by Betty Wells
Staff Writer, Wichita Eagle-Beacon
It was a gloomy day in Wichita. In the local saloon sat Mayor Jones, Henry Hanker, president of the bank, and Peter Bizzy, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Jones cast a disparaging look out the door at the lifeless city street. "We've got to think of something to do, men, or this town's gonna die sure enough," lamented the portly mayor. "What can we do?" cried Mr. Bizzy. "I've tried and I've tried to stir up some business, but we gotta have something to sell," reported Henry Hanker. They fretted and stewed and fretted some more, and finally came to an agreement.
"What this town needs," said Mayor Jones, "is a new mode of comin' and goin'." "A new mode of comin' and goin'," repeated Henry Hanker. "Great Buffalo, I think you're right," said Mr. Bizzy. "If we could find some fast, new way to transport our goods - other than horses and mules - we could put some life in this town and maybe even get some industry."
So the trio sat and thought some more, and the Kansas sun began to set. In the local saloon sat Mayor Jones, Henry Hankler, president of the bank, and Peter Bizzy, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Then all of a sudden came hollerin' and shoutin' and the men flew to see what was about. "It's a cloud of dust," cried one young man. "No, for sure it's a prairie twister," cried another. As the dust cloud got closer and closer, the men hung onto their hats. The commotion got louder and ripped down Main Street. The dust cleared away. The Wichitans cleared their eyes. "What the devil is it?" asked Mayor Jones. "I never in all my born days saw a thing like it," cried Peter Bizzy. "Never in my born days..." said Henry Hanker. The people gathered round and viewed the contraption, oohin' and aahin' and not standing close. "Ahoy!" came a voice from the mighty machine. "Ahoy there mates!"
A swaggard young man stepped down from the craft and swooped his hat to the ladies. "Who are you?" demanded the mayor. "What is that thing?" cried Peter Bizzy. "I'm Windwagon Smith and this here's my vessel. Right purty ship, eh?"
The men could then see that the craft was a wagon but had some added attractions. A simple mast was geared to the top, and a rudder was built to the back. "I've been sailing the grass of the prairies, using the fine Kansas wind," said Smith. "And I'm near out of supplies, town folk, could you help?" The mayor and Bizzy and Hanker and others ushered him to the saloon. A hearty meal later, and Smith became agitated, looking around for some fun.
"What goes here?" he asked. "Where is all the excitement I heard about in bustling Wichita?" "We have a problem, great indeed," said the mayor. "Since we're on the prairie here, there's no way to transport quickly what we want and need." "Aha!" cried Smith. "I think I can help. Let me offer you men a business proposition. If I had a right grand prairie schooner, I could travel in four days what the mule and horse do in ten." The men stared at him unbelievingly. "Yessiree," said Smith, "Your troubles would be over. I could transport people and goods. But I need money and men to build the craft." "It's crazy," cried Mayor Jones. "It's ridiculous!" said Peter Bizzy. "I think it'll work," said Henry Hanker. News of the deal spread through the town and soon Smith had money and men. They worked and they slaved and in several weeks the craft stood ready to go.
Its mast was as high as any good ship, to catch all the Kansas wind. The rudder was mighty and the bow ornate, and the wheels as powerful as could be. "This fine craft will save us all," said Mayor Jones in a short speech. The dignitaries boarded the handsome vessel and Windwagon Smith took command. As the townsmen pushed the ship from Main Street, its mast caught a big gust of wind.
That's where the legend ends, some say, but others don't agree. Seems the Windwagon simply disappeared, which often happens at sea. Its riders have never been seen nor heard, and some say a twister carried them away. But the wagon's still here, others say, and can be seen at sunset on a clear day.