Monthly Archives: May 2013

Writing :: King Air magazine cover article on real estate developer

King Air magazine cover article by freelance aviation writer Melinda SchnyderThis past winter I had the chance to get to know Jeffrey Kittle, CEO of one of the largest affordable housing development companies in the U.S.

Jeffrey was extremely gracious with his time as I first interviewed him to write several pieces for Beechcraft Corporation: a press release about his recent acquisition of the historic 7,000th King Air turboprop ever delivered, a profile in a newsletter sent to customers about Jeffrey’s thoughts on owning King Airs and having maintenance done by Beechcraft-owned service centers and also a feature for the employee newsletter about Jeffrey’s delivery experience and his flight department’s feedback on the aircraft.

A few months later I called him back to briefly interview him once more for this cover article for King Air magazine. I already had the information I needed on Indianapolis-based Herman & Kittle Properties, Inc. but I wanted to get an update now that he’d been using the King Air 350i for several months. And because many of the readers of King Air magazine are pilots, I wanted the chance to talk to the company’s chief pilot.

Lucky for me, the team had just returned from a three-day trip in the King Air that included 12 stops in four states to visit 21 properties. I couldn’t have scripted a better example of what the proper use of a private aircraft can mean to a business. Try making that trip commercially and you better pack more clothes!

You can read the full article in the April issue of King Air magazine, published by Village Press. The publication’s audience includes owners of the more than 7,000 Beech King Air turboprop aircraft that have been delivered since 1964, as well as prospective owners. Click on the image below or if you cannot see the image, use the text link above or copy and paste:


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Travel writing :: Ooohs and Oz ~ Kansas museum dedicated to all things Oz

Visiting the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kan., is founded on an impressive personal collection from a Kansas St. grad who befriended several cast members and earned a reputation as an Oz costume authority. He was commissioned by Hallmark to recreate the ruby slippers (see the photo above for the blueprint that was created from an original pair of the famous slippers) as well as many other costumes from the movie to exacting detail.

This article was published in The Wichita Eagle’s Travel Section.

Ooohs and Oz

Kansas museum dedicated to all things Oz

Jim Ginavan frequently hears two comments when guests finish touring the new Oz Museum in Wamego, Kan.: “I didn’t realize the Oz story was more than the movie” and “What’s this big city attraction doing in such a small town?”

L. Frank Baum wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900, but the Oz story didn’t attract widespread commercial success until MGM released the movie in 1939. The classic children’s story starring Judy Garland became a hit and inspired Broadway plays, music, more movies, television shows, books and a horde of promotional products. The buzz was rekindled in 1989 when the film celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“Who would’ve thought that a movie made in 1939 would still have people clamoring after it?” said Ginavan, curator of the museum that will hold its grand opening ceremony with special guests from 1 to 5 p.m. on April 3, 2003. “But this museum is about more than just the movie; it’s an all-things-Oz museum.”

visiting the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

The Oz Museum contains hundreds of historical photos like these costume test photos for the five principle characters of “The Wizard of Oz.”

The majority of the 3,000 artifacts are from the private collection of Tod Machin, a 1985 Kansas State graduate who grew up in Wamego and the answer to why the museum opened in this town of 4,500 located 85 miles west of Kansas City.

Machin began collecting Wizard of Oz memorabilia after writing a paper for a history of costume class while working on his degree in drawing and print making. He became immersed in collecting, befriended several cast members and earned a reputation as an Oz costume authority. He was commissioned by Hallmark to recreate the ruby slippers as well as many other costumes from the movie to exacting detail. That meant counting the rows of squares on the gingham pattern and copying the hemming glitch in Dorothy’s original dress.

visiting the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

The Oz Museum is located along Kansas Highway 99 on the main street in Wamego, Kan. This portion of the highway has been renamed “The Road to Oz.”

A ruby slipper exhibit is just one of many imaginative displays in the 6,000-square-foot Oz Museum that was built with a $100,000 state tourism grant and $400,000 from the community. The idea for the permanent housing of the collection came from businessman Clark Balderson after a successful summer exhibit in 1995 at Wamego’s Columbian Theatre that drew 20,000 paying visitors in just three months. Machin was reluctant when first approached about loaning his collection to the museum because he was still collecting. But soon afterward, he stopped collecting as memorabilia prices skyrocketed.

visiting the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas“He’d thought about it and decided he wanted people to enjoy his collection,” said Jane Boys, manager of the museum’s gift shop. “Thousands of volunteers’ hours and nearly eight years later, the museum is a first-class attraction.”

Machin’s method of collecting makes the museum unique, along with the sheer volume of items. Not only does he have a rare Judy Garland doll, but he has the original magazine article from which it could be ordered. He has a sequin from an original pair of ruby slippers worn in the movie, along with a signed letter from the shoe’s owner.

