Pull in to the tiny Nelle Belle’s diner (pronounced “nell-ee bells”) on U.S. Highway 69 in Claycomo any weekday morning, and you’re likely to find the parking lot packed.
Brush shoulders with townies and Ford plant workers as you squeeze past people sitting at the counter, and hope to find a seat at a booth.
Nelle Belle’s officially opens at 3:30 a.m., but owner Dixie Edwards says some regulars show up as early as 3, while her “girls” are still setting up.
“Some of them are getting off their shifts but some are just lonely,” Edwards says. “If they can’t sleep or something, they know they can come down and get coffee, just sit and chat."
Edwards, who is 73, has owned the diner for 50 years, but took over the operation as manager in 1992.
She shows up a little later in the morning, and greets everyone.
“People come here almost every day, the same ones, and they just talk about their families, their jobs, whatever,” Edwards says. “Everybody just knows each other, and if you don’t know somebody when you come in, you do before you leave, ‘cause it’s so small.”
The Village Historian
Edwards was born and raised in Claycomo, which is an autonomous “village” of 1,500 people nestled between the northernmost part of Kansas City and Liberty, Missouri. At the time she was a child, Claycomo was in the country.
She lived in a mansion, (her dad was a TWA pilot and ran a history museum in Liberty) which was torn down by Ford to make way for the auto assembly plant, which opened in 1951.
Although she has never worked at the plant, Edwards has previously served as chairman of the board of Claycomo — that's the village's version of a mayor — and says that the two are inseparable.
“Ford is Claycomo and Claycomo is Ford.”
She hears all the gossip (whether about the latest vehicles or the current contract negotiations between the UAW and Ford), so much so that she’s the one people ask to hear the latest auto industry news. Edwards maintains a bulletin board at the entrance of Nelle Belle’s with newspaper clippings that “the guys” bring in.
“We hear it here first,” Edwards says, “which maybe isn’t true, but it’s kind of a joke, if you hear it at Nelle Belle’s, it’s gotta be true.”
This look at the Missouri River is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them.