Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Stories - If Sod Houses Could Talk

Excerpted from McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890

By Donald, Maxine and Dorothy Tupper

Oscar and May Tupper, Darlene and Donald moved to the Sandhills in the spring of 1920. The farm was located in eastern McPherson County, and was known as the “Old Canning Place”. The home in which they lived was a sod house. The home was very comfortable for the family of six, after two more children, Maxine and Dorothy, were born in this sod house.

About 1926 several frame rooms were added to the house and the sod walls were covered with cement to preserve them. A well was dug by Alva Main on a nearby hill providing a pressure water system for the farm. Bud Smith engineered digging the cistern, laying the pipes and installing the bathroom fixtures. After more than a half a century this well is still in use. The original sod barn was replaced by a large frame barn.

Oscar was killed in a farm accident in 1927. May continued living in the “soddy” with the four children. In 1932 she married George Dickson and this continued to be their home until May passed away in 1976 and George in 1977.

The original house, which was built in 1902, was constructed of virgin sod, grass that had never felt the plow. The usual procedure was to use a sixteen inch breaking plow to turn over strips of sod about four inches deep, twelve to sixteen inches wide and about three feet long. The thick buffalo grass had long tough roots which held it together.

The sod slices were used like bricks – laid over-lapping one another, grass side down, making the wall self-supporting. The grass was cut uniformly to keep it even and fill the cracks. These “bricks” were laid up around a wooden door frame. After the walls were about two feet high the desired window frames were added. Boards were laid across the bottoms and tops of the windows. This sod house had a frame and shingled roof, although many had a sod roof. The inside walls were plastered, then either painted or papered. The wide windows and door frames are trademarks of a sod house. The deep windows made an excellent place for houseplants. With the coming of electricity to McPherson County the sod house had all the modern conveniences of any home. The sod house had its advantages of being warm in winter and cool in the summer.

Darlene Tupper Waits passed away in 1967. Maxine Tupper Mote lives at Orchard, Nebraska.

These are some of the memories of this sod house which still stands and is on the ranch owned by the son, Donald Tupper, of North Platte, Nebraska.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Terry's Steakhouse (Mencl's Tavern), Virginia, Nebraska

Who knew that there was a Virginia, Nebraska? Probably lots of folks in southeastern Nebraska, but it was new to me when our son-in-law suggested road tripping there for dinner Friday night. He had queried Facebook for suggestions of small town diners to sample, and got three suggestions for Terry's Steakhouse in Virginia. After posting that was where we were going, he also got the suggestion to make reservations. Make reservations? Virginia has 67 people in it! Turns out that was excellent advice. You do, indeed, need reservations if you are to enjoy the delicious food at Terry's any time before midnight or so. Although, we heard a local relate that they have an excellent waitlist tradition - A six-pack of off-sale beer and a cell phone number. You can draw your own conclusions from that, because Nebraska Outback would be the last one to advocate breaking Nebraska's open container law.
Terry's 1
It takes about an hour to get to Virginia's from Lincoln - south on Highway 77 to Beatrice, then east on Highway 4/136 about 14 miles, then south at the junction of 4. Trust me - it is well worth the drive! We always try to sample local bars/diners on our travels, and Terry's is the perfect example of what we're hoping to experience. Sadly, we're generally disappointed, but there are gems out there!
Terry Mencl's uncle opened the Mencl Tavern in 1948. Terry has owned it for 22 years, adding a full service restaurant to the mix in 2002. The walls are lined with paintings of historic Virginia, which was once a thriving pioneer community. About all that is left now is Terry's Steakhouse and the grain elevator.

The accolades of Terry's Steakhouse are seemingly unending. It has been voted as having the best prime rib in Gage County by the Beatrice Daily Sun for three years running, Jeff Korbelik, the restaurant critic for the Lincoln Journal Star has featured it a number of times, even naming it #5 in his top 10 of out-of-town eateries.
So just what makes Terry's so great? One word: HOMEMADE! On the Salad Bar, you'll find all homemade salads. If you're lucky, like we were, Terry will be hungry for a traditional Czech dish - Noodles, Cabbage and Bacon, and you'll find a stew pot of it on the counter. Also on the counter will be several pans of homemade desserts. But don't just be satisfied with them. Ask for the homemade Banana Cream Pie or signature Snicker's cheese cake. You'll need the hour-long trip home just so you can get a start on digesting all of that goodness.
They don't skimp on the entrees either. Our table had a couple of different fish specials, hamburger, and chicken fried steak, and everyone raved about their meal.
The hometown friendliness was evident throughout our evening. The servers, the owners Terry and Kay Mencl, and the patrons all welcomed us with open arms. It was a delightful experience.