“Rather than saying ‘here it is, we have it,’ we are able to say ‘here it is, we have it and here’s how we’ve documented it,’ ” Ginavan said. “The way Tod authenticated his collection makes it very special.”

Everything at the Oz Museum – from the choice of buildings to the color palette used by muralist Cynthia Martin – was carefully chosen to connect to the Oz legend. Baum wrote the original book from his mercantile store in South Dakota, so the museum is in a restored 19th century building typical of a Kansas general store. The fictional Dorothy Gale had very little color in her life on the farm, so the scenes of her Kansas homestead are painted in shades of brown and color isn’t introduced until guests open the door to the museum’s galleries and enter the Technicolor world of Oz.

Before entering the galleries, guests stand amid a farm scene with a swirling tornado airbrushed on the wall and a bicycle resting on the roof of the Gale home. The story comes to life through four galleries that follow the sequence of the film – along the yellow brick road to Munchkinland, through the haunted forest, into the wicked witch’s castle and, finally, to Emerald City. Life-size statues of the main characters lead the way.

Simultaneously, Gallery One showcases the books chronologically starting with first edition copies of the 40 original books of Oz and ending with the current works of Baum’s great grandson, Roger S. Baum. Original illustrations from the first book are displayed, as well as modern photos of the “Seinfeld” cast dressed as Oz characters. Also in the first gallery is the munchkin display containing several personal pieces given to Machin by the actors.

visting the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

This first edition copy of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful World of Oz” published in 1900 is one of 40 books considered to be the original books of Oz.

Gallery Two contains thousands of relics like rare dolls in excellent condition, original and replica costumes and an actor’s display with notes, documents and photos from the MGM vaults that provide a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production. Throughout the museum are video kiosks and text placards that share Machin’s intimate stories about the pieces and the history of Oz.

Commercialization of the Oz tale and its characters took off once the film was shown on television in 1956. In Gallery Three visitors will find objects revolving around spin-offs of the movie such as Richard Pryor’s signed script from the 1978 film “The Wiz” starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, collectible toys and one of Machin’s most prized possessions, a Dorothy doll from a short-lived 1960 cartoon. Gallery Four stores the latest items, including Flying Monkey beer that is still brewed in Kansas City and displays on the artists who have contributed to the museum.

visiting the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas

As guests exit the galleries, they find themselves back on the Kansas farm where normalcy has returned. They also find they are standing in the middle of the museum’s gift shop, stocked with the next generation of Oz collectibles.

“The museum will continue to grow with new displays and new programs so we anticipate visitors coming back again and again,” Boys said. “There’s something here that appeals to every age because the story continues to thrive more than 100 years after Baum created it.”


What: Oz Museum

Where: 511 Lincoln in Wamego, Kan.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday

Admission: $7, 13 & older; $4, ages 4-12; free, ages 3 & younger. Group rates available.

More info: Call (866) 458-TOTO or visit

This article was published in The Wichita Eagle in 2003 just prior to the museum’s grand opening in April.

Posted in Travel Writing

Travel writing :: Tours & Tales of the Tallgrass

visting the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Flint Hills Kansas

The chicken house at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills of Kansas.


This article was published in The Wichita Eagle’s Travel Section.

Tours & Tales of the Tallgrass

National Preserve, Sunset Tour among many Flint Hills attractions

When I pass Exit 92 on the Kansas Turnpike, I’m usually just starting a trip to Kansas City or the 300-mile trek to my hometown in Missouri, or I’m just 42 miles from returning home from one of these places. I’m either in a hurry to get to my destination or eager to get home.

Finally, after nine years of living in Wichita and hundreds of times passing Exit 92, I heeded the sign proclaiming “Flint Hills Scenic Byway” and took the Cassoday exit. I drove a little more than half of the 45-mile corridor from Cassoday to Council Grove on Highway 177 that is considered the scenic byway. This took me through the towns of Matfield Green, Cottonwood Falls and Strong City. I found that I’d been missing out on a fun detour from the numbing turnpike and discovered a great day-trip to share with visiting friends and family.

Besides a beautiful drive, the area is a destination in its own right. You can stop in for a meal, or you can make a day or weekend of it. Entertainment options include the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, hiking trails, horseback riding, museums and art galleries, touring the oldest continuously operating courthouse in the state, shopping and dining.

Visiting the Preserve

Of the 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie that once covered North America, less than 1 percent remains, according to the National Park Service. Most of that is in the Flint Hills of Kansas, including an 11,000-acre remnant once known as the Z Bar/Spring Hill Ranch that is about 27 miles north of the Cassoday exit.

