#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 8
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)
Brent and I are in Kansas, heading west, as I scroll through our itinerary of roadside attractions. We’ve been adding stops as we go and occasionally ruling out other stops, but when Brent suddenly asks, “What’s next?” I tell him it’s a place called Truckhenge. “We’re definitely going there,” he says, with a weird smile on his face.
I plug the coordinates into my map app, which I’ve named Sally—don’t ask why—but she’s busy yelling at me, as usual, that we’re doing something wrong, or that there is no such location. “Oh, yes there is,” Brent says. I ask him what Truckhenge is, and he says, “I don’t know. But it’s there.”
It’s about a half hour drive from Lawrence to just outside Topeka, under a blue sky and rising August temperature. We navigate our way to a dirt road that turns sharply to the right and leads us to a Quonset building tucked behind the treeline. The place is silent. Brent stops the car and we look at each other. We suddenly realize we have no idea what we’re doing.
So, Brent gets out, and I stay put, hanging out the car window and lazily saying things like, “Is there a doorbell? Knock again. Try the handle. Do you see anyone inside?” After each quip, Brent shoots me a knock-it-off look. He gets back in the car. We sit and stare at the building. There’s a fading phone number painted on the garage door. I call it and a man answers. “Hi,” I say. “We’re at Truckhenge…”
“I’ll be right down,” the man says.
Moments later, the owner, Ron Lessman, walks out with a dog or two in tow. He introduces himself and begins talking, and man, he talks fast. In the first two minutes, we learn his name, that he built this Quonset house, and that he put gargoyles on it to keep the County away. We share a laugh and he explains his philosophy on life, which is all about common sense and is not so keen on bureaucratic rules. But just when I think he’s anti-establishment, he tells a quick story about the local police force and mentions the officers with respect and by name–because he knows them all by name–and his story is about appreciation for their quick thinking on a matter at his property and the work they do. Somewhere in the fast and funny story, he begins to mention the wood carvings around the property that he’s made himself, the art of the Quonset house, he casually points out an old boxcar to our left that he says is full of bones, and he makes mention of a pond beyond the trees.
To myself, I think: Bones? Human?
Ron is a wiry, tan man with long, graying beard, a bandana on his head, and he’s wearing a red t-shirt that bears the words Truck You. “We’re just trying to have fun here,” he says. “Would you like to come in the house?”
“Sure,” we say happily and immediately. We follow Ron and I make eye contact with Brent. I widen my eyes to ask him silently, “Think we’re gonna die?” He mirrors my look and I read him saying, “Not sure. Let’s find out.”
I take a final look around the front of the building, the trees, the blue sky, and the boxcar, thinking we’ve dropped in to a strange new land. “Kansas,” I think to myself and I think about life, death, and journeys, all in the blink of an eye. As we follow Ron, he tells us that William Shatner was at Truckhenge just a few weeks ago. It’s apt because right at this moment, I can’t help but picture the characters from Star Trek beaming in with their recorders (by the way, Brent owns one of those recorders) to learn about a new place with a sense of adventure and a sense of “anything can happen.” This sentiment is precisely why, wordlessly, we knew we’d go inside, because anything can happen, anywhere, anytime, so we can get back in the car and drive away or we can boldly go forward. We choose forward, knowing we rejected outright any other choice. (Don’t try this at home, kids. Don’t risk everything unless you’re willing to lose it all.)
Inside the Quonset house, Ron shows us more of his art—it’s on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, painted on the floor, and I’m drawn to the reverse side of the smiley face window he’s made from wine bottles. The house is spacious, and everything in it, and of it, has been repurposed. Pieces from cars and boats have been rebuilt into a staircase with a chest of drawers and signage made into railings. As sunlight streams in from windows on the second floor, fencing creates hallways, fruit hangs from a coat hanger, a series of boarded up windows serves as shelving. Everywhere you look is art in progress, and objects reimagined to new purposes. It’s nothing short of astounding. Brent and I realize we’re safe as kittens, and just as curious.
Ron shows us his art, lets us take pictures, and takes us through the back of the house to the expansive farmland that is dotted with his wood carvings—each with its own character story—areas for bands to play, boats, bottles and cement, the pond beyond the trees, and the word Truckhenge spelled out on the ground with bricks to be visible from planes above. Along the way, Ron tells us about his struggles with bureaucracy, he tells us about the many bones they found in the large pond that experts from the university have deemed to be camel bones (they mystery deepens), and he tells us of the great concerts that go on at this property.
We stop at the trucks at the corner of the farm. The County said because of the flood plain, Ron had to “pick up” the trucks. So Ron had them raised off the ground onto girders of concrete and the County conceded that the trucks were no longer a mobile threat. Thus, Truckhenge was born.
We round the corner, listening to Ron’s stories and sharing some of our own—where we’re going and how far we’ve come. At this point, we know we’ll never make it to Colorado before dark, but we can’t help ourselves from exploring more with Ron. The temperature continues to climb as we make our way back around to the boxcar of bones. Ron invites us in, and we happily follow. The boxcar is in bad shape, but you can still move around in it, carefully, and we find that Ron has separated and sorted the various animal bones he’s found in the pond.
We suddenly hear the ring of a telephone and the sound is so foreign to us. Outside the boxcar, we see a small group of people walking the property as if they live there. We have no idea where they’ve come from or how long they’ve been there, out of sight, but Ron and his dogs are completely at ease with their presence, so we are, too.
Back inside the house, Ron invites us to sign the guestbook, and we do. Brent turns a page in the book and shows me what he finds: William Shatner’s signature. Brent gets a Truck You t-shirt, and Ron gives me a peacock feather. He hugs us goodbye.
The heat of the day has caused my Missouri bug bites to flare up in fiery itch, so once back inside the car I scratch and scratch as we drive down the road. For an hour, all we say to each other is, “I… I…” and shake our heads. We are forever different and there are no words anymore. Truckhenge is an experience that you have to have for yourself, because you’ll enter as one thing and emerge as something completely changed.
Eventually this day we will reach the Mushroom Rocks State Park, where we’ll wander around saying things like, “We’re just trying to have fun here,” and, “Well, Ron says…”
Until then, we drive in quiet awe of what just happened toward a town that’s not real.
Our deepest thanks go to Ron Lessman for inviting us in.