Column published in Smith County Pioneer – January 29, 2015

By El Dean Holthus

Highway “Number 8” as it is locally known, subject to approval by the Kansas Legislature and signature of Governor Brownback, will soon join other named highways in Kansas. Senator Elaine Bowers, Concordia, has introduced bill #43 to the Transportation Committee of the Kansas Senate asking the 2015 Legislature to enact legislation that would designate the 16 miles of highway K-8 from US-36 to the Nebraska state line as THE HOME ON THE RANGE HIGHWAY.

This is exciting news to your writer and I hope to all of you in that we now will have our own, almost exclusive, highway with a name appealing to all Kansans, former Kansans and lovers of cowboy music around the world.

There will be a hearing on bill #43 by the Senate Transportation Committee, with their approval it will be forwarded to the House Transportation Committee who will hold a hearing on the bill, with their approval it will be forwarded to the full Legislature for their consideration, with their approval it will be sent to the Governor for his signature. If all these pieces of the puzzle fall into place “number 8” will be THE HOME ON THE RANGE HIGHWAY.

As it with all good things there is responsibility on the local level for necessary funding. In the past 5 years I have learned the Kansas Historical Society and the Kansas Department of Transportation, operating with limiting funding, have no funds available to fund new highway signage. The Foundation will, before dedication and installation of signs, be required to have in hand sufficient funds for two signs, one at the US 36 junction and one at the state line plus 50% of the value of the signs for installation and maintenance. We will be seeking assistance for these funds from the community.

In writing this story I recalled my earliest memories of “number 8” remembering when it was a gravel road with the last maintenance man/motor patrol operator being Mart Calkins who lived on the farm now occupied by Arlene Ratliff. I checked with my best research friend Mr. Google and found a history of the highway I didn’t know or had forgotten.

From about 1918 to 1940 K-8 was the main N-S highway through the center of Kansas passing through Smith, Osborne, Russell, Barton, Stafford, Pratt, and Barber Counties; about 1940 it was truncated (I learned a new word) which means cut short by the creation of US 281. All that remained of K-8 was 1.3 miles from Kiowa to the Oklahoma state line and the 16 miles in Smith County. The highway was completely graveled by 1941 and shortly after WWII major construction was completed that reduced the hills, filled the valley and was paved. These 16 miles was one tough “highway”, even with gravel, before it was rebuilt having very steep hills many of which were a “gumbo” causing cars and trucks to “ball up” with mud until they could not move.

Our “number 8”, has been an important part of Smith County history and continues to be an important market to market road for transporting of grain and livestock between Kansas and Nebraska. It will soon have a name and we hope our readers will share our excitement and enthusiasm and assist in funding the identification signage.

Thank you Senator Bowers for being a strong supporter of the Home on the Range Site for the past 5 years; we also appreciate all your work for veterans through the North Central Kansas Honor Flight program.