Cyclists by nature are interesting people, said Newton Fire Chief Mark Willis. They have brought fascinating stories from around the world to Newton firefighters. For the last six or seven years, folks bicycling across the USA on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail — a route designed by Adventure Cycling Association back in 1976 — have been stopping by Newton Fire Station 2.
“Maps, websites and blogs have listed us as gracious hosts,” Willis said. He noted that the volume of cyclists increases in the summer, when it's not very pleasant to be biking across Kansas' steaming plains. The station offers them a hot shower, a cool place to throw their sleeping bags, access to the kitchen, washer and dryer.
“They're always so polite and grateful,” said Chief Willis. “They don't impose, they don't make a mess, they clean up. They realize this is the crew's house. And the guys like their stories.”
Firefighter Dan Bronson said cyclists don't necessarily stay at other stations, but here in Newton, it's become a tradition of hospitality and good faith.
Bronson talked about a cyclist from South Korea who was going from Washington, D.C. to Montana on a cheap bike. At a meal, the firefighters shared chicken and noodles, which the cyclist found odd. He arrived in Newton in October, headed toward the Rocky Mountains. The firefighters were concerned that he didn't have winter gear and encouraged him to get some. The cyclist stayed an extra day or two, but only bought more layers of thin spandex wear before heading out.
In the last couple years, the station has asked visiting cyclists to write in a log book. Many have left their names, thanks and websites.
In 2012, Rolf Riley, a guitarist from Brighton, England, said on his blog (bigonbianchi.blogspot.com), “I find myself sitting in on a training meeting here at the Newton fire station. Just listening to the conversation going on now, I'm getting insight into the work that goes on in the background and life in an American frontline fire station. How cool is this?"
Riley wondered how many regular tourists got to see the real America like that. "These guys are on a working fire shift, ready to drop everything if the bell goes, and they let me in on a meeting. Let me shower and hang out in the mess room, let me store my bike, and all for nothing!”
Since then Riley has ridden the length of the UK and twice around Cyprus including summiting Mount Olympus. His blog inspired a friend to cross the USA—he is heading towards Kentucky via Illinois.
Nathan Magyar, a University of Michigan graduate, traveled from Yorktown, Virginia, to Astoria, Oregon, in 2013. His group had heard about the fire station from a pair of cyclists who had stayed there a few nights previously. Magyar's group came through stormy weather on their way to Newton.
On his blog (mytransamtrailadventure.wordpress.com), he called Kansas “an entirely different, invisible, silent-sleeping beast. Kansas is flat alright...a flat out lie! The wind is no joke and the road almost makes me want to take a wrong turn! With the life literally blown out of us, we eventually pulled into Newton's fire station for the evening.”
Remembering back, Magyar said, “I’d just like to reiterate how much all touring cyclists appreciate the kind of hospitality that Newton Fire Station offered. And the fact that the station was willing to go beyond serving its local community with fire safety and help out an international community of travelers with 4-star overnight accommodations was inspiring.”
During the 4,232-mile journey, Magyar's group of five was also hosted by fire stations in Meadowview, Virginia, Fordsville, Kentucky, and Dixon, Kentucky.
The station has had individuals or groups of cyclists generally coming from April to August. The log book shows as many as 50-75 last year.