Real Life Rainmakers

Around Kansas looks at rain-an important topic considering the recent drought. Although rainmakers have been immortalized on film and in song, we’re going to learn about real life rainmakers who worked in Kansas over the years. Then enjoy a poem from Ron Wilson and we’ll end with the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield and see why it has grown into a five day event.Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. TheSoybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Deb) Good morning welcome to Around Kansas here at the busy Dillon House this morning. We’ve got chatter in the background because, by golly, people are using the space. Which is exactly what it was intended for. We’re thrilled to be part of it. (Frank) Yea. How does it feel being the tall person today? (Deb) I like it. (Frank) We’re on the stairway here. (Deb) I think I’ll carry a step around with me everywhere I go. It’s working out real well. (Frank) Good grief this year’s getting away from us. So, oh my! (Deb) You know what? I wrote something, a check or something the other day and I not only messed up the month entirely cause it’s September, who knew? I wrote 2005. And so it’s like I just skipped a whole decade. Oh well! Time flies. (Frank) Wishful thinking. (Deb) Wishful thinking. You know. (Frank) OK, so what have you been up to? (Deb) Well, just going everywhere and I was out in Colorado actually, gonna share some images with folks. You know, people, not to be anti-Kansas or anything, but Kansas used to include Colorado, to what, the Continental Divide? So, Denver was in the Kansas Territory until political disputes decided we don’t want those people out there voting. That’s exactly what happened and that’s why we got rid of them and we’ve been rueing that ever since. So, every now and then we had to just go out and build the bonds. Just reclaim the territory. (Frank) Colorado, go away. Oh, by the way, we have gold. (Deb) Yea, exactly, how smart was that? One of the long line of political decisions that have not been so smart over the years. (Frank) OK. (Deb) That’s another program. (Frank) That’s another program, yea. (Deb) Yea, next week on 60 Minutes. Yea, there we go. (Frank) So, alright are you ready to show this to folks? (Deb) Yes. (Frank) Your Grass and Grain. (Deb) Grass and Grain column. And here we are, Frank and I immortalized right there. Grass and Grain column, so watch for that every week. And right across the fold from our good friend, Jim Gray, out in Ellsworth. So, we were real tickled about that. So, in the column we’ll talk about all the adventures Frank and I are having reporting on things around Kansas and just whatever I happen to think about that day. OK, so one more thing that is going on this month. Wichita is hosting the Mountain Plains Museum Association Meeting. So, you’ve got I believe ten states included in that association and some incredible sites and so we’re going to be going down and visiting the folks from museums all over the regions down in Wichita. The folks that are coming to the conference down in Wichita, get to go to all those great museums in the city of Wichita. Wichita gets a chance to show off. And they’ve got some incredibly cool places down there. There’s you know, Old Cowtown, the World Treasures Museum, their Discovery Center. (Frank) And the Riverfront itself. (Deb) Riverfront itself, they developed it and it’s so pretty. And there’s just so much. You know Heather and I were down a few months ago and we had a meeting but we had a chance to just ride through Old Town. We had lunch in Old Town and then we just rode around and saw some of the sites, a lot of which she’d never gotten to see because she’s always going on business. And you go, like most of us, you go to straight to wherever your meeting is and then you don’t have time. But when you can take the time to stop and look around and see what else is there to enjoy and to take your family back to at some point. (Frank) Yea. So, she still has her Grass and Grain. (Deb) I’m so proud. (Frank) We’ll be back.

