The story behind an unassuming classified in last week’s edition of the Kiowa County Signal, while not of historic proportions, is an example of the lasting and widespread emotional impact of the May 4, 2007 tornado.
The five-line classified ad read simply ‘Found in Greensburg after the tornado 5 year ago, a souvenir from Lands End Auto Hill Climb, identify to claim,’ and included a Dodge City area phone number.
If you had called the number you would have reached Larry McElwee, a 70-year-old retired convenience store manager. A self-described “BS’er”, McElwee now opens the Amtrak station in downtown Dodge City every night for train passengers.
“I love it,” said McElwee. “I don’t miss my job at the convenience store, but I miss the people. Here I get to talk and chat without all of the other stuff.”
A friend of McElwee named Terry, who wants to remain anonymous, had been in Greensburg directly after the May 7, 2007, tornado and had found a small belt buckle.
“He was helping out a friend of his girlfriend clean up after the tornado,” explained McElwee. “He kind of put the buckle out of his mind but he ran across it recently. We got to talking about getting it back to whoever it belonged to.”
Terry had found the buckle near the old hospital, which had been located on the 500 block of south Walnut Street.
The intricately tooled oval buckle has a ‘Lands End Auto Hill Climb’ inlay.
That hill climb is an annual race at Grand Junction, Colo. that began in the early 1940’s and was a 12.4-mile climb to the top of Pike’s Peak using Land’s End road. The race is still running, but has used only a portion of the road since a route change in the late 1980’s.
The inlay was unique enough to point to Johnson & Held Belt Buckles, a custom buckle manufacturer in Englewood, Colo. known for their intricate and elaborate custom buckle work.
Jared Apjoke, a partner at J&H Belt Buckles identified it as their work, discovering the nearly 30-year-old design in their paper files.
“We went through all of our old files and we managed to find the original artwork along with some other artwork that went along with it,” e-mailed Apjoke. “Unfortunately we do not have any customer info or an invoice from almost 30 years ago. I hope this helps.”
The artwork Apjoke discovered included a date of ‘9-2-84.’
The local Grand Junction newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, produced an official Land’s End Hill Climb program for that year, which took place on August 31 through September 2, 1984. That date matches the artwork found by Apjoke.
A roster and times for that year’s race were found via the messageboard at HillClimbRacing.com along with newspaper clippings and photos.
Page 2 of 2 - None of the racers are listed as having been from Kiowa County and no racer was listed as having been from Kansas.
The owner of the buckle may have been a descendant of one of the racers, a family member by marriage or distant relative.
It may also have been a piece of a resident’s collection or property of a race memorabilia collector.
McElwee agreed to bring the buckle back to Greensburg, where it will safely stored at the Kiowa County Historical Museum until it’s owner can be found.
“It might be a keepsake,” added McElwee. “It might be a keepsake from someone who might have gotten killed out there. Terry thought it would be a good idea to get it back to the person who owned it.”
Jim Crawley, director of the Kiowa County Historical Museum acknowledged the significance of discovering such an artifact, considering the amount of destruction caused by the tornado.
“For a family, or for families with heirlooms that have rooted histories, they may never have an opportunity to get these items back,” said Crawley. “To find something like that is incredible and I’m sure they’ve been looking for it for the last five years. They’ve probably been looking for anything that may have survived. This kind of stuff just can’t be replaced.”
Anyone with information about the owner of the buckle may contact The Kiowa County Signal at (620) 723-2115