Archive for Thursday, December 29, 2005

Free spirits at home in rural Lansing

December 29, 2005

Bret and Susan Rader don't live like most people, they freely admit.

The Raders reside in rural Leavenworth County, where they keep an ever-changing menagerie, including wild turkeys, guinea fowl, Vietnamese potbellied hogs, peacocks, llamas, a full-grown black bear and a Bengal tiger, on their 100 acres of land.

The Raders' home was designed by Bret and built by Susan and him in the course of a year and half or two, Bret said, without the use of an air hammer for a single nail.

As rough and unfinished as the house appears on the outside and in the kitchen - the front of the house's first floor is covered by a temporary framework of wood and plastic to keep the stonework still in progress there dry, and some of the kitchen walls lack drywall - it is surprisingly warm for being heated by a single woodstove in the kitchen.

Bret said he designed the house, which has its rear half built into the earth and will be fronted by a solarium, to be energy-efficient.

That kind of surprise is one of the many in store for anyone lucky enough to meet the Raders, whose third-grade daughter, Lilly, attends Lansing Elementary School. Bret is a 1989 graduate of Lansing High School, while Susan grew up in Kentucky, Germany, Washing-ton state, Georgia and Colorado because her father was in the military.

Bret earns most of his income as a heavy-equipment operator, driving Caterpillars and bulldozers for Mance Excavating, Grading and Landscaping of Lansing. In addition to that job, where the work is irregular, he gets up at 4 each morning to feed and water the horses at Fair Play Farm in Leavenworth County.

Bret said he acquired the lion, tiger and bear a few years ago at a national game breeder's association auction. Bret built 16-by-16-foot pens to keep the animals in, with steel frames and three-gauge steel wire set into concrete floors and complete with shelters inside. The two animals, as well as a lion (now dead), were put up for auction by a couple in Pomona no longer able to care for them.

"I lost my mind," Bret joked.

After receiving calls about the lion's roaring in 2001, the county wanted the Raders to get rid of the exotic animals because a county statute forbids keeping such animals as pets. One year ago the couple agreed to put the animals on a sanctuary association's waiting list, but they've received no offers since then, they said.

"No one wants to take a (big) cat or bear and feed them," Susan said, "They can live a long time." She said she wants to keep them.

Excepting the tiger and bear, Bret said his family receive many of their animals from people they know. Bret said his favorite thing about raising animals is "the babies." The Raders keep the newborns by the wood-burning stove in the winter.

"We've had just about every kind of animal near the wood stove," Bret said, including sheep and goats, but no bears or tigers.

He said his family doesn't usually sell the animals; they use some - not the llamas, which serve as "watchdogs" for the other animals, nor the tiger or bear - for food, and raise vegetables for the same purpose.

It might surprise many who first meet the shaggy-haired, earringed farmer to learn Bret was named a University of Kansas Honor Scholar for having grades in the top 10 percent of his class when he attended LHS.

"Most people who look at me think I'm a cooter hillbilly," he said.

In spite of his earrings and rugged appearance, those people also would be surprised, the lifelong Leavenworth County resident said, "that I'm a pirate."

"I was made to live on the ocean," Bret said. Earlier this year, he built a double-outrigger canoe with a sail. He christened it with his nickname for Lilly, "Wish-E-Bon-Bon," last summer in the Gulf of Mexico off the Alabama coast.

For all their free-spirited ways, the Raders feel at home in Leavenworth County.

"Everyone accepts us for the 'fruiters' we are," Susan Rader quipped.

For Christmas, as in previous years, Bret cut a tree from their own property and the family makes many of their own ornaments and decorations. Some of the more unique ones Bret makes from pieces of catfish skulls, which have a naturally occurring crucifix shape on one side and something that rattles inside when you shake them.

The Raders plan a traditional holiday gathering with all of Lilly's grandparents, who, except for Susan's mom living in Nebraska, reside in Leavenworth County.

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