ROADS IN COWLEY COUNTY.
[STORY ABOUT GOOD ROADS: WALTER SHARP, WINFIELD.]
Arkansas City Traveler, Wednesday, June 29, 1921.
A Story About Good Roads
By Walter Sharp, Winfield, Kansas.
Editor Traveler:—On Jan. 11th, 1921, the county commissioners of Lyon County met at Emporia to let contracts for five miles of federal aid road. On one side of the room was lined up a lot of well dressed fellows, that had for sale brick, cement, road machinery, re-enforcing bars, etc. On the other side of the room in equal number were the farmers, who had to pay the taxes that would furnish the money.
One of this number of farmers acted as spokesman for the farmers. He directed his talk to the county board. He started out by saying that “We are not as well dressed, or as well fed as the gentlemen on the opposite side of the room. In fact, we are a tough looking bunch, and we want it distinctly understood that we are as tough as we look,” and then he proceeded to tell the board what they wanted and the contracts awarded that day showed that the farmers got what they wanted.
Ten years ago Butler County, Kansas, was seriously considering the building of hard surfaced roads. Some fellow that understood his business organized the farmers in a great protest to the county board, then in session at El Dorado. Two hundred cars were pressed into service among the farmers. They came from everywhere and met at a point just outside the city limits of El Dorado, and formed a line, or procession, a mile long, each car loaded with people. They paraded all the principal streets of El Dorado, and parked their cars around the courthouse square, and went before the board and told them that there would be nothing doing in the road business in Butler County, and during all these ten years—until very recently—no one has been able to interest any Butler County board in good roads.
On May 20, 1921, a meeting of the farmers was called at the commercial club rooms in Winfield, Kansas. I was present. The attitude of this bunch of farmers wasn’t much different from the other farmers in Lyon County and Butler County referred to. It seemed that someone had told someone else that some time ago the commercial clubs of Arkansas City and Winfield had a meeting in which somebody proposed that both cities were going to take advantage of the new five-eighths of a mile law.
There were three members of the Winfield commercial club present. They explained and talked and did their level best to convince these farmers that Winfield and Arkansas City had no desire to pull anything off on the farmers. That the merchants and businessmen of Winfield were friends of the farmers in the past, present, and future, and very much desired that the farmers would so understand it, and if there was anything unfair in the five-eighths mile road law, the businessmen of Winfield would stand right alongside of the farmer, for what was good for one also benefitted the other; and as a result of all this talk, everybody came to a better understanding, and with the same object in view I am writing this letter to the public.
I am making the very modest claim that I know more about the road and bridge business than any man in the county, not excepting my county commissioners, county clerk, or our county engineer. The only reason I know more about it than Jim Bradley is because Jim has a thousand other things to think about that are not road and bridges.
I am going to take the opposite view to everything I heard at this good roads meeting. I am going to maintain that the five-eighths mile road law is right and only fair. That Dick Howard has never shown any disposition to be un-American; that Jim McDermott is a credit to our county; that the commercial club members are a credit to Winfield, and that Winfield is a credit to the state of Kansas.
Someone ought to give the reading public some information concerning the spending of the public funds. It may be that I am the fellow that ought to do it.
I am a resident of Walnut township. I do not belong to the Farmers’ Union, and am not connected in anyway with the commercial club, and have had much to do with spending the taxpayers’ money.
If you have ever been in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and went from the center of the business, the plaza, to the old church (400 years old), you crossed the Santa Fe river on a stone bridge; or if you went to the state capitol building from the plaza, you crossed the Santa Fe river over another stone arch bridge. If you went from the plaza to the Santa Fe depot, you crossed a cement bridge. On each of these bridges is a date stone with this inscription: “Built by Walter Sharp, Winfield, Kan.”
And at Raton and other points in New Mexico and Colorado are twelve other stone and concrete bridges with the same kind of date stone and from New Mexico and Colorado on east as far as Topeka, Kans., including a part of Oklahoma, these stone and concrete bridges are scattered, all of them with this same date stone: “Built by Walter Sharp, Winfield, Kan.”
I am very much in hopes that I will be able to tell my story without offending anyone; but if I should, and that fellow, or set of fellows, conclude to see to it that I do no more bridge or road work, I will say that the state engineer has attended to that for them, and it is the state engineer I am after, and will be glad to have all the assistance of all the fighting farmers I can get.
I believe I said the five-eights mile road law is right and only fair. For many years I have received the lion’s share of the bridge and road money in Cowley County, not because the county board thought more of me than anybody else but because I was the low bidder. I have done enough bridge and road work, and ought to be rich, but I am not; and I do know that all the thousands of dollars spent every year for road improvements not one dollar of money paid me has ever been spent in any city in this county; and yet every taxpayer, whether in the city or county, pays his share of the bridge and road tax. The city man pays his auto tax, and all is spent in the upkeep of the county roads, not one dollar to be spent in the city.
