Why do people hate anything "different"? Alternative ways of thinking, divergent lifestyles or even a unique manner of dress - for the weak and close-minded, anything outside the norm is viewed as a threat to their way of life. When everyone is the same, a population is much easier to manage and control, but for me this is the kiss of death. An existence filled with boredom and monotony! When I rolled through Middle America in December, I was pleased to encounter many unique Americans in Kansas. For me, Kansas is a very strange State, which I'll write more about later, but today I want to tell you about one of the craziest people I've met in all of my travels.
There are two types of crazy in the world - good crazy and bad crazy. Ron Lessman is the former. His thinking is on a completely different level, or maybe even another planet. :) He's mostly known for being the creator of the "Truckhenge" project, a collection of old trucks stored as "artistic" pieces throughout his farmland. Almost all of the trucks have some type of political slogan or conspiracy theory sprayed on the frames. According to Ron, "Rome didn't kill Jesus...bureaucracy did!" Many, many spelling errors in Ron's paintings. For those practicing English, don't use him as an example! Let's take a closer look at the life of my favorite Kansas redneck.
1. Ron and his wife live outside of Topeka, Kansas in a very rural, wooded area filled with a lot of salvage and junk yards. Along the way, on a country dirt road, we passed "Jim Root Salvage." I think Jim must also be an interesting character, but we didn't stop to meet him.
2. The couple is well-known in the area and many people visit the property. Simply call them if you're ever near Topeka, Kansas and they will be pleased to meet some new foreigners! The phone number is displayed on the fence, and you can see a slight glimpse of some of the trucks and other artistic creations in the distance.
3. When you enter the driveway to Ron's house, you're immediately greeted with a strange sight. A lot of shoes hanging from a tree. Why are they there? According to Ron, these are the lost souls of former guests. Oh...spooky! :)) I suppose some might be frightened or scared when driving up to his property, and first encountering the woodsman, but for me there was no threat or intimidation. I've always been drawn to such eccentric characters throughout my entire life.
4. The living quarters are a unique creation, built after the original farm house was destroyed. I can't remember how the home was destroyed, I think through a flood or tornado. Absolutely every component of the structure is a "hand me down", gathered from garbage bins, junk yards, and through bartering with other local residents. I can call Mr. Lessman many things, but lazy wouldn't be one of them. He built everything from the ground up, using an old hangar as the foundation. The steel "shell" of the house is insulated by a layer of vinyl-covered foam.
5. I traveled here with my Russian friend Alexander, and he sent me to the door first to check out the scene. I'm not sure why, because he speaks almost perfect English, but in this case perhaps he didn't want to be kidnapped and held for ransom when his family is on the other side of the world. :) I knocked on the door, and was taken aback by a loud chorus of barking dogs. Then, Ron came out with his dishevled appearance, a strong smell of alcohol on his breath, and a skull and cross bones bandana wrapped around his head. Despite the outward and unkempt appearance, he was friendly and energetic. However, the real surprise came when we walked inside the house!
6. Almost every inch of the concrete, ground floor is covered in hand-painted designs. Huge canvases hang throughout the entire house, a constant stream of consciousness expressed through the paint brush. Ron's mind is extremely active, though few can even begin to understand his thoughts, even when he tries to express them. The man speaks in an almost incomprehensible dialect and rhythm, but with passion. This - the main thing in life! To believe in something and keep your mind active.
7. Why does he do all this? Life on the farm is very boring! In his view, it's necessary to constantly keep your mind occupied and busy with new creations, inventions and art such that there's a constant evolution in your personal space and life. No room for monotony or complacency! He even claimed that some of his artistic creations are 3-D, pulling an old, mangled pair of glasses from a box to demonstrate for me.
8. Walking in the house creates certain physical hazards. A lot of uneven spaces, rickety stairs and collectibles thrown in every corner. You could spend an entire day simply looking at the thousands of pieces hanging from the walls, and tucked into dusty corners. Everything from books, political posters, creepy clowns and dolls, and a huge greenhouse filled with living plants.
9. The only "normal" living area is upstairs, the kitchen and living room space which his wife, Linda, controls. She has allowed him to be complete King of the house, overtaking almost every room with his paintings and designs, but this section is the Queen's domain. Here, Linda makes meals and watches TV in peace and quiet. It seems even she is bored by the ordinary, because she decided to create a ceiling of woven baskets in her personal space. Photo credit macos. I traveled here with Alexander, and he left me alone with Ron most of the time, to listen to his constant ramblings and try to make sense of it all. :) Probably because he couldn't understand one word that came out of Ron's mouth, due to his unique dialect.
10. I think Linda must be an angel to live with a man like this! However, I'm certain she is never bored, always some strange and wild turn of events in their daily lives. There's something to be said for this lifestyle, where each day presents something new and unexpected. They've been married for over 30 years, and have several children. Undeniable soul mates, completely different personalities somehow drawn to each other for a lifetime. They have two children, a son who Ron describes as "very good" and an "annoying, hellion" daughter. :) I hope my parents don't describe me in the same way.
