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KC MO

Agriculture.com Staff 04/07/2008 @ 1:52pm

My wife and I recently felt the need to "get out of Dodge," so we went to Kansas. Kansas City, that is.

We had originally thought we would just spontaneously point the car in some random direction and go. But my wife and I are both the kind of people who have to plan ahead in order to be spontaneous, so we made plans to visit Kansas City. We had our reasons, the main one being the fact that neither of us had ever been to KC. Another factor was the alleged abundance of barbecue in Kansas City.

We are wild and crazy people, so we opted to stay at a B & B in Independence. Arriving early in the afternoon, we asked the proprietors of our bed and breakfast what we could do or see nearby. This was how we spontaneously decided to visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum and Library.

I learned several things about good ol' "give 'em hell" Harry. For instance, he worked at his museum and library for as long as his health allowed, often showing up before the help to answer incoming calls. He sometimes had to convince startled callers that they were talking to the man himself.

Harry may have been an incurable pedestrian, but he was also an incurable romantic. My wife purchased a book which contains some of the nearly 1,300 letters Harry sent to his wife, Bess, between 1910 and 1959. I especially like the closing he used at the end of one such letter: "I love you in season and out."

After spending an exciting afternoon at a museum, we spontaneously decided to kick things up a notch the next day by visiting...a museum.

But this museum was definitely exciting because it involved a lost ship and a quest for buried treasure.

On September 5, 1856 the steamboat Arabia hit a snag and swiftly sank to the muddy bottom of the Missouri River. No lives were lost except for a mule that was tied to some sawmill equipment at the stern.

Over 130 years later Bob Hawley, his sons David and Greg, and business partner Jerry Mackey took it upon themselves to salvage the Arabia. This is what happens when guys don't have hobbies: "I'm bored. What's there to do? Hey! How's about we find and dig up a century-old shipwreck?"

And so they did. Fortunately, the Missouri had shifted its course, leaving the Arabia half a mile from the riverbank and in the middle of a corn field.

The salvors faced a couple of major obstacles. The first was water, which they hit at ten feet. The second was money.

I chatted with Greg Hawley who said, "It's kind of tough, to have spent over half a million dollars and still have nothing to show for it. But you think about all that stuff that might be laying down there and you go back to the bank and borrow another $100,000 so you can keep on going."

They eventually excavated a hole that was the size of a football field and 45 feet deep. The site was dewatered by 20 wells that were installed around its perimeter.

But the rewards were stunning. The Arabia held 200 tons of essential items bound for the frontier, from pickaxes to preserved fruit, from doorknobs to dresses. They even found the mule! Its skeleton was still tied to the sawmill with the bit clenched in its teeth and a saddle cinched over its ribs.

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