Moving on Down the (Red) Line

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

Glasco's 1915 Red Line Basket Ball Team went undefeated while traveling the Red Line portion of the Midland Trail painting telephone poles.  Photo Courtesy Glasco Community Foundation.

Glasco’s 1915 Red Line Basket Ball Team went undefeated while traveling the Red Line portion of the Midland Trail painting telephone poles. Photo Courtesy Glasco Community Foundation.

Telephone pole painters by day, basketball players by night.

That combination made for an interesting resume for members of the 1915 Red Line Basket Ball Team, a group of men from the north-central Kansas town of Glasco charged with marking the Red Line route so that transcontinental travelers could find their way across the country.

The Midland Trail Association was scouting Kansas routes to join up for a road that would connect Washington, D.C., to San Francisco.

The Red Line won out, officially becoming the Red Line Division of the Midland Trail, and the basketball team hit the road.

In January and February of 1915, the Red Line players braved the Kansas cold and snow while painting red bands around the telephone poles that lined the route stretching from Kansas City to Denver, Colorado. At night, the men played games against local teams from whatever town they were in that day, using the money generated by the game to cover their expenses and pay for the paint.

It might sound like an odd plan, but it was incredibly successful: Glasco won every game they played on the tour.

The Red Line Basket Ball Team was so successful, in fact, that they opted to keep playing well after they were done painting telephone poles. Even Wesleyan College wanted to test themselves against the increasingly famous Red Line. The two teams scheduled a game for March 1915, but it was canceled, according to one source, because Wesleyan was afraid playing Glasco would mean losing their standing in the league.

It’s the kind of story that attracts attention to other local sports and transportation history, said Joan Nothern, Glasco Community Foundation’s Hometown Teams Partner Site Project Director. She hopes the “romantic, unusual aspect of the Red Line” will build momentum for a National Highway 24 Museum and will be a way for area residents to recall and celebrate other Glasco teams, too.

“Glasco: A Triple Threat on the Diamond, Field, and Court” will be on display March 1 through June 1 at The Corner Store (129 E. Main Street, Glasco, Kansas). For more information, visit www.glascokansas.org, or contact (785) 568-0120.