Archive for Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Shouts and Murmurs

Finding the WREN from long ago

September 8, 2004

The wrens left decades ago.

But their house remains.

I've come to see the old WREN radio transmitting station -- situated on the east edge of town just south of Washington Street.

Raymond Crosby, who's owned the property since 1968, tells me to have a seat in his golf cart and -- with a jolt -- off we go.

He and his late wife, Dorothy, bought the property so Raymond could store excavating equipment near town.

But the 10-acre plot evolved into a getaway for the Crosbys. They'd shoot off fireworks on the Fourth of July in front of the little wren house. And, they kept beds in the old radio station so when company came to stay at their house, someone could sleep there. The building had plumbing, electricity of course, and heat.

In the good old days, when Raymond could fill his propane tank for a fraction of what it costs today, he'd crank up the building's furnace during the winter. It gave him a place to go to warm his hands when working on his equipment.

Raymond is now retired and his children have moved away. But the old WREN place is still very much a part of his life. He often heads to the farm to mow a piece of ground, take a spin on the golf cart, trim trees or tinker with an old tractor.

He knows the place like the back of his hand.

Raymond aims the golf cart along an old sidewalk that seems to lead to nowhere. But slowly at the end of the 40-some-foot-long sidewalk, past a grassy area, and tucked in between an overgrowth of trees and bushes, the wren house rises.

The wren house is about 10 feet across and 12 feet tall. And, yes, it does look like a giant birdhouse.

The wren house leads into a flat-roofed tan brick building that used to house the WREN radio transmitting station.

The golf cart rolls to a gentle stop at the side of the house. Crosby says there are stairs on the east side of the porch. We are 15 feet away. There is so much brush I do not see them. He loans me a rag to swipe at cobwebs and cautions: "Watch out for snakes."

He doesn't mention the poison ivy, a healthy specimen of which is growing nearby. But I see it and keep my distance.

After pushing through the barricade of cobwebs and branches, stairs appear.

The concrete steps and porch are in good shape for a building as covered with brush as Sleeping Beauty's castle.

But that's just the way Crosby likes it. "Keeps the intruders out, you know."

Up close there's not much more to see, I just wanted to get a feel for the place and take some pictures. In the future, I plan to write a story about the WREN radio transmitting station, which operated in Tonganoxie from 1932 to 1947.

Local historian John Lenahan has provided a wealth of technical and historical information about the radio station, which I will include in a later story. After the Tonganoxie transmitting station closed, the three wren statues that had graced the building were moved elsewhere. Like many of our readers, I remember seeing the two smaller wrens on a building in downtown Lawrence. And I've been told the larger wren is in Topeka.

At the time the Tonganoxie station was built, it was described as "the most up-to-date station in the west."

What the station meant to Tonganoxie, I'm not sure. Was it more of an eye-catching landmark -- located in clear view along what was then a major highway -- or was it an integral part of Tonganoxie's business community and social life?

To write a well-rounded story (which by the way was the idea of Mirror reader Jim Rogers) about the Tonganoxie's WREN transmitting station, is going to take input from our readers. Be sure to contact us at The Mirror if you have stories to tell about the wrens and WREN.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.