Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guest Blogger: One Foot In The Grave

It's been a long time since I featured a post by my friend "One Foot In The Grave." When this email from her came in, I knew I had to share it. She employs a "stream of consciousness" method in her writing, and I have edited a little for clarity. Enjoy.

What a fun day last Wednesday was. A friend and I decided t go to Paxton, NE. She had some business to take care of and then we could go and explore her memory of visiting Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles when little. She had this wonderful memory of a tunnel by her Grandparents home. They could walk to this tunnel and play, but it was so scary because they knew some day it would be full of water. So for little people the size of the tunnel and the fear of water made it very exciting.

They could drive a pickup through the tunnel while it was being built.

Off we go to find this exciting place. We drove East of Highway 30 and found the NPPD work yard so pulled in and ask if they could tell us how to get to the tunnel. They were so nice. Said to take the trail north and there it would be. Sure enough it about a quarter mile off the highway.

WOW. You don't have to be a kid to get excited, and so much water. The east side of the canal didn't look right for her Grandparents home so we were going to have to get to the west side. So back down to the highway we go and end up at NPPD again, but took the trail on west side and sure enough we arrive back the seiche(yes I know I'm a poor speller but that correct seiche, look it up in Webster), and it looked just like when she was young. It is still an exciting place to visit.

If you know me you know one of my favorite places to hang out is cemeteries. So we go south of the interstate and find many of her relatives and what wonderful memories she has. I took some pictures.

The last stop at the cemetery I couldn't figure out why she was by that grave, the name on the tombstone was Davis. That my Mother-in-law’s maiden name. She said that was my married name. Oh my, were our husbands cousins?? That got us laughing. No place in the world sets my mind to whirling like a cemetery. Well we were tired and decided to go to Ole’s for lunch. Ole’s is famous for the hunting trophies. We just sat down and in walks her brother, now that was the frosting of our trip. He had so many stories and is such a fun person. Well time to head for home after a perfect day.

I called NPPD and told them I would like information on the seiche tube at Paxton NE. He said the water comes from the North Platte River at end of Lake Ogallala. It is an open canal until it reaches Paxton. They started to build the canal and sieche tube in1934 and finished 1936.

The sieche tube is 1 and half miles long. It meets up the the Korty canal south of Paxton and goes to the Sutherland Reservoir. From North Platte river to the Korty canal is about 7 and half miles. He said a retired President of NPPD has recently written a book on Public Power in Nebraska. His name is Don Schaufelberger. I'm sorry if the last name is spelled wrong.

Whether or not you can spell or use correct grammar (I fall short on both counts much more often than I should), it doesn't stop you from having adventures, and by all means, share them! I know just the tube she is talking about, and remember going crawdad hunting inside of it when the water was shut off for repairs. We pulled crawdads out of there by the gunny sack full, but I always was scared to death in case the water would be turned on again while we were inside.

I also share her love of cemeteries. So much history told in the stones.

Note, the authors name is indeed Don Schaufelberger, and the book is “The Only State: A History of Public Power in Nebraska.”

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's That Time of Year

While garden produce has been available since early July in the local Farmers Markets, September and October bring out the full bounty of the harvest.

Locally, one progressive small farmer, Booty Farms, has opened up their fields to a pick-your-own operation for a number of varieties of vegetables. Booty Farms specializes in "character seasoning" using their chipoltle, jalapeno and habanero peppers.
For those less adventerous, they also pick it for you, and in typical small town fashion, have a secure drop box for your payments - strictly honor system.
We stopped by Saturday afternoon to get some fresh jalapeno peppers for bacon-wrapped, cream cheese-stuffed peppers for the Cornhusker football game (which Nebraska won, but with a performance that was perhaps less than stellar!). Mmmm... the peppers were good, anyway, as was the company!
And if you did want to pick your own, all you have to do is call ahead for permission, then grab your containers and head out to the field to play farmer - it's got to be so much more satisfying than playing Farmville on your computer. All of the reward of harvest with none of the work of growing.
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I sure hope this old adage is true, because we've been spending a long time refurbishing my grandparents 1918 homesteading cabin in the Nebraska Sandhills. You can find the story of our early progress at a blog post from June of 2009:

Unfortunately, if you look at the "after" picture in that post (third picture down), you'll see that there hasn't been much progress made from then until now - today's "before" picture is the third picture down in this blog post.

