by Ruth

Tornado warnings brought our tiny cavalcade of one to a halt outside of Hutchinson, Kansas (“Hutch” to the locals). We were headed for a nearby campground, but thanks to our NOAA weather app, we knew a “severe thunderstorm” with “possible tornado warnings” was headed straight for us, following the same route. Winds up to 85 mph, hail the size of grapefruit, power out all over the area, drama, drama, drama. Worst of all, it would be centered, essentially, right over our campsite. The same campsite that offered no shelter in the way of trees to keep the promised hail off the Silver Submarine, nor wind to keep us from lying awake, listening to every gouge of every hailstone.

So, about six miles from our destination, we pulled into a truck stop to decide what to do. We’d already driven more than our self-allotted maximum miles, and we were too tired to continue anyway. The sky was looking rather dramatic, sort of like the background in the first black-and-white scenes with Dorothy and Toto in The Wizard of Oz. Uh oh. In that moment, we looked at each other and said, “Where would be safe to stay the night?” and our gaze wandered over the ranks of semis ranged along the fence. “Um, here?”

Ben masterfully snuggled our little rig between two of the humming, thrumming monsters, calculated to be just far enough apart to open our door. We opened all the windows to let fresh air in, and it started to rain. And rain. Then rain. Then really rain. And then the wind blew, strong enough that it was a test of strength and stamina just to open our door. Hail the size of pennies speckled our porthole windows. Hail is anathema to Airstreams, but apparently pennies are small enough change. We heard the wind die, were briefly in the eye of the storm, then it shifted direction and blew and rained some more. We fell asleep to the gentle rocking of our rig, the strong winds blunted by our titanic, diesel-warbling neighbors.

The next morning, I woke to a clear blue sky, birds singing, flowers blooming, just like after Dorothy lands in Oz (no, no Munchkins). Across the freeway was the town water tower which read: Southern Hospitality, Kansas Style.  Sorry, not really my style.

Quickly skirting the few remaining semitrucks in the lot (these guys get up and on the road early), Gyp and I spotted a kiosk surrounded by landscaped lawn, with a  little parking lot nearby.

Walking over, we saw that it was the Hutchinson Salt Company historical marker. A 1,260-pound block of—you guessed it—salt.

Apparently this is a big deal here in Hutch. You can press a button to see what the discoverer, Benjamin Blanchard, would have seen gazing into a big hole in the earth (“as seen on The Discovery Channel”). Which looked like, well, a big dark hole in the earth.

This salt is reputedly so marvelous, it’s exported as far away as Minnesota, California, and even the northern Mexico territories—truly a global enterprise, Kansas Style!


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