The National Park Trust, dedicated to saving national parklands and resources, purchased the 10,894 acres of tallgrass prairie in 1994. Two years later the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was established – a partnership between the National Park Trust and the National Park Service. It is the only unit of the National Park System dedicated to the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

Over 400 species of plants, 150 kinds of birds, 39 types of reptiles and amphibians, and 31 species of mammals can be found the preserve. The preserve offers a variety of self-guided and ranger-led activities, and the best way to get closer to this variety of life is by taking the free 7-mile bus tour. The ranger-led tour lasts about 90 minutes; if you visit during the warm months, hope that you get to ride in the small bus with air conditioning.

The ranger makes several stops on the loop to explain the prairie’s ecosystem, the geology that formed the Flint Hills and the legacy of ranching. The final stop is at a point nearly 1,400 feet high, about 300 feet higher than the preserve headquarters. You have to squint to see the hint of civilization past the rolling hills, and quietness is broken only by other visitors asking questions of the ranger.

During a July visit, the only visible wildlife included several birds soaring overhead and a few head of cattle that soon would be shipped off to feed lots. That will change, however, when the plan to reintroduce Bison is completed (READ THIS UPDATE ON BISON AT TAPR). Rangers advise that the best time to see wildlife, such as coyotes, collard lizards and lesser prairie chickens, is in early spring.

With such a dry season, wildflowers weren’t abundant in July either. Rangers said the best place to view taller grass and wildflowers is on the hiking trails where cattle don’t graze. The Southwind Nature Trail is a 1.75 mile trail from the ranch headquarters to a little one-room school house on the hill and back. The school house is not open but along the way you’ll walk through an array of grasses and flowers, passing the limestone and flint that was formed between 200 and 300 million years ago and gives the area its name.

Other free activities at the preserve include touring the massive three-story barn that houses antique farming equipment, watching a 10-minute site orientation video and taking a guided tour of the limestone ranch house built by Stephen F. Jones in 1881. The 11-room house is characteristic of the Second Empire style of 19th century architecture and was designated a National Historic Landmark in February 1997. On the tour, rangers talk about the building process and the history of the Jones family and subsequent owners.

visting the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Flint Hills Kansas

A tour of the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Dinner & a movie, Flint Hills Style

Another way to see the tallgrass of the Flint Hills is aboard the Prairie Drifter, a 1958 wheat truck that takes riders on a history lesson along the backroads of Chase County.

The Prairie Drifter is operated by Suzan Barnes, owner of The Grand Central Hotel & Grill in Cottonwood Falls, and Dan Riggs, a self-proclaimed student of history whose day job is park ranger at the National Preserve.

We started the evening with an early dinner at The Grand Grill, a restaurant known for its steaks but offering a broad menu. Shortly after 6 p.m. we boarded Ol’ Red, the restored Ford featuring cushioned seating for up to 16 in its open-air bed. Riggs led our tour, which covered 20 miles in about two hours and thirty minutes. We made five stops, at which Riggs would weave together a lesson in local history and folk lore with a peppering of jokes. We saw turkeys, horses, cattle, a deer and its fawn, and the occasional farm dog that ran out to chase the truck a few feet. We heard the calls of Bob White Quail, the buzzing and chirping of millions of insects and no cell phones.

Riggs has lived in the area most of his life. He spent 37 years running an interior design business in Emporia with his wife and after retiring, he moved to Cottonwood Falls to run a bed and breakfast. He started giving these tours about 10 years ago, and recently found himself driving a group of elderly locals whom he feared knew more about the area than he did. When the tour ended, one 80-year-old man told Riggs he’d learned much about Chase County.

On our tour, Riggs hosted seven passengers from the Wichita and Kansas City areas. He answered questions at each stop, and he managed to coordinate with Mother Nature to wind up on a certain hilltop just in time for a beautiful, unobstructed sunset. We took a different route back to The Grand Central Hotel, arriving about 9 p.m. Some passengers opted for dinner before driving home, others stayed the night at the hotel.

My time in Cottonwood Falls and the surrounding area proved that sometimes it’s worth taking the long way home.

visting the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Flint Hills Kansas


For a complete listing of shopping, dining and lodging options, as well as attractions and upcoming events, visit

What: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Where: 2 miles North of Strong City on Hwy. 177

Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily (weather permitting). Check website for list of holiday closings.

Admission: free

Activities: There are several free activities such as historic house tours and prairie bus tours. Check the online schedule at and be sure to call ahead to check availability: (620) 273-8494


This article was published in The Wichita Eagle in 2003; when I checked in May 2013, the Prairie Drifter was currently not in operation.


Posted in Travel Writing