“Join us on streets of golden wheat!” states a recent local brochure with a wheat sheaf pictured within. The five-foot-tall iron Wheat Stalks – Golden Sheaves of Wheat “sprouted” in 1997. Three years earlier, the Ellinwood Garden Club began working on a beautification project for downtown which would carry out a wheat theme for Ellinwood and Kansas, The Wheat State.
An article in The Ellinwood Leader newspaper in July 1997 stated “(Carolyn Isern) Johnson, club member, consulted with Jim Elliott of James E. Elliott Antiques and Interior Design of Ellinwood, and the two came up with the design of a wheat bundle. Retired Ellinwood welder and businessman Ray Nienke was contacted about constructing the project. ‘Nienke visualized the project, made a stand for it and just took over and made the whole thing,’ said Johnson. ‘I conceived the idea and he created it. Tubing for the project came from Ernsting’s, Inc. The bundle is made of steel and painted with metallic gold car paint.’”
Nienke, who created the handmade prototype in his welding shop, was in charge of making the bundles and incorporated the help of Jack Clair for the welding, along with Chet Nienke, who made the braces. Doonan Truck and Equipment of Great Bend made the “heads” for each wheat stalk. From design through creation, this project acquired many other volunteers: Howard Wallace and his Ellinwood High School Vo/Ag students worked on the “beards.” Additional helpers included Alan Isern, Toby Johnson, Larry Siefers, Jeff’s (Roth) Body Shop, then Mayor Joe Hickel, then City Manager Mel Waite, City Crew members, and, last but not least, Claude Bell of Hutchinson, who sand-blasted, primed, and covered the shocks with a baked-on paint. Jean Robinson, program treasurer and charter member, headed fundraising.
Club members had presented the idea at the February 1996 meeting of the Ellinwood City Council, which approved the project and donated $1,000 to launch the program and erect four wheat bundles for the stoplights at the Santa Fe Blvd. and Main St. intersection. The first wheat bundle was on display on the light pole on Main Street across from the post office. In that same year, the club ordered material for 22 poles and received pledges, donations, memorials, and contributions from businesses, local civic organizations, and alumni groups to fund the installation of Wheat Shock sculptures on the light poles on Main Street and on Highways US 56/K 96, which run through Ellinwood. The first five wheat sheaves were installed before the After Harvest Festival in 1997. The wheat sheaves are lighted at night with a spotlight.
In the fall of 2003, two larger wheat sheaves were under construction at Doonan’s. Gary Smith was the welder. They are 10 feet tall, sit five feet off the ground, and cost approximately $3,000. One was placed on the east side of town near the “Where Eagles Soar” sign; the other stands on the west edge of town. Mel Urban and Ed Stephens provided pipes to be used in design and installations.
As of 2019, the majority of the wheat shocks are 20-plus years old. In 2013 Garden Club had the two large Wheat Shock sculptures repainted by the Warren Brothers Inc. Industrial Coating Service in Great Bend. In 2016, when the wheat sheaves on Santa Fe Blvd. were being temporarily taken down in preparation of the highway project, the club had them prepped, primed, and re-powder-coated by Bell Enterprises of Hutchinson.
In early July 2014, Chris Komarek, showed some club members the 15-foot length of the original rope tied around the five-foot-tall sheaves. It was unexpectedly recognized as oil patch manila rope. That month the City of Ellinwood put the new 1.5-inch Manila rope, supplied by Garden Club, on the two repainted large wheat shocks.
The city crew, headed by Chris Komarek, agreed to do the four stoplights at the highway intersection with another 100-foot bolt of Manila rope and also indicated if they had 300 more feet, they would do their best to complete roping the small wheat sheaves before the 2014 After Harvest Festival, weather permitting. Ellinwood City Council can commend their City Crew for getting this done, in spite of rainfall and a short window of time before the event.
In the oilfield, the “Manila rope provided considerable elasticity (lash) to the drilling stroke and was used almost exclusively for cable tool drilling until the first decade of the 1900’s. The changeover to steel wire cable came in degrees during the first two decades of the 1900s. Rope or wire line was used at the oil rig for many other purposes besides drilling, and these lines were usually of less diameter than the drilling cable.” – OIL HISTORY by Samuel T. Pees.
In 1991, the Ellinwood Garden Club, along with the City of Ellinwood, purchased 32 “Eutin” rose bushes for the Memorial Rose Garden “island” on West Santa Fe Blvd., Highways U S56/K 96. The Garden Club maintained the roses through late 2015. Because the roses had to be removed during the federal/state highway construction, the roses were donated to the Ellinwood Community Garden.
In the spring of 2018, the Ellinwood Garden Club worked with the Ellinwood Community Foundation and the City of Ellinwood to re-establish the Memorial Rose Garden on West Santa Fe Boulevard, US 56/K 96. With increased surface area, approximately 10 ft. by 180 ft. in the newly reconstructed “island”, the space was filled with 50-plus red shrub roses, The Grand Champion Double Red Rose, Rosa x ‘Meimacota’. This variety of rose is considered a smaller compact rose, fragrant, drought tolerant, with up to three-inch double red blossoms. It is recommended for USDA Zone 6, is disease-resistant, has dense foliage and is noted for its efficient use of water. The rose garden has a newly installed drip-irrigation system with a timer (donated by Garden Club member Ruth Peters) and is mulched with cedar bark. Kyle Pieschl, Kyle’s Lawn & Tree Care LLC, did the project.
The Ellinwood Garden Club was established on Jan. 23, 1961, with 13 members. Through the years, Garden Club, a civic organization, has participated in local celebrations with floats for parades. It commemorated the 100-year anniversary in 2007 of DAR’s placement of the Santa Fe Trail monument by landscaping the area around the memorial stone. In 2018 the landscaped area was minimized via KDOT. Fundraising projects have included raffling quilts, establishing memorials, holding a home tour in 1994, organizing a garden tour in 2017, which is scheduled again for 2020, and soliciting outright donations.
From 1999 through 2011, the Ellinwood Garden Club Antiques & Collectible Show & Sale helped raise funds to finance the “Shock of Wheat” program. Each Christmastide, city workers adorn the Main Street wheat shocks with bright red bows (replaced by the club as needed.) Garden Club has also maintained the Memorial Rose Garden on West Santa Fe Blvd. (Hwy US56/K96) and sponsors the planting & watering of the flowers in the planter boxes (established in 1993) on Main Street during the summer. Club members also create Christmas decorations for the planter boxes downtown, coinciding with Christkindlmarket (initiated in 2013).