When you go:
Terry's Steakhouse
(402) 688-4286 (yes, phone for reservations!)
4th Street 2 Ave
Virginia, NE 68458

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Crystal Key Inn in Newman Grove

Sometimes circumstances happen that we rail against, but end up turning out for the better. So went our genealogy trip to the Albion, Nebraska area. We had initially planned to use our RV (for the first time), but the weather conspired against us, with frigid temperatures and winter storm warnings. Mark decided that now was not the time to un-winterize the RV, only to have to winterize it again to account for this never-ending winter.

That meant we had to seek lodging in Northeast Nebraska, and happened upon the Crystal Key Inn in Newman Grove.
Photo courtesy of Crystal Key Inn
Photo courtesy of Crystal Key Inn

Earl and Diane accepted our reservation on very short notice, and provided us with a comfortable, warm and delightfully decorated "Garden View" room.
Crystal Key 4
After anticipating our trip for several weeks and expecting balmy spring temperatures only to experience bitter cold wind with the prospect of blowing snow the next day, this was truly heaven-sent.

Our innkeepers pride themselves on being excellent local tour guides. The Crystal Key Inn is a great hub-and-spoke headquarters for experiencing Northeast Nebraska. They are centrally located among numerous golf courses, lakes, wildlife preserves and other attractions. You'll welcome coming home to such a comfortable room after a day of exploring the area.

Of course, the "breakfast" in the "Bed and Breakfast" was wonderful. Earl and Diane served up fresh fruit and homemade granola, and special-recipe cornmeal pancakes with sausage.
Crystal Key 3
Being the curious tourism professional that I am, I requested a tour, and even though they are just prepping their rooms for the busy season, Earl and Diane graciously acquiesced.
Crystal Key 2
Our room is on the main floor, and while not 100% ADA accessible, is certainly convenient enough for most folks to access. On the second floor are three guest rooms, all with at least a half bath. There is a shared complete bath located on this floor. On the delightful third floor is a true gem of a retreat. Located under the eaves with imaginative nooks and crannies that peer out over the grounds, this is the perfect room to select for a family - especially if you have young maidens who like to pretend castles and knights in shining armor!

Earl and Diane are dedicated to keeping their regional and Nebraska tourism strong and are unceasing advocates for their industry. They are active in the Nebraska Association of Bed and Breakfast and strive for the utmost professionalism - and helping other innkeepers achieve their best as well.

When you go: Crystal Key Inn
314 South 4th Street, Newman Grove, NE, 68758
(402) 447-2772
Trip Advisor

Monday, April 7, 2014

Delicious Pizza in Kearney - Trattoria Flippin Sweet!

Kearney has no shortage of delicious unique dining choices. We don't get to Kearney very often, so, unless we're just making a stop along I-80 for a quick lunch, we try to make it a point to go downtown and choose a local, independent option.
I'd heard about Trattoria Flippin Sweet Pizza before from friends who raved about it, and I knew they they are the only Nebraska pizzeria selected as one of the top 27 pizzerias in the Midwest by Midwest Living Magazine. When we had the chance, we had to try it - we weren't disappointed!
Flippin Sweet is in a converted service station right on the historic Lincoln Highway (Highway 30), near the downtown. They have added some great decor and made it into a truly unique eatery. The staff greets you as soon as you hit the door, giving instructions to fill out the order sheet.
We enjoyed the Goodfella and the Mookie, both in 10" pizzas, and let me tell you, they are delicious! As we were finishing up, some local regulars arrived and perused the menu, before ordering their "usual". The server didn't even have to ask what it was - it's that kind of place.
If you can't get to their location, they do have a food truck, and they do cater. Any way you can experience Flippin Sweet, I recommend it. You won't be disappointed.

When you go:
Flippin Sweet is located at 203 E. 25th Street, Kearney, NE 68847
(308) 455-3083

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Stories - Settling the Sandhills

Excerpted from McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890

By C. Barron McIntosh, Professor Emeritus, University of Nebraska

A homestead entry filed by Taylor Adams (his agent or attorney) was the first to be patented in McPherson County. Taylor Adams was a Civil War Veteran and as such had the privilege of filing under the Soldier’s Homestead Act (1872). This act was modified so that veterans could subtract the time they had served in the Civil War from the five years of residence required under the general Homestead Act.