(Frank) Well, here we are again. And you know, it’s rained a lot this year. A whole lot. (Deb) We have had an incredible amount of rain, yes. (Frank) Course some places like California are still in drought but Kansas has had some interesting stories about rain and rainmaking and all of that. (Deb) You know Kansas…this year when I was out west they said they had, I think, as much rain in one month as they’d had in the years 2012, 2013. So, drought is a really big deal. And when the rain comes as farmers and ranchers well know, makes a big difference in what kind of crop you’re gonna get or what conditions you’re gonna have to deal with. (Frank) Yea. Of course, we had the Dust Bowl back in the ’30s. But we know that a lot of that was due to the fact that the farmers over-planted… (Deb) Right. (Frank) …and they cut down a lot of whatever trees were out there. And then the drought came and everything blew away. (Deb) And they believed…what was that old saying, The rain will follow the plow? Didn’t exactly happen. (Frank) Yea. (Deb) But you’ve got a great story about that phenomenon. (Frank) Yes. In fact we’re gonna have two segments because it really is interesting. So, lets take a look. Kansas has experienced some record rainfalls this year, relieving the drought many areas had experienced. Those hot, dry spells are no stranger to Kansans, even today, and rather than just complain, folks thought they would do something about it. They hired rainmakers. Burt Lancaster immortalized the profession with the character of Bill Starbuck in the 1956 movie, The Rainmaker. Starbuck, full of promises and a knack for wooing the ladies, breezes into a drought-stricken small Kansas town and convinces most of the folks he can make it rain. In the end, he even wins over the skeptical Lizzie. Decades later, the scenario inspired the song, Lizzie and the Rain Man, a hit for Tanya Tucker. Let’s turn now to the archives of the Kansas State Historical Society for the story of a real rain man: Melbourne the Wizard. Rainmaking captured the imaginations of many late 19th-century Kansans convinced that nature could be conquered. Years before Melbourne came to the state, experts claimed large fires or explosions could produce rain. Some believed gases released into the air caused an atmospheric effect that made rain. By 1890 many people accepted rainmaking as a possibility if not an actual science. Melbourne was one of earliest rainmakers to raise the hopes of western Kansas farmers battling severe drought in the early 1890s. For several days rainmaking gases rose from his shed in Goodland. A gale from the southwest drove the vapors to the northeast, where heavy rains reportedly fell. Goodland eventually experienced a light shower, but not enough to justify Melbourne’s $500 fee, and the rain wizard departed unpaid. Despite Melbourne’s failure to create a good rain, Goodland residents considered his efforts a success. Enterprising locals established three rainmaking companies that were active for many years all over Kansas. The Inter-State Artificial Rain Company claimed to have purchased Melbourne’s secret. Its rainmaking squads traveled throughout the region. The first good rain in six weeks followed one visit to Oklahoma City, and one company official wrote another, I tell you, Marve, we have got the world by the horns with a downhill pull and can all wear diamonds pretty soon. We can water all creation and have some to spare.

(Frank) And we’re back again. (Deb) OK, Frank that’s really cool. (Frank) Rain, rain rain. (Deb) That’s some really cool stuff. And of course, my favorite piece of what you just did was maybe the Tanya Tucker song, Losing Your Man. I loved that song. Yea and the fact that this guy, this writer, watched that old movie, which you and I love a lot. The old Burt Lancaster movie and then he was inspired to write that song. That’s pretty cool. (Frank) Yea, yea. It is. (Deb) Art inspiring art. Life inspiring art. Art inspiring life. You know all those good things. (Frank) Only Burt Lancaster could have played that part. (Deb) Yea, really. Yea, he has the panache, or the whatever, to pull that off. In fact we didn’t really get done with that story. So, let’s talk about well, what happens now today in real time. One of the more popular Kansas rainmakers was C.B. Jewell. Chief train dispatcher for the Rock Island at Goodland, Jewell also claimed to know Melbourne’s secret. His employers were so confident in his abilities that they furnished him with everything necessary to conduct rainmaking experiments. Unlike Goodland’s companies, Jewell didn’t charge for his services nor did he keep his methods a secret. He used gases, jars, batteries to establish electrical communication with the clouds, and sometimes dynamite and exploding rockets. He claimed volatile gases charged with electricity chilled the atmosphere and caused condensation to form. His four generators produced 1,500 gallons of rainmaking gas per hour. Like those of the rainmaking companies, Jewell’s experiments met with varying degrees of success. In June 1893 he failed to produce rain at Dodge City but took credit for rainfall at Meade, claiming wind carried the chemicals there. At Phillipsburg later the same month his work was followed by near-flood conditions. The town’s newspaper editor wrote, If this wetting is due to Mr. Jewell, give him credit for it, and if it is it isn’t costing anybody a cent, so let’s don’t hear any loud words about it. By the end of 1894 the enthusiasm for rainmaking was replaced by one for irrigation. A brief revival of interest occurred in the 1950s in parts of western Kansas, but it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the state again saw organized efforts at controlling weather. A variation of rainmaking was tried in western Kansas in 1975, when the Western Kansas Weather Modification Program began operating. Its main objective is to minimize hail damage to crops using chemical crystals that reduce hail formation. The chemicals are fired from a small airplane into the updraft of storm clouds. The Kansas Water Office estimates that hail damage decreased by 27 percent in participating counties. The program also targets rainfall increase as an objective. Although these results have not been closely studied, one test location reports an 11 percent increase in rainfall.