11. The backyard is where the real adventure begins! It's accessible through the main living area, and a covered bridge made from the frame of a trailer home.
12. Somewhere along the way, Ron put on this raccoon hat, which seemed perfect for the backwoods atmosphere. He led us to hundreds and hundreds of carved wooden structures. The creation of each one a very detailed story, which Ron is happy to tell. They are inspired by Hollywood characters (he even has an Alf creation!), political figures, and the very vibrant imagination of the carver. I don't know how he keeps the story of each of wooden statue straight in his mind, maybe it changes each time he weaves the tale for one of his visitors. What do you think about the leg with the colorful sock? :) It reminds me of the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz, after the house fell on her.
13. What's in all of these wooden sheds? Bodies, junk, or something valuable? It remains a big mystery!
14. Kansas residents - a very unusual breed of Americans! For the most part, they're huge conspiracy theorists, very anti-government, and inclined to hoard and gather everything for the soon to be apocalypse. I think you could live for a very long time by simply gathering sh*t from Ron's yard. You can create an entirely new house, filled with decorations, sofas, picnic tables, and gather survival food from the massive pond on the property. This is the main source of income for the family - selling catfish from the pond and charging locals a fee to fish there. In summer months, they also grow a lot of vegetables on the property, and sell them at local markets.
15. Many locals are disturbed by the property, and consider all of this junk a huge blight on the community. Ron is a pro at battling the local officials in court, being dragged there and forced to pay an army of lawyers to defend the right to have these trucks and his creations on the grounds. The whole story began when Ron started collecting old, rusty trucks, and storing them on his property. When county officials became aware of this, they tried to tax each vehicle. Ron argued that they are not transport, they merely sit on his property and aren't drivable. Then, officials deemed them a "public hazard," claiming they could be dislodged in floods, and float into neighboring regions and cause harm to other people's property or lives.
It's all a bit absurd! Ron didn't give in, and continued to fight! His clever idea was to paint the trucks, encase them in 23 tons of concrete in the ground, and have them raised toward the sky. These old rusty machines were then transformed into "art pieces," and outside the reach of taxation and county officials. I think the locals and authorities probably have a love/hate relationship with Ron. He told me he has also helped officials, by reporting other violations and crimes in the area. After that, they cut him some slack, and let him continue to build an artistic haven on his property.
16. The idea didn't stop with trucks, and now there's also a "Boathenge" on the farm. Very decorative boats sticking out from the dirt, with painted slogans on all of them. Today, Shawnee County, Kansas considers the property part of the Kaw Region Art Park.
17. Probably some babies were created in this abandoned bus! :) Ron invites many musicians to the grounds to hold huge festivals, parties and events. The bus serves as a drinking area and public gathering space during such events. The Libertarian Party has even held political fundraisers on the property, when Shawnee County officials denied them permits at other locations.
18. If you ask, you can leave your mark on the bus, or any of the boats. Ron gladly hands you a spray paint can and there are no limits on what may be written. Any type of slogan, expression or advertisement, including curse words like "Fuck School." Bad, bad idea! Perhaps this is why Ron's spelling is so bad. :) Somewhere on the bus, I left my mark by spraying "peacetraveler22" in black paint.
19. During most events on the property, drinking is allowed. All of the leftover glass bottles don't go to waste. They too are used to create artwork. In fact, these are the most beautiful pieces on the entire property in my view. Colorful and neat. Almost like a redneck igloo.
20. Creepy, tortured baby doll hanging on a random stretch of fence. Haunting image for me, because I don't like dolls!
21. Final stop on the property was this shed, where I left my companion alone for a few minutes. Because he collects license plates, I thought he would be occupied looking at all of the metal frames, but very quickly I heard yells for "Shannon, Shannon..." Something eerie was awaiting inside the shed.
22. Piles and piles of bones!! :)) Ron claims all of the artifacts were pulled from the pond at some point, all kinds of mammoth teeth, some from prehistoric times, at least in the owner's imagination. Maybe they are only dog, cow, deer or other animal bones. Hopefully, not human! Again, I listened to a very long explanation of all of these fossils and ancient relics while Alexander snapped photos.
23. On the way to the next destination, I had a long discussion with my Russian travel companion about the difference between "rednecks" and "hillbillies." Both terms are used interchangeably by Americans to refer to country, rural folks. However, the official distinction is that "hillbillies" generally live in the mountains, while "rednecks" live on the plains. To me, neither is an insulting word, just a different lifestyle, and I've said many times before that I have many rednecks in my own family. They are typically very hard working people, engaged in manual labor or farming. If you're ever in Topeka, Kansas, be sure to call Ron or Linda for a visit! However, be very aware that this is PRIVATE PROPERTY. It's necessary to inform them of your visit, otherwise a shotgun might greet you on arrival. This is Kansas, after all. :)
What do you think of people like Ron? Are they a nuisance or attribute to society?
Other Interesting Americans
God's Tree House: Crossville, Tennessee
Sleepless Button King: South Carolina