I do not, for my part, see anything wrong in a law that would give the city man a little look in. There may be some ground for complaint because the law takes away the right of petition, or of protest, but even then I can see no reason for passing resolutions condemning our senator, and talking mean about our representative. I was in Topeka and visited the legislature the day the industrial court law became a law. I watched the movements of our men, and I want to say to everybody that I was proud of Cowley County’s representatives. They were the “Big It” of the “Big Show.” I think we want to send men to the legislature who can cut some figure, and I know what I am talking about, when I say they did.
I never talked to Dick Howard but once in my life, and that was more than a year ago. If he has ever done anything that might be called un-American, I don’t know it.
No one present at this meeting knew anything concerning the full working of this law. The legislature had given us a new auto tax law increasing the auto tax very much, a very large percent of this tax would be paid by the city men. The man that owned a very large truck might be expected to pay more than $100 auto tax. This on top of his regular personal tax. That being true, has the farmer any right to howl about it?
The farmers at this meeting seemed to have an idea in their heads they ought to fight somebody. I am ready to agree with them. The farmers of the state of Kansas have a right to get on their ear, and this bunch of scrappers are the fellows I have been looking for. Those present will remember I had something to say about it at this meeting, but I don’t want you fellows trying to pick a row with my friends, the commercial club and the businessmen of Winfield.
I can remember back some nine or ten years, when we built the demonstration rock road; ten of us fellows that lived in Walnut township agreed to give ten days each with a team to improve East Twelfth street, from the end of Eleventh past our homes. The commercial club gave us a check for $300; the banks dug up $50 each; other business houses were solicited by Josh Wallace, chairman of the committee, to make the road a mile long, all in Walnut township, and these friends of ours did their share to give me a 365 day road past my house that I have used nearly ten years, and the little old ten days’ work with man and team has been paid back many times. Has this road added to the value of my place? I think it has; anyhow, Franks and Dobson brought a buyer to me and before I could say Jack Robinson, had it sold to that fellow at $110 per acre, all cash; and I had an awful time backing out; and if Dobson hadn’t been a pretty nice fellow, I would sure have had a commission to pay.
The commercial club dug up $300 some years ago to go out into Vernon township and fix a bad rocky hill just west of the 14th street bridge. I know, for I got the money for doing the work.
I also wish to add a little more testimony to prove the fact that the businessmen of Winfield are not a bad lot. My boy awoke in the middle of a very cold and stormy night. He was having convulsions, and it seemed he wouldn’t live long. We called the doctor. He got up out of his warm bed and was soon at our house, where he soon had the boy relieved. He had eaten too many uncooked peanuts.
During my residence here, I have suffered with an overdraft many times. I would receive a notice through the mail that read like this:
“Mr. Walter Sharp:—Your account appears to be overdrawn $147.15. We have taken care of this. Please call at your earliest convenience.”
I had the fifteen cents, but the other amount I didn’t. The next day I would call at the bank, and see Mr. W. C. Robinson, who would be willing to take a note for $300 due in sixty days and my suffering would be immediately relieved, the same as it was with the boy who ate the raw peanuts.
Perhaps these farmers have never had troubles of this kind.
Arkansas City Traveler, Thursday, June 30, 1921.
A Story About Good Roads.
By Walter Sharp, Winfield, Kansas.
For several years the county board has had but very little to say about roads and bridges on roads and bridges costing more than $2,000. The plans must have the approval of the state engineer.
Cowley County has not had a county board in twenty years that didn’t think they knew a lot about bridges and roads, and they stayed away from the state engineer’s office as long as possible; but when the two Walnut river bridges had to be replaced, they felt they were up against it, and must consult the state engineer. Mr. Epps was called down from Topeka. He looked the two locations over, Ninth avenue bridge at Winfield and the country club bridge at Arkansas City, and he recommended a firm to get out the plans, which they did, costing $1,765.
The plan for country club bridge at Arkansas City provided for a bridge forty feet longer than the old steel bridge that had stood there for thirty-five years, and met all the requirements on account of the low overflow land just west.
On Ninth avenue bridge, where there was no overflow grounds and the city of Winfield in danger of damage by the overflow, the bridge was made sixty feet shorter than the old steel bridge. These two concrete bridges cost Cowley County nearly $70,000 on June 1st, 1921. There wasn’t a dollar in the bridge fund, and a lot of smaller bridges that had been planned to be built must go over another year or two.
For the benefit of those that have never looked the matter up, I will copy Section IX of House Bill No. 730, of Session Laws of 1921, that gives you the authority of the state highway commission and the state engineer’s office and their salaries.
“Section 9—That Section 1 of Chapter 59 of the Session Laws of Kansas for 1920, is amended to read as follows:
“Section 1.—That there is created a state highway commission, which shall consist of three members as follows: the governor, who shall be ex-officio chairman and two members to be appointed by him. The two members first to be appointed by the governor shall be appointed for two and four years respectively, and thereafter shall be appointed for a term of four years, one of whom shall reside east of the sixth principal meridian, and the other west thereof;
“Provided further that no person shall be eligible for appointment, on the commission herein provided for, who holds any elective or appointive public office.
