By MEGAN TILK
St. Joseph News-Press
SPARKS, Kan. — Nestled deeply between tall corn fields located about 25 miles just northwest of St. Joseph, the unincorporated town of Sparks has one of the state’s hidden gems.
Tightly packed on about 25 acres of what used to be a booming railroad town sits hundreds of tents and tables filled with most items imaginable.
The Sparks Flea Market began Thursday and will end tonight.
A reminder of what the town used to be like sticks out among the plastic tents in the form of a dance hall or church.
Tom Winters and his two brothers, along with Ray Tackett, have organized the event since its beginning in 1982.
They reminisce about the old town and share stories from past markets with anyone willing to listen. Between the foursome they can locate in the flea market tents where the old school buildings, banks and houses used to be. The men, all in or near their 60s, own or lease much of the land that is used to host the flea market.
Although they anticipate 40,000 to 50,000 people will come to Sparks throughout the weekend, this year isn’t their biggest because of a poor economy.
“Vendors are what bring the people back,” Mr. Tackett said.
“And how do we get the vendors? We take good care of them,” Mr. Winters added.
Next year the men plan to team up with the Great U.S. Highway 36 Treasure Hunt, which will mean an additional market. This weekend’s flea market was the second one this year.
Dan and Sue Cooksey have been at the flea market since the early 1990s. They spend the weekend selling almost 300 pounds of kettle corn and pork rinds.
“We enjoy seeing old faces,” Mr. Cooksey said.
The two, from Laredo, Mo., said they meet all kinds of people looking for different items among the hundreds of booths.
“There was a guy the other day looking for tack or horse riding supplies,” Mr. Cooksey said. “Then someone else comes looking for marbles.”
A majority of the vendors are selling antiques but others have clothing, board games, car parts and much more — even just mason jars full of buttons.
Howard Engelbrecht with the ex-officers of the American Legion were selling items for a good cause. Mr. Engelbrecht was selling blue and white bath towels.
The towels came from Heartland Regional Medical Center’s surgical wing and have been laundered and sanitized.
Proceeds from the towels go toward scholarships from the Bill and Mary Russell Scholarship Foundation for nursing students in the St. Joseph area.
“I like to do things that make you feel good in here,” Mr. Engelbrecht said, tapping on his chest.
Another flea market can be found just 10 miles up the road in White Cloud, Kan.