TOPEKA — Finding the safety glasses needed to watch Monday's solar eclipse might be a little like looking for Bigfoot. A glimpse here. A rumor there. Even a photo or two.
Mike Ford, Holton teacher, lover of all things astronomical and owner of eclipsestuff.com website, knows well the challenge of finding the cardboard glasses.
Through his website, he and his wife, Karen Ford, have sold approximately 14,000 pairs, and he still was trying to get last-minute deliveries in place.
“I’m waiting for another 5,000 to get here to do the schools,” he said, adding that eclipse T-shirt and hat sales also have been increasing as the solar eclipse draws closer.
“We’ve been very busy. Karen has been really going back and forth to the post office two and three times a day,” Ford said.
Luckily, both are teachers and were off for the summer as they dealt with hundreds of orders coming through their website. For Ford, it’s a labor of love and, although he’s not averse to the added income, it was a way to make sure people know about the eclipse and also stay safe as they view it.
Ford went to his first eclipse in 1979 on a lark.
“There was a group of us that decided we’d like to go see the solar eclipse in Canada,” he said. “It was extremely cold. Gosh darn, it was awful. We went up there because we were curious. I took pictures, using the old slide film. It was pretty amazing.”
He groped for words to describe the impact of an eclipse.
“It was almost spiritual,” he said. Seeing the sun and moon line up in the sky, the 10-degree temperature drop, the way birds and other animals reacted to the unexpected darkness in the middle of the day was just amazing, Ford added.
Ford has been on top of the eclipse phenomenon, planning his business more than a year and a half ago.
“It is an extremely rare event. It’s never gone through northeast Kansas, ever, and this is one of those rare opportunities for people to see a solar eclipse,” he said.
Because he didn’t know much about running a small business, Ford sat down with professionals at the Washburn Small Business Development Center who helped him get things set up. They opened the website with eclipse glasses and shirts, but by the time they were done, they even organized two tour buses to take people north to see the phenomenon.
They chose a site at Horton that’s off the mainstream traffic areas and will leave at 7 a.m. Monday in a bus that provides participants with air conditioning, a bathroom and Wi-Fi.
“All the comforts of home, and then we’re going to have a catered lunch from Trails Café in Holton,” Ford said.
The buses are full with approximately 80 people.
Hotels are full in many parts of northeast Kansas, including Marysville and Holton. They are nearly full in Topeka.
Debra Brown, owner of the Red Rock Guest Ranch in Soldier, is booked up and also is entertaining a Girl Scout troop from Great Bend.
“I have ordered some workbooks that’s all about an eclipse; we have 3.5 miles of walking trail, so the day of the event, we’ll head north on one of our trails and go to the northernmost part of our property for viewing,” Brown said. “They’ll get some hiking in at the same time.”
Dave Lyhane owns Bite Me Barbeque, and he will be the only vendor at the Marysville viewing area, the Lakeview Sports Complex. He’s looking at the event like a repeat of the Country Stampede, which he also works.
On Monday, he began smoking 600 pounds of pulled pork barbeque in preparation for sales.
“It’s hard for me to wrap myself around this whole thing yet,” Lyhane said, adding a community meeting Friday estimated as many as 10,000 people might flood Marysville for the eclipse.
In addition to preparing to feed the crowds at Lakeview, Lyhane is catering other events, including a breakfast buffet for the Union Pacific Depot Preservation Society that will be Monday.
Brenda Staggenborg, executive director of the Marysville Chamber of Commerce, said the town is doing its best to prepare for the eclipse influx, which is expected to occur Saturday and Sunday.
“Businesses are just going to make sure they have extra employees on hand and plenty of food,” she said. “Some of the businesses that are normally closed on Sunday are planning on being open Sunday afternoon. Most of our activities are centered on Sunday afternoon for people that come to town and need something to do.”
Chad Sidesinger at Wolfe’s Camera in Topeka began selling eclipse glasses in March and can’t keep them in the store. The staff also has been consulted frequently about how to photograph the eclipse.
“They don’t realize that you have to not only protect your eyes, but your camera lens as well,” he said. “You can’t just aim up and shoot. You can’t expect to get anything out of your cellphone because it’s too far away.”
He’s had a tough time keeping solar filters in stock. One day last week, 90 came in and were gone in less than 24 hours. Solar binoculars weren’t selling well in the Topeka store, but online they’ve sold quickly.
No one can predict the traffic or the actual size of crowds driving through Kansas to get to the 100-percent eclipse areas. Sidesinger said a customer told him he would drive north the night before and sleep in his car.
Ultimately, it’s about seeing something you might never have the opportunity to see again, Ford said.
“We’re not doing it to make millions of dollars. We’re doing it because of the safety factor and the education and to bring to light to people just how fun and cool this really is,” he said. “A lot of people will never see it again. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. Everyone should drop everything and go.”