However, any day in the Nebraska Sandhills is a day spent in paradise. We headed out early in the morning to get a good start on the day, and as we topped the hills just north of Sutherland, the fog rising from the North Platte River obscured the view of the hills and made a picturesque scene.

As we neared the Home Place, the sun had risen further, and we came upon a herd of horses warming themselves on the sunny side of an abandoned one-room country school.
And here is the sight that greeted us. We had been up the day before and taped off all of the windows. It isn't particularly necessary, as the windows are slated for replacement, but that could be a long time in the future, and we didn't want the paint to obscure the light that we'll need inside - no electricity you see. Like I said above, not much has changed since last summer. I blame the high water in the North Platte River, as much of our spare time has been spent lazily floating down the river in a stock tank in the company of our friends and family - not a bad way to spend our time, but not very productive either.
Even though it looks like there's not much paint left, what is there is loose and still needs to be scraped off.
As I was taking this picture, I realized that this is the epitome of true love. The Mister has no connection with this land or this house, he is simply helping me preserve it because he loves me! All of our projects have one thing in common - they are a way for us to spend time together, and no matter if we are cutting and splitting wood, tanking down the river, hosting a house concert or renovating an historic home, we're doing it together.
Now, please join me in a short commercial break. We highly endorse Benjamin Moore Fresh Start Penetrating Primer for restoration jobs such as this. By our calculations, this house hasn't had a fresh coat of paint on it since the 1940's or possibly as late as the 1950's, but assuredly not since then. You can imagine the condition of the wood in the dry, harsh Nebraska Sandhills after that amount of time without protection. We consulted the local experts at the Kildare Lumber Company and went with their recommendations. It wasn't cheap - ten gallons of primer at $36.00 per gallon for one and a half coats! We're going to leave the primer as is until the spring when we can afford paint, then probably apply one more coat. We'll keep you posted as to the stability of the undercoat.

The project truly is a family affair, because thankfully, the family farm, Seifer Farms came up with the money for the primer, and my brother's construction business loaned the generator and paint sprayer - the same brother who pitched in to put on the steel roof last year.

Since we did manage to get part of a second coat applied, there was time to wait between coats to allow the first to dry. Not one to waste time, The Mister got out his trusty chain saw and made some of the huge logs we had cut in previous trips just a little bit smaller for easier handling.
And here she is, glorious in the evening sunlight. Even just the primer has made a world of difference, and gives us renewed energy to continue work on the project.

Cash is always the problem, and hopefully there will be some available next year for more progress. Another coat of primer in the spring and a coat or two of paint should finish the painting project.

After further consultations with Kildare Lumber, we found that we can purchase vinyl replacement windows for around $130.00 per window. They won't be anything special, but will make all of the future work possible. The sills and frames are rotted throughout, and really need to be made secure before much more can be done. We had considered other avenues such as plexiglass ($110 per 4 x 8 sheet, with 3 needed), or just storm windows, but these don't seem cost effective considering they're just stop-gap measures. So for now, we're just going to continue replacing the plastic as needed.

After that, I have finally been convinced that the falling ceiling in the main ground floor room needs to be completely covered with drywall to prevent further damage. It's only a small room, maybe 12' x 12', so it won't be major, just more than we had initially anticipated.

There are a number of outbuildings on the homesite that are falling down, and my next plan is to tear them down, saving the wood to use to sheet the attic room upstairs. Because of the mice that can't really be kept completely out, we won't be insulating, but just having it sheeted will make a huge difference.

Following that, interior painting, final cleanup, and we'll be DONE!

I'll keep you posted. Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Presenting Rail Fest 2010

This is the second year of Rail Fest since I began blogging, and I've finally remembered why I didn't blog about it last year - it is exhausting! Finally, now after nearly a week has gone by, do I have the energy (or the time) to sit down and tell you the story of Rail Fest.

Rail Fest began as a conversation between Ken Bible and Dave Harrold of North Platte about five years ago. Ken is a rail fan and long time North Platte businessman, and Dave is an extremely busy and dynamic community activist and businessman as well. The goal was simple - create an event that celebrated the importance to North Platte of Union Pacific Railroad and its army of local employees, and raise money for the Original Town organization to rehab low to moderate income housing in North Platte's oldest neighborhoods.

