th year with the Washington Senators, he led his team to the World Series championship in 1924. In that same year, the Negro League World Series was won by the Kansas City Monarchs, including George Sweatt. What are the odds that two ballplayers from the same small Kansas town would lead their teams to World Series championships in the very same year? The citizens of Humboldt should be proud – and they are. The community is “pleased as punch” to share the two men’s stories with a wider audience, said Humboldt Historic Preservation Alliance mentor Eileen Robertson. Humboldt set up a local baseball Hall of Fame with a display featuring photos, articles, and memorabilia associated with these two men. Today, town teams play at both Walter Johnson Field and Sweatt Field. Monuments to both men stand at various locations throughout town. It is incredible that two World Series champions in the same year would come from a single rural community – the town of Humboldt, Kansas, population 1,964 people.

(Deb) Welcome back. And now we’ve got another small town athlete story, but this is the four-legged athlete, the horse McCraken, who ran in the Kentucky Derby and finished 8th. I was visiting with Kevin Haskin, one of the sports columnists over at the Topeka-Capital Journal, and Kevin has really been taken with this story of this small town in Kansas, Leoti, which is not far from where I live now in Oakley and I have lots of friends in Leoti. It’s just pretty amazing that this small town horse winds up at the Kentucky Derby. But when you’re talking athletes again, the Kentucky Derby, that’s the ultimate. (Frank) That’s kind of it. (Deb) That’s the ultimate. (Frank) Small town horse goes and becomes famous. (Deb) Isn’t that amazing? It is pretty cool. (Frank) Love it, yes. (Deb) But McCraken, I got to get this plug in real quick, our good friend Rose Diehl and Tim Ruiz, her brother, hail from McCracken for which the horse McCraken is named except the town has a “c” in it, the horse doesn’t. Apparently there was a typo at some point and that’s what caused the – but the horse is named for that beautiful little town southwest of Hays.
(Michael Goehring) Kevin Haskins admits he is no expert on horse racing but as sports columnist for the Topeka Capital Journal, he is called upon to research and generate enthusiasm for many athletes and some events that are beyond his own person fandom. He also admits that having a horse with Kansas roots in the Kentucky Derby is enough to make you grab a julep and dust off your fancy hat. Fort Larned first got his attention, not the Fort, but the horse named for the Fort. As he researched and found that outstanding steed had connections in Kansas, the story of Janis Whitham and the Whitham Family’s Thoroughbreds and their Cattle Feedyard. No, not in the white-fenced rolling hills of Johnson County, but in the rugged, dry draws and bluffs of Wichita County, in the small town of Leoti. Kevin, like thousands of other people who follow horse racing, found it remarkable that another amazing horse, McCraken, also hailed from the Whitham Thoroughbreds, and was a contender in the Kentucky Derby. McCraken is named for the town southwest of Hays. Kevin noted that McCraken won at Churchill Downs in November. He won each of his first four starts, but a strained ankle kept him out of another race. McCraken then placed third at the Blue Grass Stakes, only three lengths behind the winner. There were some pretty good odds on McCraken to win at Churchill Downs this time, too. As a Kansan, Kevin could not help thinking about the population of Leoti, a little over 1,500, and the attendance at the fabled Kentucky Derby, around 150,000. Remarkable. McCraken placed 8th in the Derby. Kevin acknowledged that had the horse won, practically everyone in Kansas would suddenly have become a fan of the horse races, but an appearance in the Derby has made a significant number of converts. Kevin among them.

(Frank) We’re back again on Around Kansas. Good morning. (Deb) Good morning, folks. We’ve got another great story for you, another just incredible person. These lives you can’t make up. Colonel Hughes has exhibits going on now at the Kansas State Historical Society. His story was really stumbled upon after a death in the family; they were going through the attic and found the negatives for these pictures. It just kills me because you never know what’s stored in attics and basements and accounts of historical events. I was in one of my favorite stores in Oakley the other day – or in Colby rather and found an old ledger. It’s a heavy ledger book. But this lady had kept it as her recipe book and her journal. Walked a cow over to the Walkers after the storm today and a bunch of clippings from 1918 so 100 years ago. She’d write her recipes in it. It’s only about a quarter full, so I’m going to the same thing. I’m just going to pick up where she left of and put down the daily happenings. And one day that will be discovered in my attic, Frank. Maybe they’ll put up an exhibit about me. (Frank) [Chuckles] By golly, I’ll do it on Around Kansas. (Deb) Thank you, Frank. I appreciate that. (Frank) Yes, we will. 100 years from now. While cleaning the house of her husband’s grandmother after she passed away, Michelle Kaufman found small binders containing about 1,500 negatives. Unknowingly, she had discovered the photographs taken by Colonel James C. Hughes before, during and after World War I. Hughes’ story is both common and exceptional. He was born in Topeka in 1888. . He began his service as a member of the Kansas National Guard and was sent to the Texas border with the American Expeditionary Forces in 1916 in the search for Pancho Villa. As a member of the U.S. Army, he served from 1917 to 1948 and fought in both World Wars. He left many detailed records of his time in service. He photographed battlefields and towns in Europe, recorded his daily survival as a Japanese Prisoner of War, and saved many belongings from the wars that were later donated to the Kansas State Historical Society. In essence, he captured his life. Hughes was destined to have a military career. His father, James White Frierson Hughes, joined the Kansas National Guard in 1884 and rose to the rank of Major General. He was Adjutant General of Kansas from 1905 – 1909. Ancestors on both sides his father’s family served in the military with distinction dating back to 1776 when his great-great grandfather and seven brothers fought in the Revolutionary War. His career, as are the images that record those historic events, is remarkable and it is told in this special exhibit, Captured: The Extraordinary Adventures of Colonel Hughes, at the Kansas Museum of History. Most of the 600 photographs he took in Europe are from his time serving with the occupation army following WWI, from November 1918 to June 1919. When he was shipped home, he boarded the U.S.S. Zeelandia at Brest Harbor, France. Hughes steamed into New York City harbor on July 31, 1919, and photographed of the Statue of Liberty, or as he referred to it as the “Goddess of Liberty.” From there he made his way home to his wife Mabel and the children waiting for him in Topeka.

(Frank) Gosh, we have to go already. I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) And we’ll see you somewhere… (Deb and Frank) Around Kansas.

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