Pfacts, Pfun,Pfalserhoods &Pflim Pflam
Those Red Hills and “Keel”
In writing of Chief Wakita and the associated Red Hills in the last issue, put me to thinking about my days of growing up in the area and my related experience in more recent years.
In the 1930’s and early 1940’s we made semi-annual trips to Enid to buy clothes and other items not normally available in area towns. We drove out east of Wakita to the Red Hill Road and headed south to the Old Salt Fork rickety wooden bridge and then on south to Enid. Needless to say we never went during wet weather.
The hills alway fascinated me. You could see the various stratus of changing color and soil type. There was even a blue layer occasionally. Actually they are not hills as such. I could visualize their tops, which usually capped with a top soil and vegetation, if extended and connected would form a relatively flat plain. Surface water erosion channels had slowly cut down over the ages leaving humics of various sizes and shapes. Erosion of the hills are a continuous process. My Dad, John, was born and raised on my granddads (John also) place 3 mile east and 4 north of Wakita. Grandpa’s brother-in-law had homesteaded on an adjacent quarter. Dad use to point out the “big red hill” he and brothers and cousins used to play on. This would have been around 1905 or so and from his description I would guess it was probably six feet high with a grass top of about five feet diameter. The last time I went past the site it was about the size of a big red ant den.
One vivid memory for me was in the Spring of 1951. At that time our “little white school house,” Grand Valley, had been consolidated into the Wakita School system. At the end of school the teachers and parents (actually mothers) would take us out for a day of fun and picnicking. They kept it a big secret as to where we were to go but we were assured it would be “fun”. We headed out and all thought we were headed for Enid but instead turned into one of the Red Hill pasture. Boy! Were there some hacked off kids. We did manage to keep occupied for about 4 or five hours climbing up and down the hills and playing “King of the Mountain”. That evening there were also some hacked mothers because everyone’s clothes were covered with red dirt which didn’t wash out easily.
About the time we moved to Harper County, Kansas (1945) someone had determined that the hard shale type red bed material (called Keel) made a very good road surfacing. It was slicker than heck when wet but an hour or so later you could drive over it without any problem. We mudded out the 2 ¼ miles to the highway for two or three years until the neighbors got together and negotiated with the county to provide the keel and they would haul it. Some had grain trucks with power lifts and others fixed up false end gates to dump their trucks. Dad hauled enough to also cover our drive way, parking and equipment area. Over the cold frosty nights and warm days the chunks of keel would break up into smaller and smaller particles compacting into an almost imperious surface.
One cold night I came home from a date with my future wife. As I went to close the garage door I felt the call of nature. As I proceeded to take care of the problem I heard this strong crackling sound, kind of like rice crispies when you pour milk on them. I found the cause to be a fist size piece of keel which was rapidly cracking apart as the results of the warm water contacting its cold surface. Science and geology in full action, in plain sight.
The quarry site was on Clarence Hane’s farm south west of Freeport. The solid red keel was ripped out using adozer. Many of you readers are probably familiar with such an operation. The keel which has a kind of mind all its own breaks up into all sizes of chunks, up to as big as 12 inches. Occasionally a really big chunk came out and refused to be broken up. These were pushed aside, to let mother nature work on them. In looking at the chunks, it would appear that they break along old cleavage plains or faults, which might have formed as shrinkage cracks while they were drying out and more or less healed back together under overburdened pressure. Occasionally one would find a thin crystalline layer or even a small geode lined with calcite crystals. In making exploratory test boreings these fracture plains would probably be missed or not be visible in any core samples. Under laboratory compression loadings of these core samples these fracture plains would probably show up easily. The cores would not crush like concrete but would shear diagonally. This is called “slick-in-sided” and is found in most fat clay soils.
As you go west into Barber County you find the red beds to have much thicker facture plains filled with calcite. Going on farther west into Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle much thicker concentrations of alabaster can be seen in the hillsides. A good example are the Alabaster Caverns near Woodward, Oklahoma. Most people are not aware of it but the Kansas plains area experiences light earthquake action. On rare occasions the effects of shock waves can be seen or felt. A dish will rattle in the kitchen cabinet or one will feel a slight vibration. These shock waves have to penetrate the red bed formation and may contribute to the formation of these red bed fracture plains.
I remember some 30 or 40 years ago that the Harper County area experienced a rather large shock. People and the newspapers gave it a lot of talk. Oddly enough the seismograph at the State Geological Surveys Lab in Lawrence just happened to run out of recording paper the day before and new paper was still on order. They missed the whole event completely. There is a no question that a good strong earthquake could occur. The New Madrian Fault in Missouri, which is still active, isn’t all that far away. Some years ago many larger cities such as Kansas City increased their seismic design building codes for such in occurrence.
I’ll have a few more comments on the keel beds and the Rago Gas Storage Terminal next time.
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