Looking for the Line Man – Chanute to Eureka

Early morning in Chanute and the mist is still to clear

Riding days start early on the trail. Our alarms were set for 6am, by which time Jerry and Jonathan were already up, clipping their panniers onto their bikes and making coffee. First Baptist had been a great place to stay, but the TransAm never rests, so by 7am we were out of the door and heading into the murk of early morning Chanute.

As expected the place was deserted, but there’s more to this place than meets the eye. The town is named after Octave Chanute (the railway engineer) a friend and mentor of the Orville and Wilbur Wright. Chanute’s book ‘Progress in Flying Machines’ (1894) was a major reference for them. As such, he has been named by some as the ‘father’ of aviation. Just round the corner from First Baptist is a large metal sculpture marking his achievements.


Sculpture dedicated to Octave Chanute after whom the town is named

As is our now our daily habit, we make for the nearest diner for a large breakfast, today saw us in ‘The Grain Bin’ for the usual assortment of eggs, hash browns, sausage and pancakes. It’s the sort of comfort food that would have you piling on the pounds at home, but it fuels a long distance bike ride until well into the afternoon.

Kansas may be flat, but there’s still the occasional hill and plenty to see – including vultures, the site of an Indian tragedy during the civil war and endless farmland, with roads (many poorly maintained) threaded with telephone poles. Being close to Wichita I could not help humming the ‘Wichita line-man’ and wondered what he make of some of the poles, fast trying to assume a horizontal position.

Toronto, Kansas. With virtually every shop or business closed down or for sale  it's hard to see how it has a future.

Toronto, Kansas. With virtually every shop or business closed down or for sale it’s hard to see how it has a future.

On flat roads with the occasional tailwind, we make fast progress and by 11.30am forty miles have passed by with minimal effort. Sadly, the world seems to have passed by our destination – Toronto (Kansas). Our here there are large distances between centres of population, so we’d expected something interesting. But this was a town even the ghosts seemed to have left.


Sadly signs like this one in Toronto are commonplace throughout the rural areas we’ve been cycling through

Almost every building on Main Street had closed down or was up for sale. Only the US Post Office was open, so it’s fair to say turning up for the opening of an envelope is big news here. One building to the east of the street appeared to have collapsed out of sheer apathy. The Liquor Store had closed in January and was now for sale for 10,000 dollars. The Deli had also closed, yours for 7,500 dollars. We estimated we could probably have bought the whole town for 100,000.

As I stood in the middle of Main Street (with absolutely no chance of being hit by a car) it all seemed rather sad. The buildings were simple and probably hadn’t changed in a hundred years, but there was some interesting detailing and people had obviously tried to make a go of running businesses in town, but they were obviously flogging a dead horse. Well they probably wouldn’t even have got that far as Toronto was clearly a no-horse town.


On the outskirts of Toronto, the story was no better

More derelict buildings on the outskirts revealed seemingly terminal decline. Maybe Toronto will find a way, but time, it’s clear, is running out fast. A few miles out of town we entered the Lizard Lips cafe for some lunch, here at least was some life and we sat down to burgers and sarnies among the grocery shelves, fishing equipment and live minnows, available as bait. I made a serious error in ordering a Dagwood hoagie, not realising the name was a nod to an American strip cartoon character known for making impossibly large sandwiches. So I was rather shocked when a tower of a roll turned up filled with enough ham, salami and cheese to keep your average deli in operation for three weeks.


Hummingbirds outside the Lizard Lips cafe. We could have stopped and watched them all day

While I devoured the mountain of meat we watched tiny hummingbirds dipping into a feeder outside the window – simply stunning little creatures, although Jerry (who has hummingbirds in Oregon) told me that some of these birds have become so reliant on food supplied by humans that they have stopped migrating south in the winter.


Not all of Kansas is flat – we are now cycling through the Flint Hills, a key area for cattle-grazing

After lunch we ploughed onto towards Eureka, entering one of the worlds great beef cattle feeding grounds – The Flint Hills, covering four and a half million acres. The 25 miles to Eureka passed in no time and we wanted to go further, but with major storms building up for early evening and our next destination at least 40 miles away we headed into town.

A search for accommodation found Joanie Cain, who kindly opened up the Christian and Congregational Church for Jerry Jonathan Terry and myself. We took advantage of the large kitchen and all had a cook up of pasta, veg, English Muffins and sweet corn, later followed by pie and cold milk, an American tradition well worth adopting on the other side of the pond.


Dinner at the Christian and Congregational Church, Eureka

Today’s miles: 64 miles
Total Miles since First Landing: 1757

Written by Paul


  1. Another great read – those ‘ghost towns’ sound incredible. Sad really – that whole communities can just disappear leaving an empty shell behind.

  2. Love the names of some of the towns you are riding through – Eureka et al… Still really enjoying a great read.

Leave a reply