Not every town has a butler (like Tavern on the Plaza in Coffeyville) to serve up some tasty tips of knowledge but you can learn any exploring info you need from the librarian, post master, barber, cafe crowd, at the gas pumps, or from someone walking across the street.
Small towns are the best for engaging in conversation with a "local." Just ask them about their town and they'll love telling you more than you want to know. These conversations are what really puts meat into your adventure.
I was researching for the Kansas Guidebook for Explorers one day in Longford. I was in the middle of the street taking pictures of the old Dakota Sandstone bank when the hairdresser ran out wearing her smock and flailing a scissor in one hand, as if she was between clips. She asked what I was doing and before I could say more than a few words she told me to come in and tell all the girls because they'd want to know, too.
Another day I was in Frontenac and stepped inside Pallucca's Market -- a grocery that dates back to 1909 when Attilio Pallucca started his store as an Italian-American Cooperative for the area miners. I asked the clerk some questions and before I knew it they had escorted me to a little room in the back of the meat department to meet the owner -- another Pallucca. I felt like I was meeting the patriach of the First Italian Family of Kansas. He looked kind of gruff but before you knew it he was telling me how the store came to be... (unfortunately they are now having to close). Meeting him and talking in back of the store in a small little cluttered office is something I'll never forget.
One last story. I stopped in Prairie View in Phillips County one afternoon and went to the new library that I had heard so much about. It was a new metal building and i was disappointed to see a closed sign. I put my nose up to the window trying to get an inside view. Then I saw a man about a block away come out of his house and start galloping towards me. His head was down and his manner was urgent so I thought I was in trouble!
Turns out this man, in his 70s, just wanted me to know how proud he was of his town of 138 for building this library. He asked what I was doing so I told him my name and what I was doing. He got this grin on his face and started directing me to follow him to his house. He said, "My wife is a big fan of yours! You've got to come over and have a cup of tea with us."
Talking to the locals can add time to your trip but there is no better way to "Get Kansas!"
KE #2 Marci Penner