“The appointed members shall receive as compensation for their services $10 per day for the time actually spent in the performance of their duties, not to exceed $400 per year each, and their actual and necessary traveling expenses.
“Each member shall take the oath prescribed for state officers, and each shall give bond into the state in the sum of $5,000, conditioned upon the faithful discharge of the duties as required by law.
“The commission shall appoint a state highway engineer, who shall receive an annual salary of $4,200; an assistant state highway engineer, who shall receive an annual salary of not to exceed $3,300; a bridge engineer, who shall receive an annual salary not to exceed $3,000; division engineers, who shall receive annual salaries in the aggregate not exceeding $9,450. The maximum salary to any one of such engineers, not exceeding $3,000 per annum; one assistant engineer, who shall receive an annual salary of $2,400; one assistant engineer, who shall receive an annual salary of $1,800; draughtsmen, who shall receive aggregate annual salaries of $6,800, no one of such draughtsmen to receive more than $1,800 annually; one bookkeeper, who shall receive an annual salary of $1,500; two stenographers, each of whom shall receive an annual salary of $1,200; a filing clerk and stenographer, who shall receive an annual salary of $1,500.
“The officers so appointed at the pleasure of the commission, and the secretary and state highway engineer shall take an oath of office prescribed for other officers, and shall each give bond to the state in the sum of $2,500, conditioned for the faithful performance of their duties, and the care, protection and delivery to their successors of all books, papers, records and documents of whatever character that may come into their custody, and control.
“The commission shall have authority to define the duties of all officers and employees, as may be necessary, appointed by it, and to employ, remove and define the duties of, and fix the salaries of such temporary employees as may be necessary to carry on the work of the commission.
“The attorney general shall act as attorney for the commission and shall give it such legal advice and service as it may require:
“Provided, that the governor shall have power, and it shall be his duty, to dispense with the services of any of the assistants, or division engineers, draughtsmen, clerks, stenographers or bookkeepers, whenever he shall find that the public service will not be injured thereby, or where the services can reasonably be performed by other employees or officers connected with such commission.”
On page 12 of 1921 Session Laws, we find the total appropriation for the state engineer’s office for the year 1922 is $49,690; for 1923 a like amount, totaling for the two years nearly $100,000. It is not the amount of these fellows’ salaries that I would find fault with, if they would accept their pay and go away back and sit down and keep still, it wouldn’t be so bad.
But the great grist of blue prints, specifications, rules and regulations, the several tons of blank forms that will have to be filled out by the township boards, county engineers and officers of the different counties of Kansas, and mailed to Topeka, so that the fellow in Topeka can sit there in a nice office and figure out what we should do with our own money.
In the meantime our county board that draws $650 per year each, and our township board that gets a less salary, will get a lot of sore spots on them, and they will sulk and pout around about it and refuse to be interested. In the meantime the taxpayer gets mad and tired of it and some of them will actually whisper around that we ought to get a rope and go to the courthouse and hang a county commissioner or two.
I want to keep saying that the five-eighths of a mile road law is a good law. I also want to say the legislature gave us another good law in senate bill 197, page 374, session laws of 1921, which provides for the taking care and maintenance of macadam or hard surfaced roads which have been constructed prior to March 3, 1917.
Cowley County has about sixty miles of rock and gravel roads. The highest cost of any one mile of this road was $5,000, and one mile I know of cost $1,500 per mile. Most of it has been in use nearly ten years, and it needs maintenance. We should have some way by which we could get rid of the state engineer’s office and let our own county and township officers attend to having more gravel, of which we have an abundant supply, hauled out and fill the holes at a reasonable cost. No, we do not need any blue prints, engineer’s estimates, etc., and I do not feel that our county engineer should be compelled to waste any time filling out blanks, reporting to Topeka how many loads of gravel to the mile is required to fill up these holes. Every mile of these sixty miles of hard surfaced roads was made and paid for under the supervision of our county engineer, and they are worth all they cost.
If you should ask me if I had any suggestions to make that would better conditions, I would say: “Yes, investigation and education.” I would say to all the taxpayers of Cowley County and southern Kansas, let us call a good roads meeting on labor day; persuade the commercial clubs of Arkansas City and Winfield to barbecue a few fat beeves, hogs, and sheep and all the other good things we can get them to furnish, and then invite the governor and state engineer to come to Cowley County and answer a lot of questions for us.
Let all the people in the county and elsewhere meet and reason together. We might find out that we are mistaken, and all together in the wrong. For my part, if I can be convinced that I am wrong, then I would gladly take back all I ever said, and apologize for saying it. Otherwise, I may conclude to have another spasm a year from now, or a month or so before the August primary. Respectfully, Walter Sharp.