The Story of a Highway
Article published in Smith County Pioneer – April 16, 2015
THE STORY OF A HIGHWAY
BY El Dean Holthus
On April 1, 2015 Governor Sam Brownback signed Senate Bill 43 naming 16 miles of highway K8 in North Central Kansas as THE HOME ON THE RANGE HIGHWAY. This article is to present our readers with a short history of the highway with emphasis on these selected 16 miles, known by Smith County residents and others as “Number 8”.
This road, mostly unimproved in 1918 was designated as Kansas Highway 8 and was the main North/South highway in Central Kansas from Nebraska to Oklahoma. It began 7 miles south of Franklin, Nebraska running south 16 miles to US-36 then west 8 miles to Smith Center then continued its meandering route to Kiowa, Kansas and the Oklahoma border. The highway designation meant maintenance was the responsibility of the state rather than the county with some miles being graveled, certainly not the all weather road we now call a highway.
In 1940, no detail here, agreement was made between the State and Federal highway departments to truncate K-8. Truncate means to shorten, in this case the center section of K-8 was included with highway US-281 leaving 1.3 miles of K-8 from Kiowa to the Oklahoma line and our featured 16 miles in Smith County. The highway number was changed but anyone traveling US-281 will agree you will still meander as you travel to Oklahoma.
From 1940-1948, many readers will remember this, Number 8 was still a gravel road with very steep hills many having gumbo soil that after the Spring thaw or summer rains became mud that stuck to the slow moving front wheels and under the fenders causing an automobile to “ball up” resulting the front wheels literally sliding rather than turning. Even with these problems it was the main farm to market road in northwest Smith County.
Shortly after World War II the highway was rebuilt to its current configuration; it was a local engineering marvel to observe the steep hills being leveled and the valleys filled; when completed it was truly a super highway in the area. It was not surfaced with asphalt until 1950 and now remains a favorite north/south route for grain and livestock truckers because it is straight without curves but very dangerous due to lack of shoulders on the highway; a little carelessness can easily become life threatening.
Number 8 has been and is still the only improved road leading to The Home on the Range Site where the restored Higley/Home on the Range Cabin is located. Traffic to the HOR site increased after the 1947 Kansas Legislature named Home on the Range as the State song of Kansas, and again in 1954 when Governor Arn visited to dedicate the renovated Cabin. Interest has continued over the years and since being a finalist in the 8 Wonders of Kansas contest and featured in the Wichita Eagle interest is once again being created.
Senate Bill 43 was sponsored by and introduced in the Kansas Senate by Sen. Elaine Bowers of Concordia and supported in the House of Representatives by Rep. Troy Waymaster of Russell. Thanks to their leadership and the support of the Kansas Legislature visitors may now travel THE HOME ON THE RANGE HIGHWAY to visit the Home on the Range Site, view the only one room combination log/limestone cabin still on its original site and sing the cowboy song known around the world on the site where it was written in the Cabin built by the author Dr. Brewster Higley VI.