Nothing is ever that simple, but when you have someone as energetic as Dave Harrold behind it, it is going to happen, simple or not. Through his persistance and persuasion, he garnered the support of the community of North Platte, the Union Pacific Railroad corporation, and the management of our local Bailey Yard.

He also rounded up an army of volunteers who would make the dream a reality. Below, you see members of the North Platte Community College Rodeo Club, who are involved with Rail Fest for the first time this year. These young people are a godsend, having the strength and stamina to do all of the heavy lifting associated with setting up a community celebration of this magnitude that us "old folks" find difficult.
North Platte's RSVP organization has been with Rail Fest since day one, providing the man and woman power to staff the information and merchandise booths, keep the entertainment, kids games, art show and model train show and wellness programs running smoothly, distributing tickets and just generally doing whatever is necessary!

One other major source of volunteers is our local schools. Sutherland Public School in particular has a program that requires children to get a certain number of community service hours each semester during their time in high school in order to graduate. We've always had a great response from these kids and been overjoyed with the help they provide. Maxwell and Hershey schools as well have sent kids to help.
The first day of Rail Fest 2010 dawned sunny and promised a beautiful day. We enjoyed it, because from the weather forecast, the rest of the weekend wasn't going to be so nice.

The bus tours of Bailey Yard are the cornerstone of the celebration, and the first one rolled out of Cody Park at 9am on Friday. This is one event where the North Platte businesses get involved, and Gateway Realty provides the personnel to keep the tours running smoothly. Many other businesses, especially in the tourism sector provided step-on guides for the tours to entertain and inform on the way to the yard.

The rest of Rail Fest opened at noon on that first Friday, and a popular spot is the merchandise booth, where another community partner, Coldwell Banker, along with RSVP were kept busy distributing the commemorative coins to Bailey Yard employees produced by Rail Fest each year and selling Rail Fest memorabilia.

The official opening ceremonies were held at 4pm, complete with musical entertainment from North Platte High School and our own Sweet Adelines. Dave Harrold presented a beautiful commemorative plaque to Bailey Yard Superintendent Chad Wilburn in appreciation for all of the support he and his team provides. The first stop for the bus tour is the Diesel Shop facility. While we aren't allowed inside, the doors are wide open and avid Rail Fans can peek in to see all of the happenings.
Regular readers of this blog know of my obsession with Deadliest Catch, and of our trip to Seattle last year for CatchCon to meet the captains and crews. Let me tell you, if there were reality show cameras following the guys from Bailey Yard around, we would have celebrities from right here in North Platte just like the Bad Boys of the Bering Sea. The guys who "build America" are every bit the hardworking, hard playing, rough around the edges American heroes as are the crab fishermen from Alaska.

Rail Fans recognize this and flock around the UP representatives to get to know the men behind the jobs.
In the minds of Rail Fans, these guys who actually get to work around trains every day, see them, touch them, hear them, know the inner workings of the industry are akin to rock stars.
Of course, having the opportunity to see and touch the locomotives up close is pretty special to these visitors too.
Following the stop at the Diesel Shop, a step-on guide from the Railroad boarded our buses for the hour-long tour through the yard itself. Our guide John is a relative newcomer to the Bailey Yard family, having worked here for a mere 11 years. Since UP regularly wins awards for being a great place to work, it is easy to see why many employees work their entire career for a single employer.
One of the sights we got to see on our tour was the in-line replacement of wheels on freight cars. The process was invented by ingenious employees right here in Bailey Yard. The teams have trained with NASCAR pit crews to perfect the system, and it saves UP millions of dollars and man hours each year.

To determine if there are problems with the wheels, Bailey Yard has a state-of-the-art Wheel Defect Detection facility, one of only one or two of its kind. The trains roll slowly through the building while the wheels are x-rayed or ultrasounded or MRI'd or whatever it is they do to them to detect flaws. The goal is to have each coal train inspected once each year. Considering the thousands of coal trains that pass through North Platte, that is a very lofty goal indeed. Locally, the facility is affectionately known as the "Crack House." So don't get alarmed if you hear that term while you're in town.
With somewhere around 150 trains a day going through Bailey Yard, many of them needing sorted, repairs, maintenance, or at least inspected and refueled, it is a major accomplishment to get the powers-that-be to agree to allow eight buses a day for three days to go galavanting around this busy operation. Can you say "Thank you Union Pacific"?
There is an overpass in the yard that they use to shuttle locomotives from one side of the yard to another. The official title is the Power Overpass, but, although the origin of the name is lost in obscurity, locally it is known as the Sheep Jump. I like Sheep Jump better.