Adams filed on only 40 actes in McPherson County. The Soldier’s Homestead Act, if the soldier’s first homestead had been less than 160 acres, gave him the privilege of filing an additional acreage so as not to exceed a total of 160 acres. Taylor Adams had evidently received a patent on an earlier homestead. Records show that he was granted his Final Receipt on the same date that appears in the Land Office Tract Book as the filing date, September 6, 1886.

Cattlemen used soldiers, their widows and dependent children to obtain desired land under homestead privileges granted Civil War veterans. The Spade Ranch case in Sheridan County was a good example of this use. The soldier could give or sell his homestead rights to an agent or attorney. Cattlemen would pay the veteran or his agent to file a soldiers claim on land desired by the cattlemen – often a watering place for their cattle.

It appears that Taylor Adams’ homestead rights were used in this manner. On the same date the Final Receipt was issued, Adams’ 40 acres were sold to a man by the name of Barnes, and leter that same day Barnes sold the land to John Bratt. John Bratt was a well known cattleman in the Platte Valley at that time. He probably used Taylor Adams’ 40 acre claim as a means of securing a corral or water well he had developed within the 40 acre claim. Taylor Adams probably never set foot on the homestead filed and patented in his name. Although this claim could have been patented any time after the final receipt was issued, the patent was not granted until April 6, 1889. This was still early enough to be the first patent issued for a homestead in McPherson County. The first homestead patent was thus issued on the same date that Richard Shield received the first pre-emption patent in the county.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Community Festivals - Think Sustainability!

The following article was posted in the North Platte Telegraph on March 4. It tells about a wonderful historical event that is being revived by North Platte's Lincoln County Historical Museum. That is a good thing. What makes me sad is that the folks down in Hayes Center, which had hosted the event for many years, were put in a position to have to make an end of the annual celebration. Read, and I'll comment below.
Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 3:00 am

By Heather Johnson

A royal buffalo hunt is making a comeback in Nebraska.

The Lincoln County Historical Museum plans to reinvent the “Grand Duke Alexis Rendezvous” during Rail Fest Sept. 19-21. The idea is to commemorate the 1872 visit to the U.S. by Alexei Alexandrovich, otherwise known as the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia. “The U.S. was at the height of popularity with the Russian government at that time,” said Jim Griffin, museum curator. “Having Alexis visit was a way to cement diplomatic relations.”

A buffalo hunt, not far from Camp Hayes Lake, was organized to entertain the duke. Some of the more famous people involved in the adventure will be portrayed by actors during the rendezvous.

Among them will be Steve Alexander, of Monroe, Mich., who has been featured as General George Armstrong Custer in numerous TV shows and films. Kirk Shapland, of Dighton, Kan., will play William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and Jahnis Abelite, of Arlington, Wash., will portray the duke.

Griffin said the actors will dress in period attire as they talk about the buffalo hunt and characters they represent. A series of lectures about topics such as Lakota story telling are also planned.

Griffin is hoping to offer a guided bus tour to the hunt site and to put on a play titled, “Fate Worse Than Death.” It is a comedy.

“The play is loosely based on the kind [of show] Buffalo Bill was in back east,” Griffin said. “It starts out with tall tales, and the audience is asked to hiss and boo at the characters.”

The original rendezvous was put on by Lions Club members and staged about 12 miles northeast of Hayes Center. It ran from 2000-2010 but was canceled in 2011 due to a lack of volunteers.

“We lost several members that were good workers,” said co-coordinator Doris Vlasin. “We just couldn’t seem to generate enough interest in the community to keep it going.”

The cost of the re-enactment also became a burden.

“We couldn’t charge admission fees because it was at Camp Hayes Lake on Nebraska Game and Parks Commission property,” Vlasin said. “It was expensive to do on our own, but I loved every minute of it and hated to give it up.”

Griffin has pursued grant funding to offset the cost of hosting the re-enactment in North Platte and is also seeking sponsorships. There will be an admission charge of $5 for anyone 12 or older. Those younger than 12 will be let in for free.

“It’s important to remember the hunt because of all the larger aspects that surrounded it,” Griffin said. “Not only does it show that Nebraska has been involved in world events, but it also demonstrates the interest in the west by Europeans, the end of the large buffalo hunts and the downfall of the Native American way of life.”
Note the quote in bold and italics - "we couldn't charge admission because it was on Nebraska Game and Parks Commission property."

The first priority of any event (I know... we do them because it's fun, it highlights our history, it brings economic development to our community, etc.) MUST be to be sustainable! Land owned by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is essentially land owned by the people of Nebraska. The NGPC has no qualms about charging people admission by requiring a state park sticker. Why would they jeopardize the sustainability of a wonderful celebration like this by not allowing the community to charge admission?

