The great "Schtop Mei Geil" runaway took place in the summer of 1923, as far as we can remember. The Ernest and Alvina Kaufman Juhnke family lived on a farm a mile east and a quarter south of Elyria, Kansas. Ernest was 44 years old; Alvina was 39. They had eight children, between eighteen years old and four months old. (One son, Joseph, had died before his first birthday in 1907.)
Ernest had a job as King City township road overseer, an appointive position. As "road boss," he was responsible for doing some maintaining of the township roads. On the morning of the runaway, he went to the red barn whose back door looked out to the Dry Turkey Creek. In the barn were four horses--George, Fannie, Lincoln (Linkel for short), and Frank--in their stalls facing the east wall. On the other side behind them was the oats bin and the harness stall. Ernest hitched up three horses to an old four-wheel buggy which had belonged to his father, Karl Juhnke. (Grandpa Karl had died in 1918.) The buggy was called a "spring wagon" because of the iron spring which extended across their chests and was attached to the tongue. Linkel, the skittish one, was hitched on the outside, connected to Fannie.
Behind the spring wagon Ernest hitched a two section iron harrow. The harrow would be dragged over the road not long after a rain, so the clods could be broken up and the ruts filled in. On this day the main task was to do some work on the road by a bridge on the same section a mile south. The bridge had recently been repaired, after some flooding had eroded the road. Ernest took along his oldest son, Willie, now eleven years old and needing to learn the ways of horses and farm work.
Ernest guided the horses eastward to the farmyard entrance to the road, and turned them southward. They rode half a mile toward the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks, which angled northward from Moundridge through Elyria toward McPherson. The township road met the tracks at the same point as the Spring Creek. Sometimes called the "Running Turkey," which flowed south south-westward. The road crossed down under the tracks, then over a bridge across the creek, and then on south another quarter mile. At the section corner the team made a right turn to the west and after almost half a mile they arrived at the bridge to cross the Running Turkey once again. The big wooden planks across the bridge were loose, so Ernest had to get off the buggy to lift up the harrow so they wouldn't catch a plank and tear it loose from it's position. Willie took the reins and guided the horses across the Running Turkey and also across the Dry Turkey which was several dozen yards further ahead. Off to the right a ways was a hollow where, according to local tradition, the Indians would keep horses they stole from the settlers.
Just after the wagon crossed the second bridge, a frightened rabbit jumped out of some brush in the south ditch. Linkel bolted, startling Fanny and Frank. They all panicked and took off galloping with Willie and the buggy down the road. The harrow tore loose. Ernest tried to catch them, but he soon fell way behind. Willie hollered at the horses to stop, but they were running wild, out of control. He pulled on the reins so hard that he pulled the wagon on up to the backs of the horses. Would the buggy fall apart? Would he ever get back home again?
Up ahead Willie saw a problem. The horses had moved over and were running along the shallow north ditch, which was smoother than the bumpy road. A telephone pole stood in the ditch and they were heading right for it. If the pole came between Fannie and Frank, Willie and the buggy could be smashed to smithereens. Willie pulled as hard as he could to turn the horses to the right. He got them moved over enough so that the pole came between Fannie and Linkel, who was running on the outside left. Willie saw Linkel's head snap back as the leather connecting him to Fannie tore apart. The telephone pole missed the left buggy wheels by a fraction of an inch.
The horses kept running west toward where the Valentine Krehbiel farm was on the south side of the road. Willie saw that Krehbiel was out in the barnyard and that he saw the runaway horses coming. Krehbiel tried to get out in front of the horses to stop them, but they bore down on him and he had to jump out of the way. As they passed by, Willie called out, "Schtop Mei Geil! Schtop Mei Geil!" Willie's family spoke a Swiss-Volhynian dialect, mixed with English words. "Stop" is English. "Geil" (with a soft G, or glottal K) is Swiss-Volhynian for horses. Krehbiel went to get his car and to pick up Ernest. They would drive to see where Willie and the horses would end up. As the horses charged on, the despairing Willie thought that by now they must be getting to the next county, some far away unknown territory.
The horses kept running west, finally getting tired and slowing down to a trot. When they came to the next farmyard, Willie was relieved to see that it was the Simon Stucky place. Simon was married to Ida Juhnke, Ernest's sister, Willie was able to turn the exhausted horses into the yard and direct them toward the barn. There, facing the barn, the horses finally stopped and blowed. Willie got off to check about hitching Lincoln back on. To his surprise, the leather connection was not broken! How did it come back together? A miracle?
After composing himself, Willie decided to take the horses back to find his father. He backed the horses out away from the barn, and tried to get them out toward the road. Instead, the animals bolted out of control again. This time they headed out toward the open field. In the field was Uncle Simon working with his "gang plow" and a team of five or six horses. Willie called out to Uncle Simon for help. Finally the horses stopped. When Uncle Simon came up to the wagon, Willie said, "Kennst du mich? Ich bin am Ernest Juhnke sei Bu." (Do you know me? I am Ernest Juhnke's boy.) With Uncle Simon holding the reins they went to the farmyard and met Val Krehbiel's car with Willie's worried father inside. The whole runaway, which seemed an eternity, had covered about one mile.
When they finally got home that noon, somewhat later than expected, Willie was delighted to discover that his mother had fixed a meal of "Mak Plotzky," a Swiss-Volhynian poppy-seed delicacy which would be forever linked in his mind with the great runaway. The next Sunday, Uncle Ed and Aunt Kate Kaufman Goering came to visit the Juhnke home. (Kate was Alvina's sister.) Everyone wanted to hear about the runaway. Aunt Kate was impressed that Willie stayed with the buggy, that he didn't jump off and get hurt. She said that her boys (Marvin was Willie's age) would have jumped. That made Willie proud. He was eleven years old and growing toward manhood and responsibility.
(As told by Willie to the family, Christmas 1988. Written by Jim Juhnke.)