It is also possible to drive buses over the Sheep Jump, and the view from here is spectacular. As you can see the visitors on my bus too full advantage of the view. Above is facing east and below is facing west. Just a few trains, huh?
Back at Cody Park, visitors are already strolling through the many arts and crafts and railroad memorabilia vendors. With the participation of some local members of Grow Nebraska, you could literally find anything at Rail Fest from soup to nuts!
One of the most important and popular aspects of Rail Fest is the involvement of Union Pacific, as seen above in the bus tours of Bailey Yard, but also in the number of employees who come out to Cody Park to show just what it is they do at the Railroad. They bring equipment displays out, which is great for people to see and feel.
But they also spend countless hours at the park themselves, telling their stories to eager fans. After all, it's one thing to look at a solid piece of steel or a large piece of equipment, but it's quite another to learn what it's like to work with that hardware to make a railroad run.
Union Pacific Railroad also uses the occasion of Rail Fest to host it's employee family day picnic. This year they served about 4,000 UP employees and their families. Saturday of Family Day saw highs in the low 40's and a cold mist most of the day, so their numbers were down a little bit this year, but it's great to see how much Union Pacific values their employees and the sacrifices their families make to have the guys gone for long trips on the road, or in the yard for the three shifts and awkward rest days of a 24/7 operation.

The Family Day activities and Equipment Displays are coordinated by Jerry Vieyra and his team. He's threatened that he's going to scale down his participation and pass the torch on to other volunteers, and if he follows through, we're going to miss him. While I didn't get a picture of it, he received a plaque of appreciation at the opening ceremonies.

There are so many important events at Rail Fest, from the bus tours and the equipment displays, and one extremely popular event is the model railroad show. This year Dave honored volunteer extrordinaire Bernie McNulty with a beautiful plaque of appreciation. Besides making the model train show happen, Bernie promotes Rail Fest throughout the year, and helps out where ever he can. We love you Bernie!
While hundreds of sponsors (including my own North Platte/Lincoln County Convention and Visitors Bureau) contribute to the success of Rail Fest, one of the major partners is Nebraskaland National Bank. Not only do they provide significant financial support, their employees are out there before the crack of dawn cooking a pancake breakfast on Saturday. There is a line for their delicious food (come rain or shine) from about 8am to nearly 10. They were also kind enough this year to provide rolls on Sunday. Yum!
While I wasn't able to record it in photographs, Congressman Adrian Smith was honored at the breakfast Saturday morning for his efforts in having North Platte named America's official Rail Town USA by an act of Congress in 2008.

For the little Rail Fans, the Union Pacific #956 Miniature Train made another appearance in North Platte. You can see from the photo below that the weather was none too balmy, but that didn't make a difference to the small fry in convincing their parents to board the train.
Another major component of Rail Fest that I didn't get a picture of is the non-stop entertainment under the Cody Park Pavilion. Live entertainment from 4pm to 10pm on Friday, 8am to 10pm on Saturday and 8am to 4pm on Sunday, ranging from Latin Jam to bluegrass, barbershop to chorales, there was always something happening under the tent. The entertainment group also organizes the hobo contest for the kids.

North Platte's parks department does an amazing job throughout the festival, as they do throughout the year. Always at the beck and call of the organizers, they make it all happen from providing the barricades to block the roads, posts to place the banners, personnel to keep the trash and toilet facilities clean, and just about any other kind of support you can imagine.

Cody Park has a wonderful carnival area with kiddie rides, fantastic concession stand, wonderful Railroad Museum and interesting menagerie of animals. All are made available free of charge during Rail Fest. Rail Fest also provides additional fun for the kiddies in the form of Fun Jumpz inflatable activities for the kids.

As I said above, the model railroad exhibit is always interesting. This year it was especially popular, not only for the great displays of model railroads, but because the National Guard Armory, located just across the street from Cody Park, was WARM and DRY!
There was just too much going on during the three days for me to record everything! I haven't even mentioned the Civil War Cemetery Tour sponsored by our North Platte Public Library, the Civil War Reenactment at our Lincoln County Historical Museum, the Art Show, the Fashion Show, or the ever-popular Strong Man competition.

