For the 22nd year I’m returning from the South West United States and I’ve chosen a route that is slower and far more revealing. The need for seeing places other than interstate truck stops is my motivation.

I’m driving on the state highways through the withering small towns on Kansas and Oklahoma.

It is the westward most points of the Bible Belt. The Scotts Irish came down through the Cumberland Gap in Tennessee.

The mainstream religious denominations required that you be college educated if you were going to be a pastor.

So the Evangelicals and fundamentalists got the upper hand, anyone that “felt the spirit” got on their horses and followed the early settlers.
Most all had no education , either religious or academic.

This is why and how the Bible Belt is where it is.

If you need a rattlesnake handling religion this is the region to explore, seek and you will find.

They (many Scots Irish) came down the Ohio River , through the Cumberland Gap, across the upland south, all the way to St. Louis and just a bit beyond.

And here I am, driving through the 100 to 140 year old communities that were a product of this migration.

Today, Small towns of one to six thousand struggle to maintain schools, main streets and basic infrastructure.

One town boasts of having a citizen that discovered the Planet Pluto.

Those same towns now are losing the last of their children to out migration.

They have little industry, they have no diversity, they don’t have a work force if an industry came to their town.

They are at critically demographic stage in the history of their community. A community that has thrived for about one hundred years.

Walmarts have had an effect of these small communities. All of the “ma and pa” businesses have been quietly erased from most every Main Street.

The bike shop, the hardware store, the grocery store, sporting goods, automotive, pharmacy, optometry, and most any commercial business that could produce revenue has vanished and replaced by the high box store.

Years ago I attend a educational seminar about a business that I’d barely heard of…..It was called Walmart. There was only one Walmart in Iowa at the time and none in my state of Minnesota.

The Iowa State professor suggested that he was under scrutiny by the company because we was paying attention to their business practices and how fast they were expanding.

The concept of Ethics in Business is a rather dubious topic and that wasn’t his presentation, businesses that succeed make the rules.

He helped us understand the changing economic landscape and how it would effect small businesses throughout the nation in the coming decades.

Big box stores were coming to a town near you and as with any living organism adaptability is the key!

If you were a mom and pop shop selling bicycles you needed to understand that Walmart had decided to claim the less expensive bike market as their own. You would not survive because they were more than willing to sell below your price.

Their distribution networks would take decades to build but it would ensure that what ever product they were selling, they could get it to their doorstep five to six percent cheaper than any other chain store because of their distribution networks.

The concepts were big, bold and effective. It had little to do with ethics, they provided the public with less expensive products.

———Back to our withering small towns throughout the midwest.

I return home to a community that would be demographically off the charts. All of my older original customers are dead and gone.

They were replaced by their children that were my age. Those people are now retiring and becoming a less viable part of retail economies.

Their children have most all been a part of the “out migration” into larger cities. This has been happening throughout the nation for decades.

Our communities is quite different than the Kansas and Oklahoma towns that struggle to keep windows from being boarded up on their main streets.

With a pork industry that requires hard and somewhat undesirable work we have found a source of infinite labor.

The few white folks in these communities (that fit the job description) generally don’t work at pork processing plants.

Immigrants that speak sixty four different languages have come to our community to work, prosper and to raise their children.

They also bring business acumen with them and some start businesses in empty store fronts.

Some succeed mightily and some attempt and fail. I think more of them for having tried.

In a few short decades, before my eyes I see their children as educators, professionals, soldiers, officers, doctors, etc.

Upon their arrival many locals didn’t comprehend and understand the progression of events.

These newly arrived immigrants wanted nothing more than to blend into our society.

They worked, they saved, they bought a shiny new car.

They worked, they saved and bought the “starter home” that had sat empty for two years since Gramma died.

I lamented when they no longer wear their traditional dress.

They have found a place in our community and our store fronts reflect the vibrant and eclectic mix of our new found friends.

Immigration isn’t clean and simple, it requires patience and a little courage.

It requires self reflection and learning from mistakes that always occur. It is helped by extending a hand.

This community isn’t dying like the hundreds & hundreds of communities that dot the prairies of the mid west.

These immigrants generate tax revenue, they buy cars, groceries, homes, and televisions, they populate our schools (over 60%).

A demographer could place a stethoscope on the heart of this community and diagnose that it is alive and well.



  1. What a really great read BK well done. Years ago, when we used to have camping surfing holidays in Cornwall I discovered an excellent story about a Brit who had ridden from St Louis up the Bozeman trail into the Black Hills. The author Dylan Winter had ridden Offas’s Dyke 400 miles defence of King Offa’s England from the unruly Welsh. As a new adventure he bought two horses in St Louis and did the long ride to the Black Hills. In my long Daily commute to Heathrow area, I used to enjoy his story on BBC Radio 4 every week, and bought his book of his experiences in rural America – the book is called “A Hack goes West”. It is very similar to the 1999 film the Straight Story. My kids loved this as a bed time story, but I remember I had to read ahead as he has stories of entering towns which had the nice part and the bad part with saloons and brothels and the like, and I wanted to avoid having to explain what a brothel was LOL. I really enjoy these Notes from the road, and you and a few others have helped me start thinking of a new retirement career in writing my own series of blogs, and the case to my wife for a new summerhouse overlooking Chepstow and the Border between England and Wales. Wish me luck!! LOL

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