Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:



At Ad Astra, beneath the sounds of restaurant conversation and the clatter of silverware, came the voice of Bob Dylan. He sang “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall,” and although the song isn’t really about rain, that Saturday was indeed a big rain event for Kansas.

A day of rain and sprinkles made it seem like a good time to have lunch at Ad Astra, so Dave and I headed west. The restaurant in downtown Strong City, which opened this past spring, makes a great destination on a weekend. Ad Astra is open Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m to 10 p.m.

A long room with a high tin ceiling gives a spacious feeling, and the neutral colors with a sprinkling of greens and blues are cheery and welcoming. The north side of the room has a stone wall, the south side brick. The name Ad Astra is etched into the mirror of an old wooden bar.

Dave and I both ordered the special that day, pistachio-crusted trout, for $11. It was as good as it sounds. The trout was teamed with a salad of organic greens, fresh orange pieces and dried cranberries dressed with a maple mustard vinaigrette. Artisan bread came with herb butter.

It’s not often in rural Kansas that diners will find a restaurant that serves pistachio-crusted trout, so for me Ad Astra is a place to be cherished, celebrated, and visited often.


I even splurged and had dessert, you know, just to help support the restaurant. When crème brulee is on the menu, it’s hard to say no to that thin crusty top and creamy custard.

Rain fell off and on that day, but Dave and I checked out the red Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe caboose at the park near the railroad tracks in Strong City. The caboose was open and could be walked through. I knew that railroaders could be seen in the upper level, but hadn’t given much thought to the lower level of the car. Now I discovered that it was filled with seating and bunks for a railroad crew.

As a kid, half the fun of a caboose is just saying the word caboose. And also a red caboose was the main character in one of my first childhood books. So as a youngster, the caboose was something I always looked for while waiting at a railroad crossing with my family.

They’ve been gone a long time. Cabooses were eliminated from service sometime in the ‘80s with the railroad cutbacks. I miss them. The caboose was always like the period at the end of a sentence. And so today’s trains all feel like run-on sentences to me.

Dave and I hadn’t yet been in the new visitor’s center at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, so we drove out there for a walk-through of the new building. I like that there’s grass on the roof and that the building is low and long, mimicking the prairie.

I also want to say that it’s really, really nice to have flushing toilets now at the Tallgrass Preserve. And hand sinks, with running water.

Dave remembered that an exhibit had opened at the Chase County Historical Museum featuring Knute Rockne, so we headed for Cottonwood Falls.

The museum display features a 1932 Rockne “65,” a 4-door sedan on loan from the Rockne family. Rockne Motors produced cars for two years, 1932-33, as a subsidiary of Studebaker.

The car was a tribute to Knute Rockne. Just weeks before the plane crash on March 31, 1931, he had become manager of sales promotion for Studebaker. He planned to work for the car company full-time after he retired from coaching at Notre Dame.

The exhibit includes some artifacts gathered at the crash site near Bazaar, as well as photographs and documents telling about Rockne and the plane wreck that took eight lives. An eyewitness, the late Easter Heathman, took countless visitors to the site and because of him the story has lived on these past 80 years.

On rainy days or on sunny ones, if you’re looking for an afternoon getaway, there’s always something fun to see and do in Chase County, Kansas.


Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh



  1. Wow, that food looks *wonderful!* Let’s see, now, how many miles is Strong City from Topeka? 😀 Hmm. Not too far. I see a day trip in my future.

  2. Thanks for taking me to my old home stomping area for a visit— that building where Ad Astra is was a bar for most of my years in that area– & mountain oysters was the closest to real food served there!! 🙂 I have heard from friends that the food is always good there now– & how great to have a good eating place back in that area!! Thanks for the trip back “Home”!! We helped get that caboose set in that park area in Strong City– & FOUGHT FOR THE NATIONAL PARK– all the things you mentioned– has roots for us in that area!!

  3. “As a kid, half the fun of a caboose is just saying the word caboose.” “The caboose was always like the period at the end of a sentence. And so today’s trains all feel like run-on sentences to me.” You did it again, Cheryl.

  4. we celebrated my mom’s birthday at ad astra in july. loved it! they made a special birthday treat for my mom – – chocolate fudge cake with chunky fudge frosting, fresh whip cream and raspberries on top. delish.
    thanks for the trip “home” today.

  5. Thanks for highlighting a positive for Strong City. When we visited there in ’08 it seemed the culture was leaning mostly towards the village to the south of it on the other side of the river, which, by the way went out of its way to make us feel welcome in more ways than one.

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