Wheat harvest no big rush at Charlie's
By MIKE CORN
McCRACKEN -- After waiting in line, amid a crush of massive tractor-trailer trucks, Dan Casey made a quick stop at Charlie's for 10 gallons of fuel for the 1959 Ford grain truck he was driving.
It wasn't long before the driver of a much larger -- and much more common -- tractor-trailer pulled in, pouring 50 gallons of diesel into its sidesaddle tank.
Out front, Mitchell Jacobs was hustling to replace a pair of front tires on a John Deere tractor.
Inside, Priscella Jacobs, owner and longtime operator of Charlie's, took it all in stride.
She's seen the rush of harvest before, even noting it's no longer as hectic as it once was.
"But not this year because the wheat's not good," Jacobs said of the service station she operates. "It's been pretty slow."
A block to the south, trucks were streaming in to Midland Marketing's McCracken branch, a network of concrete bins about a block apart.
They are the only two businesses operating in McCracken, save for the post office, only open until noon.
Everything else in this Rush County community of about 185, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates, has closed. Even the local tavern.
Business at Charlie's has slowed, even when the wheat is good.
Jacobs isn't completely discounting the wheat crop this year.
"Some of the yields have been good," she said, "considering the drought and the frost. I think they're surprised by what they're getting."
Charlie's has been a fixture in McCracken, located on Kansas Highway 4, for 31 years.
Jacobs and her late husband, Charlie, the namesake of the place, opened it in 1982. He died 16 years ago, and she's carried on since then.
It's one of the only full-service stations in the area.
"We pump gas," she said, "not for everyone."
They do for elderly residents who stop in.
But business has been slowly declining.
"It's getting less every year," Jacobs said. "There's not been many people coming to town. And the ones here are passing away."
It's a downward spiral seen by many rural communities.
Even though she'll reluctantly admit to being 76, Jacobs isn't ready to retire -- or to see Charlie's close down.
"If I close up, what's going to be here?" she asked. "I'd just hate to see this business close."
But it's a far cry from what the business was when it first opened.
"My husband would be down here 'til midnight fixing tires," Jacobs said.
And the larger trucks mean less business during the day.
"They all come in and fuel up in the morning and they don't go through 'til the next day," she said of the tractor-trailer trucks used to ferry grain from field to elevator.
But without more people, she's not expecting a lot of change.
"To make our city grow, we've got to have babies," Jacobs said. "And there are not too many of those."