Larry Farmer loves his job! It’s been 44 years since Larry started collecting small change in return for a view of prairie dogs and a bobcat on the family farm. Today, he’s an iconic figure in Americana tourism, collecting somewhere around $9 a person to visit one of the most eclectic collections of animals and, of course, the world’s largest prairie dog.
Countless times we’ve passed by the Oakley, Kansas zoo on I-70 without stopping at Prairie Dog Town. A friend reportedly visited the big prairie dog in a garage one winter day. But today we shelled out $25 (with a friendly discount from Larry) and actually felt pretty good about it.
Talking with Larry is worth the price of admission. He’s proud of what he’s done with Prairie Dog Town. Proud of the t-shirt he gave Al Roaker, the stories in Wall Street Journal and the parade of visitors from around the globe.
The pit of rattlesnakes starts the tour, Outside, the yard is pocked with prairie dog holes. Russian boars roll around in the muck while goats flock to the fence for handouts. Geese roam freely while the five-legged and six-legged steers rest next to each other.
At the far end of the park you can see the bright white belly of the world’s largest prairie dog, freshly painted and standing 17-feet high - all 8,000 reported pounds. It’s like a lifetime achievement to come to Prairie Dog Town, posing for pictures with the giant dog.
Yah, it’s corny. But it’s America. Promoters like Larry Farmer are, sadly, becoming a thing of the past. But 44 years later, his energy, passion and twist-your-arm tourism are still bringing people to Oakley for a little break while driving the flatlands of Kansas.
Frankly, the world would be better off with a few more attractions like Prairie Dog Town and entrepreneurial promoters like Larry Farmer who simply love people.