One Big Dog

 

On a recent cross-country road trip, we cruised past several billboards on Interstate 70 in western Kansas that touted “The Largest Prairie Dog in the World.” We couldn’t pass up such a brilliant MySpace photo-op. Our imaginations ran wild as we parked in the dirt lot outside Prairie Dog Town in Oakley, Kansas. We pictured an overfed, 8-foot-tall prairie dog lumbering across a field, pausing to pose for snapshots before scurrying into the giant crater it calls home.

Alas, our hopes were dashed when we learned that the largest prairie dog in the world was only a giant statue. We would’ve stormed off in protest, but we’d already dropped $7 for admission.

That’s when the woman taking tickets asked us what crater we called home.

Kansas City, we told her.

She excitedly asked: “Do you know Delbert Dunmire?”

Of course we know Del Dunmire — the convicted bank robber turned philanthropic firebrand who has bought up downtown Harrisonville, only to let it deteriorate. An Overland Park woman accused him of domestic violence recently after Dunmire allegedly wrestled her cell phone away and chucked it into a creek. Dunmire is also the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a 25-year-old former employee, who claims that the would-be mogul propositioned her, forced her to show her breasts for photographs and offered to bankroll a boob job for her.

Then the ticket-taking woman told us a tale we won’t soon forget. According to her, Dunmire bought a bunch of prairie dogs from Prairie Dog Town a few years back. He said he planned to donate them to the Kansas City Zoo. An unveiling was set, but Dunmire couldn’t wait. So the night before, Dunmire sneaked into the zoo and unleashed his prairie dogs in an existing colony, she said.

It was a disaster. Dunmire’s prairie dogs slaughtered the zoo’s, the woman said with a motherly hint of pride in her dogs’ dominance.

The prairie dog massacre was bad publicity for Prairie Dog Town, she said. The media beat down the doors, so she called Dunmire, who agreed to take the heat. The woman claimed that Dunmire bought more of the furry rodents to display outside his Grandview-based aviation parts maker, Growth Industries. Not long after, however, a flood drowned Dunmire’s prairie dogs.

Later, we called Dunmire’s spokesman, Brian Bardo. He confirmed the story, but Bardo noted that it happened about two decades ago.

Even with all that history, Prairie Dog Town still considers Dunmire a friend, the woman told us.

And with that, she let us into the pock-marked field where Dunmire got his bad-ass dogs.

Stamped Out

Paul Thomas did not go quietly when the City of Kansas City, Missouri, took property in the south loop to accommodate the Sprint Center, which is set to open in 2007.

The owner of Justrite Rubber Stamp and Seal Company, Thomas complained about the size of the city’s offer for his land at 1301 Grand. Still unable to come to terms, Thomas and the city are headed to court, where a jury will decide the sale price.

A condemned man, Thomas moved Justrite to North Kansas City. He seemed to make a show of the fact that he was relocating outside city limits. He spray-painted the North Kansas City address on the walls of his doomed building.

Yet for the past several months, Justrite has been doing business in the city that broke his heart. Last November, Thomas bought a competitor who owned a building at 1701 Locust.

Thomas, it turns out, moved to North Kansas City more for cost reasons than to spite Mayor Kay Barnes, who literally rode a bulldozer at the groundbreaking for the Sprint Center. Thomas says he bought a place on Burlington Avenue because it was the only space he could afford.

“None of the shit downtown is reasonable anymore,” he says.

Thomas says his sign and stamp company has done well since the merger. And he’s pleased to be back in KCMO.

Justrite’s time in North Kansas City coincided with Paseo Bridge repair work. The closing of the bridge diverted traffic to the Heart of America Bridge, which connects Burlington Avenue with downtown Kansas City.

But Justrite’s business did not increase with the number of motorists passing by.

“Once they got on Burlington, their mission was to get off Burlington,” Thomas says. On a road trip west, we hear a yarn about an area bad boy. Also: the return of a driven-out business.

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