Bunk House Boys — Let’s Have A Picnic!

Have you ever heard of Hitschmann, Kansas?

Of course not! That was a trick question.

But although it is basically a ghost town now, back in the late 70s it was Bunk House Boys Headquarters.

Hitschmann was basically an outpost, a general store and not much more. Area farmers could come there for supplies and oilfield workers could stop there for beer.  In fact, Kansas had a law against selling beer on Sunday in those days, but you could drive a few miles out into the country and buy it in Hitschmann.

Craig gets aggressive at Hitschmann

Craig rented a cottage there from the people who ran the general store — Frank and Bertha. I wrote a feature on Bertha (and the town) about that time in the local newspaper The Hoisington Dispatch (which my Father published). Bertha’s maiden name was Hitschmann and her father was the founder of the town. She and her husband Frank, both quite elderly, lived on site and there were a few houses that weren’t derelict.

Once Craig discovered the place, some of our other crowd moved in and rented other cottages. Ron Bailey lived there for a while, and other friends came along to take advantage of the low rent and the relative freedom of the remote area.

It became a popular hang-out for the Bunk House crowd. Craig and his buddies would shoot their guns and drink their beer and just enjoy the country life. Frank and Bertha were very permissive.

At that time, Craig left the family newspaper business and purchased one of the two pool halls in Hoisington. Since he could buy beer wholesale, he became a very popular person.

The Bunkhouse Boys still rehearsed in the basement of my parent’s house. Craig bought a converted refrigerator that had room for a keg of beer inside and a spigot running through the door so the beer stayed cold inside. Suddenly, we had an audience at our rehearsals. People would come — supposedly to listen to the band — but they enjoyed being able to help themselves to our beer. It got to the point where I wanted to close the rehearsals because we couldn’t get work done. The hangers-on would want us to play requests, or start conversations about various things and just have a party.

Willie Nelson was one of our favorite performers. We went to see him whenever he was playing in the area (he traveled the Midwest extensively playing places like Hays). He started these big arena shows in the 70s during the so-called “Farm Crisis” when interest rates skyrocketed and many family farms were repossessed by banks. His annual Farm Aid concerts had all of the biggest performers of country music and classic rock. In fact, we traveled to Kansas City one year to attend this event in Arrowhead Stadium. It was a real party and I think I took about a week of sick leave to get over it — horrible sunburn and what I thought was going to be terminal hangover.  Uggggh…. good thing we were all young and strong.

Willie also had an event he called his 4th of July Picnic — again a huge show with lots of talent going all day long.

So naturally the Bunkhouse Boys said, “Why don’t we do that too?”

The first one was the smallest, of course. I think we had one keg of beer — but it might have just been some cases. We had a pig roast. And I think we sold tickets for $10.00 — all the beer you could drink and all the pig you could eat.

Hitschmann seemed the perfect place for it.

Of course the Bunkhouse Boys would be the headliners. We got a flatbed trailer to use for a stage and set up a sound system and had a party. I have no idea if we made money or went into the hole. We didn’t really care at that point. We just partied all day and late into the night.

The next year we wanted to do it again … and the next…. and the next.

Bunkhouse Boys picnic crowd gathering.

The Picnic gets lively, thanks to the Stickney Distributors’ Beer Truck back there on the left side of the photo.

It grew each time. Since Craig bought a lot of beer from the Coors distributor, they gave us free use of their beer truck. It was a lot like Craig’s refrigerator except it was an entire truck with a refrigerated interior and three beer taps coming through the side. You just had to go inside to hook the hoses up to a fresh keg when the beer ran out — and there were probably a dozen kegs of beer in the truck.

We also outgrew our pig feed and had maybe three entire pigs roasted as well as some beef and some side dishes.

When we got bigger, our fame spread and people came from long distances for the Bunhouse Boys 4th of July wing ding.

We moved the party from Hitschmann. The country home of Willie and Carol Warren (Carol is now Carol Crowley) hosted us, and Willie invited a group of his biker friends from Kansas City to the party. That wasn’t exactly next door — KC was about 3 hours drive by car or 1 hour by Harley.

The bikers made for a lively party. We had a mud wrestling match — totally impromptu. It was a hot day and somebody got the hose out to keep cool. Of course, a hose and some dirt made mud puddles and a bunch of bikers drinking beer made for some wrestling matches and pretty soon we had a bunch of burly, hairy bikers rolling around in the mud. I’d heard of mud wrestling before but it was supposed to be beautiful bikini babes — just my luck.

We also had a wet T-shirt contest (this time, it was for ladies only). Due to the competitive nature of the contest, it became a wet skin contest.

Judge Craig leans in for a better view during the wet T-Shirt contest.

Judge Craig leans in for a better view during the wet T-Shirt contest.

And as one of the hosts, Craig was able to secure a position as one of the judges.

Ahh … the hot sun and a lot of beer made for interesting parties.

As the sun was sinking and the temperature cooled, the bands would play. Yes, we had more bands as time went on. The Bunkhouse Boys always played last as headliners, but the spin-off rock band, The Extremes would play. That was Bart Ward and Ron Bailey (lead guitar and drums) playing with Mike Miller (bass) and John Hix (lead guitar and keyboards).

The Extremes onstage

We also invited other local bands to come play. One that I remember was called Sun Country who was a more traditional band than we were and got lots of gigs. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still together today and playing all the wedding dances and bars in the area.

The final two years of the party were hosted by Dave and Gloria Collier who had some acreage just a couple miles outside of Hoisington. They knew what they were getting into since they had attended earlier Bunkhouse Boys picnics, but they bravely volunteered their property to host.

Dave Collier

Dave Collier — what a clean-up chore the morning after.

Looking back, it all seems so quaint by today’s standards. Even though the beer flowed like water there were no real fights (the mud wrestling was good-natured) and no drug overdoses and not even any alcohol overdoses. I don’t think there were any traffic accidents from people leaving the party and we never got the law called on us for having disorderly parties.

Could all of this happen today — almost 40 years later?

Maybe in some out of the way place like Hitschmann.

But I doubt anybody today parties like the Bunkhouse Boys did back in the 70s.