The home page of the website for Ensor Park and Museum in south Olathe encourages prospective visitors to the eight-acre complex to actually check the place out by telling them matter-of-factly but enticingly, "You have to see it to believe it!"
That's not a problem for most people, of course, but for thousands of Americans who were either born blind or have lost their sight since due to an accident, a disease or an illness, having the ability to use their eyes to take in the picturesque grounds at Ensor Park and Museum and all of the fascinating items on display inside the house and outbuildings is nothing more than wishful thinking at this point. So should anyone who is blind make the trip to 18995 183rd Street with the assistance of a sighted friend or relative, he or she would have to rely on their ears and hands primarily to absorb information about the Ensor family and the family farm, the work Marshall and his younger sister Loretta did in the field of amateur radio and the equipment they used, and Marshall's years as a manual arts teacher and the equipment he and his students used to turn out many lovely pieces of furniture, a few of which can be found in the Ensor home.
Nonetheless, eager to take in the Ensor experience "as advertised," four blind members of the Kansas City Blind Amateur Radio Club, Craig Martin of Northmoor, Mo., KY0O, Dave Plumlee of Independence, Mo., K5POU, Ron Yearns, also of Independence, KD0HOY, and Jose Lopez of Kansas City, Mo., N0SMC, made just such a trip the afternoon of Saturday, September 21. On their arrival they were greeted by four members of the Santa Fe Trail Amateur Radio Club, Peg Nichols, KD0VQO, my mother, Howard Cripe, N0AZ, Marty Peters, KE0PEZ, the club secretary/treasurer, and Larry Woodworth, W0HXS, who manages the park and museum for the City of Olathe.
Also on hand for the occasion were Ron's wife Diane, KD0YEY, Chet Hallberg of Prairie Village, K0TCB, a charter member of KCBARC, Dennis Crawford of Kansas City, Mo., N0UYN, the club treasurer, club member Chuck Chamberlin, also of Kansas City, Mo., KD0VXN, Larry Staples of Overland Park, W0AIB, the founder of Larry's List, and Rod Rodriguez of Overland Park, K6TBJ.
In the photograph accompanying this story, which was taken by Chet, pictured on the sidewalk leading from the driveway to the house are Peg, Larry Woodworth, right, and Larry Staples.
Inside the two-story Italianate house, Craig, Dave, Ron and Jose had a chance to touch and explore the spark gap transmitter Marshall built when he was a teenager and to feel the miniature pieces of furniture he fashioned from wooden cigar boxes for Loretta's dollhouse. They also were led into the cozy radio room off the kitchen where Marshall, W9BSP, and, on occasion, Loretta, W9UA, taught radio by radio to an estimated 10,000 Americans from 1929 up until the start of World War II using first a 500-watt transmitter and later a kilowatt transmitter, both of which had their share of knobs and one of which, "The Big Kilowatt Beast," as Larry Woodworth has referred to it, still occupies a spot in the room. Outside, they were escorted over to the peg barn on the other side of the driveway where Marshall's shop equipment from what was then Olathe High School (now Olathe North High School) and still more amateur radio equipment from days gone by are stored.
The Ensor experience wasn't a new experience for Craig, however, as about 15 years ago he visited the park and museum as part of a small group that included Chet's wife Mary Jo, who carefully guided him up the stairs to the second floor so he could learn about the assorted furnishings in the three bedrooms there. But last month's tour of the house didn't include the second floor, nor did it include the basement, which is where the batteries that in 1922 powered radio station 9BSP, Marshall's original call sign, were located.
“It was just as exciting as the visit before. They have added things to it (the museum) and made it very nice," Craig, who became a ham in 1969, told me by phone the evening of the 21st. "I had a wonderful time today. I can't praise it (the museum) enough. It's just a wonderful place to go. It's fabulous.”
Later in our conversation, Craig explained that with the aid of computer software that can produce a digitized version of the human voice (think Alexa or Siri), blind hams relying on audio cues are able to communicate with other hams nearby or at some distance just as easily as their sighted colleagues in the field of amateur radio are able to do. The program tells the operator what mode he or she is in, what frequency they are on and how much power the transmitter is putting out, he said, and it can adjust the antenna if need be to match the desired frequency if the antenna system is compatible with the rest of the equipment the operator is using.
For Dave, a ham since 1957, KCBARC's president and the "knob man," as he likes to call himself, it was his first trip to Ensor. "We had a ball out there. I was in knob heaven," he said over the air the evening of Monday, September 23 during the weekly KBARC Net, a net open to members and non-members of KCBARC alike. "I was amazed at all that equipment out there (in the barn). That really is a wonderful museum."
As he waited for the weekly Casual Friday Net to start the evening of October 4, Chet, who was instrumental in organizing the expedition to Ensor, told me by phone that Craig, Dave, Ron and Jose were "very enthused and impressed" by what they had encountered at the park and museum and went on to report that he and others had "kept pushing and pushing" to make the trip happen. He also sang the praises of Larry Woodworth, the man in charge at Ensor since 2003. "He's a prince to work with," he said, adding, "Larry went out of his way to do this and that was very appreciated."
From their perspective as hosts, both my mother and Larry were pleased with how the visit had gone. "We had a great afternoon Saturday afternoon at Ensor with several members of the Kansas City Blind Amateur Radio Club and their escorts," my mother said over the air during the Santa Fe Trail Amateur Radio Club's weekly two-meter net the evening of Sept. 24. "I appreciate that I was able to be there."
And Larry said to me as he was preparing to wrap things up for the day at Ensor the afternoon of Saturday, October 5, "That was a great event."
"For many years, ham radio has opened the door to many blind persons for contact with people around the country and around the world." --- Dave Plumlee, K5POU
At one time associated with the Kansas City Association for the Blind, KCBARC was co-founded in the early 1970s by Beryl Masters, WB0EJJ, who became a silent key in 2004, and Bob Kroner, WA0FQL, who likewise is no longer with us. The club call sign is WA0FQL, Bob's old sign.
According to Chet, the club has 12 to 20 members. It normally meets at 2 p.m. the second Saturday of the month at Central Presbyterian Church, 3101 Campbell in Kansas City, Mo., and cookies, snickerdoodles to be more specific, usually are available for all to enjoy.
The club's two-meter net can be heard Monday evenings beginning at eight o'clock on a frequency of 145.130 MHz with a negative tone of 151.4, courtesy of the Kansas City Ararat Shrine repeater. Dave, David Albright, KE0DSV, and Dale Hamm, W5LN, the club vice president, regularly serve as net control.
For more information about the Kansas City Blind Amateur Radio Club, visit www.kcblindhams.org.