Bikes and Barbecue

by Brian Jewell 26. March 2010 22:35

In Kansas City, Kansas, Legends at Village West is one of the top attractions for visiting tour groups. Though the complex includes a variety of retail outlets, exciting outdoor entertainment and inventive restaurants, I'm excited to say that I've found a new favorite: Backfire BBQ.

Backfire is one of the newest restaurant attractions at the Legends, and I mean attraction in the literal sense — the restaurant was designed by the same folks who created the popular Rainforest Cafe concept, as well as T-Rex, a dinosaur-themed restaurant also at Legends. Backfire BBQ goes in a new direction, however, pairing classic barbecue dishes with decor and memorabilia from the hit television show Orange County Choppers.

The restaurant was designed in cooperation with the cast of the show, who run a custom motorcycle shop in California. Throughout the building, visitors will find a number of bikes created by the Orange County crew, showing off the creators' artistic eye and characteristic flair. Some are mounted on rotating pedestals, while others are parked on ground level for guests to mount up on and take pictures with.

The custom choppers, along with the other similarly themed memorabilia and decor throughout the restaurant, make Backfire BBQ an exciting place to look at. But it's the food that makes the restaurant an exciting place to eat — the half pound of pulled pork that I sampled for lunch was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and so tasty that I didn't even bother scooping it onto the accompanying bread to make a sandwich. Next time I'm in Kansas City, Backfire BBQ will be on the top of my list of places to visit again.





Classic Car College

by Brian Jewell 26. March 2010 05:24

They sure didn't offer classes like this when I was in school....

At McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, more than 100 students are enrolled in the school's Automotive Restoration Technology program, the only course of study in the country that offers four-year degrees in restoration of classic cars. Their "labs" are unlike any other you've ever seen at a college campus, and groups are welcome to visit for a tour (arranged ahead of time through the McPherson Convetion and Visitors Bureau).

I toured the workshops this morning and saw students working on numerous restoration projects on very cool old cars. Throughout their studies, these kids learn every step involved in restoring classic cars, including engine rebuilding, paint and trim work, upholstry, and more. Throughout their time at the university, they practice on the many classic cars that have been donated to the school. When the cars are finished, they are sold (sometimes for $100,000 or more), and the proceeds invested back into the program.

On the tour, we visited the various rooms around the workshop, and saw students working on fascinating specimen, including a 1929 blackhawk in the paint shop and a 1926 Model T Speedstar, being rebuilt from the ground up with period-specific parts.

We also saw some of the final products, including the gleaming Buick from the showroom pictured above. Their projects may come from the past, but these students have bright futures preserving automobiles that are irreplacable hallmarks of American style.




Bleeding Kansas

by Brian Jewell 25. March 2010 06:41

Among the most fascinating, dramatic and heart-wrenching stories of American history is one that I never learned in school.

In the years before the Civil War, the Kansas Terristory was a flashpoint of conflict. As the territory went through the steps necessary for statehood, there was extreme debate, both throughout the territory and the rest of the country, about whether Kansas would enter the union as a free state or a slave state. The answer would potentially upset the balance of power in the Union and lead to intense civil unrest.

There were many "free-staters" living in Kansas at the time, but also many slavery supporters. As the debates became more heated, violence erupted, often incited by mauraders from neighboring Missouri, a slave state. At the time, Kansas was the wild West, with little law or protection of government. As the slavery argument turned violent, more than 200 men, along with at least one women, were killed to make political points. That vicious time in history is known to locals as "Bleeding Kansas."

American students rarely learn about Bleeding Kansas and its role in the leadup to the Civil War. I first encountered the story five years ago on my first trip to the state. This is now my third visit to Kansas, and every time I come, I learn a little bit more about the price that was paid for freedom here. And every time I come back, the story continues to move me.

In the small town of Lecompton, which almost became the capital city of Kansas, re-enactors at the Territorial Capitol Museum have created a drama to help visitors understand the slavery debate and the effect that the Bleeding Kansas violence had on ordinary people. The drama is staged as a town hall meeting on the Kansas Territory, during which presenters from both sides give short speeches arguing their political points. Some of the speakers are well known historical figures or politicians. Others are common folk. One particularly moving speech is from a grieving widow, whose husband and sons were killed by slaveery supporters, just to make a point.

When groups visit the museum, they are divided into Northern and Southern factions, and then encouraged to heckle, cheer and participate in the debate as locals would have during that time period. The result is an experience that is interactive, moving and enlightening. I left the place with a new understanding of the struggle that everyday people faced in the days before the Civil War, and a deep appreciation to those who sacrificied so much to secure the freedom of men and women they would never meet.



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