The monsoon season ended just in time for the Kitties to bike up for the 159-mile round trip to Lyons for a tour of the Kansas Ethanol Plan and lunch at Fat Boyz in Little River. Thirteen Kitties and guest rider, Susan (Suz), descended upon the Kwik Shop meeting location to exchange hugs, make introductions with Suz, and most importantly, ooh and ahh over Denise’s new ride. Teresa won the award for traveling the longest distance to start the ride, having ridden 57 miles all before 8:30 a.m. Teresa, I regret to inform you that said award does not come with a cash or merchandise prize – just the pure simple joy of bragging rights. After Christine’s husband, Dorrin, provided some reverse action for her, we fired up our rides and hit the road. Next stop – Lyons, Kansas.
Kathryn led the Kitties without incident and we all settled in for a beautiful August morning ride. Two things struck me as odd that morning. 1) Never in the history of Kansas has the scenery been so green in August. The aforementioned monsoon season brought life back to the tortured fields courtesy of the drought of 2011 and 2012. 2) Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would see zebras grazing in the lush fields. That’s right, I said ZEBRAS! As we were cruising along Highway 96, I glanced to my right and saw what I was sure were zebras. After doing a doubletake, I confirmed that yes, I wasn’t seeing stripes, these were honest to goodness genuine zebras. I suppose it makes sense as Kansas summers can often feel like the Serengeti!
In no time at all, we were pulling into the Kansas Ethanol Plant and nearly filled the parking lot with motorcycles. After commenting on the fact that it smelled more like a bakery baking bread than a factory making gas, we met our tour guide, Bruce, his wife, Sarah, and their four-month-old daughter, Logan. We all then experienced an Aha moment when the mystery was revealed of how it was we had the privilege of being allowed in the plant on a Saturday. Sarah is Kathryn’s daughter, which makes Bruce her son-in-law. Bruce is the chemical engineer at the plant – which also makes Bruce a Brainiac!
We all took a much needed potty break and witnessed Sandy use the excuse that there was a mosquito on Nellie’s boob so she could swat said boob. Sandy, you’re such a naughty Kitty! We were then led into the training room where Bruce asked us to put on hard hats and safety glasses. Ask?? Hell, Bruce, we insist! The first thing I thought of was PHOTO OP!! Bruce schooled us on the process for making ethanol (in layman’s terms, of course) and the Kitties asked a slew of really great questions and in the end, we all came away pretty darn fascinated that grain, corn and water, basically the ingredients for moonshine, could make fuel for cars. By the way, in case you get any ideas, Bruce was quick to add that a poison additive was part of the recipe to keep people like Maureen from taking a swig from the sample jar of ethanol. We also learned that there is very little waste after the distillation process, because what’s left of the grain and corn is made into cattle feed and sold to ranchers. Teresa, ever the helpful Kitty, suggested they tap into the bison market to increase their customer base. See we are NOT just a bunch of biker bitches and Bruce, you aren’t the only Brainiac here. Kansas Ethanol, you’re welcome!
After the classroom training was over, we started the tour. First stop was the facility that produces the cattle feed (and quite possibly bison feed) and packages it for sale to cattle ranchers (and quite possibly to bison ranchers – is there such a thing?) The pleasant smell of baked bread evaporated into more of an unpleasant cattle feed lot smell. Bruce, this is fascinating and all, but how about we get back to the baking bread smell, shall we?
We then began the tour of the distillery process, which was quite remarkable and too complicated for this simpleminded reporter to regurgitate. But, I do remember a few things:
- Where the heck are all the people? Bruce had already told us that it was a 24-7 operation (or 31 as Kathryn put it…which I didn’t get…because I’m simple minded) so I expected to see dozens of men and women scurrying around making moonshine…uh, I mean ethanol. Not one sole was visible. Bruce explained that’s because the facility, only being six years old, was completely automated. They have four people who work each shift – one to work all the computers and three to do the spot testing to make sure quality control meets their standards.
- The lab is air conditioned. I can tell you one thing… if I were one of those three people who does the spot checking, I would be taking my own sweet time doing it.
- The computer operators get to see some pretty cool stuff. There are cameras everywhere on the property, inside and out, and in the course of their job, they’ve seen, and shared with us, pictures of ducks, lots and lots of ducks, in the pond in front of the facility; foxes coming and going from their foxhole; and a lot of pretty Kitties walking around in cool hard hats.
After the tour was over, 14 Kitties who were now just a tad bit sweatier than when we started, said our good-byes and thank-yous and biked up for the short 12-mile trip to Little River for some kitty chow. We were hungry and we were thirsty! If you haven’t eaten at Fay Boyz in Little River, I highly recommend it. Good food and very friendly staff. We filled up on burgers, salads and sandwiches; re-hydrated ourselves; learned that Kathryn had a hot date that night to see a band she had never heard of at the Casino (the band was Journey which caused us to all sit gape-mouthed upon hearing that she had never heard of them): saw pictures of Nellie’s new dog Allie Mae; caught up on general life info with each other; wondered what the four Kitties did to get relegated to the Time Out table (Christine, Maureen, Tena and guest rider Suz); peed and paid; and headed back out to the now more typical Kansas August heat for the ride home, which again was without incident. And might I just say that after the debacle of the June ride, that was a welcomed relief!
A special thank you to Kathryn for pulling her family connection and providing us with such an enjoyable and educational day and of course, to Bruce, for taking the better part of his Saturday and hosting the Krome Kitties at the Kansas Ethanol Plant. Kitty kisses to you both!
Those on board for the A Hard Hat Kind of Day trip were Janice, Nellie, Libby, Christine, Jean, Linda, Sandy, Kathryn, Teresa, Maureen, Tena, Sandy, Denise and guest rider, Suz.
Janice – KKMC Founder