A faint rumble started to fill the air through the Flint Hills, followed shortly by a parade of unconventional — and sometimes unreliable — vehicles.
The sight may seem strange to some, but the Gambler 500 rally is no stranger to the Kansas landscape. April 26-28 marked the fourth time the event has been organized by Glen and Mae Jeanes.
The Gambler 500 is a navigation challenge — originally started in Oregon — in which participants purchase a car for about $500 to travel to waypoints marked by coordinates. The two-day, 500-mile rally's waypoints are often located in rugged, off-road areas, making it a gamble for drivers of the cheap, unreliable vehicles.
Glen and Mae Jeanes organized the first Gambler 500 Kansas Rally in April 2017 after Glen saw a video for the Oregon event on Facebook. He reached out to the founder, Tate Morgan, about attending, and Morgan offered him help establishing a sanctioned event in Kansas.
“By the way that it’s grown it feels like we’ve been doing it for a long time, not just our fourth rally,” Glen Jeanes said.
The first Kansas Gambler started in Farlington, near Pittsburg, where Glen and Mae were living at the time. After moving to Wichita, later events have started from Perry Lake and, most recently, Fall River.
The first event drew in 28 vehicles, carrying nearly 100 participants. This spring, that number grew to over 250 participants.
Glen and Mae, along with a team of friends they’ve gathered along the way, scout a route, find interesting sites, select a campground and more. While there are trophies, it’s not really a race, it’s more about seeing the sights, having fun and helping fellow participants.
Since the first rally, teams have come from as far as Minnesota to attend every rally.
This year they upped the ante by raising funds for a local charity.
T-shirt sales and a raffle helped raise money for Carpenter Place in Wichita, a children’s home for girls. And being a road-based challenge, the group raffled a Gambler-fied minivan.
The minivan came courtesy of Midway Motors in Hutchinson, spurred by Midway’s eBay Sales Manager Devin Shannon. Shannon has participated in two Gambler 500 Kansas rallies, as well as rallies in Oklahoma and Nebraska.
“I met Glen and Mae on the first one I did in Kansas, and they’re just great people,” he said. “I told them the next time they had one I wanted to do something.”
Before he had even heard of the Gambler 500, Shannon took a Dodge Caravan, made it convertible, added neon lights and drove it down to Third Thursday with a marker. He had people sign the vehicle and check out the custom specifications.
When he heard that the Kansas Gambler was looking for a raffle item, he spoke to his boss. He got the next rough trade-in vehicle and went to work, turning it into a wood-paneled van with pipes coming out of the hood.
“They put up a really good mission of picking up along the trail,” he said. “And they took us to a lot of really cool spots that you wouldn’t find traveling the interstates.”
Those two things are at the center of the Gambler mission, and Glen and Mae’s vision for the Kansas rally. There aren’t many rules to gambling — all laws apply, be nice, help your fellow gamblers — but a big one is pack out what you pack in, and pick up trash along the route, even if it isn’t yours.
The new Gambler 500 Kansas Rally Instagram page boasts: “See Kansas like you’ve never seen it before.” That’s what Glen and Mae aim to do with the Gambler, picking everything from oddball attractions to historical markers to beautiful scenery as waypoints along the 500-mile route.
“We don’t have a lot to offer for terrain and off-roading, so you do have to get creative. We’ve always wanted to highlight those things you see when you’re driving down the highway going somewhere but you never stop because you’re going somewhere,” Mae said. “Not to take away from going through mud and going over obstacles, but we want to show some of these sites that Kansas does have to offer.”
One such stop on the most recent rally was Teter Rock, a large stone placed atop one of the Flint Hills in Greenwood County by James Teter. Even more special than the site was the fact that, unknown to Glen and Mae, the granddaughter of James Teter, Melissa Richard, and her husband were participating in the rally.
“We had no idea they were out there, we didn’t know who they were,” Mae said. “We pulled up and started talking and she said, ‘You have no idea how much this means to me,’ and she said her grandfather put up this rock.
“It was one of those moments. You can’t recreate that.”
Mae and Glen have attended rallies in other states and plan to attend the Colorado rally in June. Shannon will also be traveling to the Colorado rally.
Once they return, they’ll start scoping out routes, speaking to landowners and businesses, and promoting their fall rally, which will include more fundraising for Carpenter Place.