(Ron) Farming is a gamble. A farmer puts a crop in the ground, a rancher raises a calf, not knowing what kind of weather conditions, market conditions or other factors that could affect it in the end. So farming is a gamble, just like Las Vegas. This is a poem I wrote titled Gambling Man. Did you hear about the guy who went on an amazing trip and hit it rich, winning money at an amazing clip? I hear stories of those high-rolling gambling big-wigs who roll the dice in Vegas and really hit it big. But I’m way too conservative, or risk-averse they say, to take a chance on losing all my money in this way. Yeah, maybe the biggest gamblers aren’t in Vegas after all. But rather in the country at agriculture’s call. That’s where a farmer takes a gamble to plant a crop of wheat, never knowing if it will survive the drought or freeze or heat. And just as Lady Luck can snatch a gambler’s money whey they win it, a hail storm can claim a Kansas wheat crop in a minute. A mother cow takes a year to breed and feed and thrive, but that whole year’s income is lost if that baby calf does not survive. The market shows the farmer the value of his crop, but its a gamble to sell before the market drops. So maybe the biggest gamblers aren’t the ones with Vegas claims, but rather the farmers and ranchers out here on the Kansas plains. I think I’ll take the risks I know with crops and with cattle, instead of trying to beat casino odds in some Las Vegas battle. Did you hear about my friend who’s Vegas trip caused such a fuss? He drove there in a $20,000 dollar car and came back in a 100,000 dollar bus. Happy Trails!

(Frank) Ah rain, rain, rain, rain. So, we hope it doesn’t rain out at festival. (Deb) Oh I know, Walnut Valley has had some challenges with rain in the past. But you know what? It has never dampened the spirits of the folks who go to the Walnut Valley Festival at Winfield. Fifteen thousand people go to Walnut Valley every year to hear some amazing music, to make some amazing music. And I did some interviews a few years ago with…just recorded interviews, audio, with Pat Flynn and Brian Bowers and Mike Cross, and Dan Crary, legendary Dan Crary who will be there again this year. And he was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame earlier this year and is a Kansas City boy who is an amazing guitar player. There’s just…it is like one big family. It truly is. The Winfeld experience is just like nothing else I’ve ever known. (Frank) Yea. (Deb) So, it starts today. I’m headed down. (Frank) Yea, well when people say What do you do in Kansas? Well, this is just one little thing that goes on in this state. (Deb) One little, one little really big thing. Let’s take a look. The Walnut Valley Association was formed in 1972, to produce the Walnut Valley National Guitar Flat Picking Championships Festival, now known as the Walnut Valley Festival. Most folks just say, I’m going to Winfield. Two days was not enough to contain the Winfield experience, so it now spans 5 days anchored by the 3rd weekend of September. The festival features performances on 4 stages simultaneously; a large, juried arts and crafts fair; workshops; and acoustic instrument contests. It boasts over 30 acts and 8 contests, including the National Flat Pick Championships and the International Finger Style Championships. Over the course of years, the contests at Winfield have attracted more than 3,000 contestants from all 50 states as well as many foreign countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Caledonia, Switzerland, and Wales. Well-known Winfield winners include Mark O’Connor of Nashville, Tennessee, who has won or placed in more Walnut Valley Festival contests than any other contestant. He returns to perform with his family this year. Alison Krauss won the Walnut Valley Fiddle Championship in 1984. Other Winfield winners include mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile and Dixie Chick fiddler Martie Erwin Seidel. Former Kansas Secretary of State Chris Biggs placed third in the guitar competition for three straight years, no little accomplishment! Nearly 15,000 people make the pilgrimage to Winfield each year, and most of them play an instrument. Lots of family reunions happen there, and many weddings have taken place at the Festival. The Walnut Valley Festival has always been a place to make new friends and renew old acquaintances.

(Deb) Well, by golly we survived another Wednesday. (Frank) Are we done already? (Deb) I guess we are. (Frank) Good grief. Well, OK, I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) And we’ll see you somewhere… (Both) Around Kansas.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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