North Platte's own Rail Fest faces this same dilemma. The cornerstone of the celebration is the tours through Bailey Yard. However, since the buses are sponsored by Union Pacific Railroad, they aren't allowed to charge admission for them. Now I'm as cost conscious as the next tourist, and love seeing all the FREE stuff, but I also want a quality event to go to year after year. If you don't make any money, you won't be around long, because celebrations cost a LOT to keep going.

The folks over at the Greeley Irish Festival (which, by the way, is the same weekend as the Grand Duke Alexis Hunt reenactment and North Platte's Rail Fest) have it right. The festival area is fenced, and you pay an admission at the gate and receive a wristband. If you want to camp in the adjacent campground, you pay a (reasonable) fee. If you want to drink beer (It's an Irish Festival, after all!), or eat, you pay for it. Many of the food vendors are local organizations doing fundraising, but there are also commercial food and souvenir vendors. A perfect combination for lots of variety. With a sustainable business model, I foresee the Greeley Irish Festival being around for a long time.

I hope the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (and other sponsors) realizes that they need to be community partners with the resources they have, and allow communities and private individuals to earn enough money to be sustainable to keep offering great events and services for visitors and locals alike.

And please, if you're planning a community festival, think sustainability first! We want your wonderful event to be around for a long time.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ord, Nebraska - the Poster Child for Entrepreneurship!

On my recent blog post about our road trip to Ord, I didn't post anything at all about Ord itself. That's because Ord deserves it's own blog post.

Of course, our "excuse" for this road trip was to make our first (but certainly not our last!) visit to the Scratchtown Brewing Company on the occasion of their Scratch-Pattys Day party. No green beer here, but plenty of GREAT beer!

Scratchtown opened in October of 2013, and is the brainchild of Jade Stunkel, award winning home brewer Mike Klimek and Caleb Pollard, who bills himself as the "chief mover of units". If I lived in Ord, I might have to challenge him for that position!

They are still considered a nano brewery, but with the variety of great beers that they produce, I foresee expansion in their future.

I often wondered about the name "Scratchtown" for a brew pub in Ord, Nebraska, but the back cover of their beer menu solves the mystery. I suppose being located "in the heart of the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway, centrally located within 30 miles of the Calamus, Sherman and Davis Creek Reservoirs and 25 miles from the North Loup, Middle Loup, Calamus and Cedar Rivers..." might be a reason for the sentiment.
And now, on to Ord. This is a beautiful community, situated in a beautiful area of Nebraska. But more than that, it is a vibrant, growing community, something that is somewhat of an anomaly in rural America. The growth, sense of pride and economic well being can, in large part, be attributed to Scratchtown's Caleb Pollard, who served as the economic development director for many years.

The courthouse square in downtown Ord is surrounded by blocks filled with going businesses, not the vacant storefronts that are seen in many small towns.

From the Ord website:
Rural role model: that’ s just one name Ord has been called in the past five years. Ord exemplifies a rural community with a vibrant future. Since 2000, the Ord area has experienced over $125 million of private and public investment in our community. Also in that time, Ord and Valley County have witnessed the creation of over 100 new businesses, 350 new jobs, a return to pre-recession unemployment levels, strong per-capita wage growth, retail growth and property valuation increases. Out here in Ord we carry a boot-strap mentality: we build a bright future for ourselves.

Living in Ord exemplifies simple, safe small town living amidst breathtaking beauty in the scenic North Loup Valley. Boring and flat? Hardly. The traffic, noise and crime of the city opens up to rolling green prairie plains, scenic river valleys, abundant wildlife and a serene pace of life unrivaled in Nebraska.

As you can imagine, outdoor activities can be found right outside of town. Whether you enjoy hunting or fishing, bird watching, photography and hiking, water sports, history... you name it, it's literally right outside of your door in Ord.

If you visit Ord, there are two Bed and Breakfasts in the area, the Byway Guest House and Rex and Deb's River Lodge. Camping (RV and tent) is available in town at Bussell Park and nearby at Anderson Island, Calamus, Davis Creek and Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Areas. You can immerse yourself in the beautiful Sandhills by traveling the Loup River Scenic Byway. If finding bargains is your passion, you might consider a visit the last full weekend in September for the annual Junk Jaunt - 300 miles of treasures, over 500 registered vendors, and Ord situated about right in the middle.

If you're looking to experience the best small town America has to offer, a visit to Ord will definitely fit the bill. If you're looking to relocate to a scenic small town, Ord definitely fits the bill. If you're looking to lift a few pints or great craft beer, Ord definitely fits the bill.

What are you waiting for? Plan your trip today.