One of the things I love most about driving through Middle America are the abandoned houses. Thousands of these bygone homes dot the back roads, each with their own charms and I’m sure, their own stories. In Kansas, most of these places are unpainted houses, with an array of outbuildings, house trailers and farm equipment scattered around and buried beneath the weeds. As I drive, I’m always looking for these relics, hoping for a great photo, a wind-whispered story and maybe even some fresh-cut flowers for my car from somebody’s long-lost overgrown garden.
I will say, one of the downsides to towing the Teardrop is that it’s much harder to pull over when I drive by one of these relics. Harder to brake, harder to pull off safely, harder to be inconspicuous while I trespass to snap a few photos. I’ll cruise on by at 50 mph (my ideal speed) and catch a glimpse of homey disarray off the side of the road. If the light is right and there’s nowhere to pull over safely, for the next mile I’ll think about catching that glimpse in a frame. And then I pull a U-turn. The turning radius can handle two lanes and on the kinds of back roads I like to drive, there’s usually nobody coming in either direction. In 2,800 miles, I’ve made my fair share of U-turns on this trip to photograph abandoned houses.
Heading south from Independence, Kansas, where I camped at Elk City State Park, I passed a faded sign for the “Little House on the Prairie”: the restored Homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family. Confession: I’ve never read any LHOTP, though maybe I will start, now that I’ve seen the place, a tiny log cabin flanked by a tidy white house, a one-room post office and a two-room school.
Given more literary flair, I bet any number of people who lived in the countless abandoned houses in Middle America could write fascinating tales of life on the big prairie. I think I will pick up some Wilder…