Nor did I get a chance to mention the vital participation of the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center, North Platte's premiere railroad attraction, or the importance of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Posse in keeping people safe crossing from the parking lot to the street and the Leisure Services Transportation Department for providing the shuttle buses. I imagine there are others that I've forgotten too, because the whole community was involved in some way!

I guess the bottom line is that you'll just have to come to North Platte to experience it all for yourself!

For those diehard Nebraska fans, being at Rail Fest during the game didn't mean missing the action. Not only did the UP Family Day Picnic have the game on a big screen, but one of the vendors provided live coverage as well. Nebraska won, by the way.
I would be extremely remiss at this point if I didn't give a shout out of appreciation to The Mister, his great friends and my sister for sticking with us to the bitter end Sunday night tearing down all the tents, loading the tables and generally wrapping up the festivities for another year. Also, for filling the hot tub Saturday morning and making sure it was ready for my frozen bones when I got home that night!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on. We hope to share it with you in person at Rail Fest 2011!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Should You Care

So my faithful 200 or so readers a week who come from 108 cities in 14 countries... why should you care what a tourism professional does, or what we learn when we all get together for a continuing education conference? Well, I'll tell you why... because we all (that includes you) like to have fun, and the tourism professionals at the DMO's (destination management organizations), which are people like me in destinations all around the world, are there to help you do it!

I'll be the first to admit that I was scandalized by the outrageous amounts of money AIG spent at their annual meetings when their company (and the entire US economy) was crashing down around their ears, but did you ever stop and think of the impact on local economies - hard working men and women cooking the food, cleaning the rooms, fixing the things that break - when companies stopped meeting? The entire trend was (is) devastating to destinations that rely heavily on the meeting and convention business to keep their people working.

As tourism professionals, it is our job to tell the stories of our destinations - how much fun you'll have when you come here for a meeting (remember, 80% of travel spending happens after 5pm, so it's in our local shops and gathering places). Suddenly fun became a dirty word to meeting planners.

And what about the swine flu? And the gulf oil spill? Or political boycotts? And any other disaster, natural or man made that can blind side a destination and put people out of work?

Ok, ok... enough about us! So just what did we learn at the Upper Midwest Convention and Visitors Bureau Conference? I learned how we can help our local sports organizations host larger and more successful tournaments, how to coordinate with the city parks and recreation department and local schools in using their venues to host regional tournaments - bringing more money into the local economy. And where to go to learn more about how to do all of the and where to meet the national events-rights organizations.

My colleague learned how to create rock-star experiences for our visitors, how to prepare better bids to attract convention, meeting and sports events to our community, and how to partner with our local producers to create agri-culinary experiences (now doesn't that sound yummy?).

The boss learned what successful DMO executives do, and how to plan for the next crisis that is looming just over the horizon.

And did we have fun while we were meeting in Davenport Iowa? You know we did! First off, after our ten hour drive, we needed to stretch our legs, so we walked along the beautiful hike/bike path that skirts the Mississippi River, then crossed the river on the Government Bridge, making our way to the Rock Island Arsenal. After we were very politely but firmly escorted off the military installation by the kind security guard, we peppered him with questions about the facility.
We learned that the Government Bridge was one of the first bridges across the Mississippie, and the Lock and Dam Number 15 is the largest roller dam and lock system in the world. We waited until long after dark to watch the swing section rotate so this barge could navigate the locks. And the North Platte locals think people are crazy who will stand and watch trains all day?
Here is a picture of the roller dam taken from a really cool walkway that crosses from the downtown section of Davenport to the Rhythm City Casino on the river. And just in case you were wondering, there is a Geocache on the walkway that the girls and I found using the Geocaching app on my cell phone.
Our first meal in Davenport was at the Front Street Brewery, and thank goodness it was, because the restaurant was closed for kitchen renovation for the rest of the conference. I recommend their Bucktown Stout.
Thankfully, just down the street was the Great River Brewery, and Dan was nice enough to pour a sampler for me. Of course it was his job, but he did it very graciously, even staying open late so we could all hang out there for awhile. The Roller Dam Red is great, and The Mister will be treated to a four-pack of tall boys! I love it when microbreweries offer off-sale! I liked the Straight Pipe Stout.
The dine-around (a UMCVB tradition) restaurant we chose was Antonella's Pizzeria, and despite the fact that the poor mother-daughter wait staff hadn't been warned of our coming, we had a fantastic time. After all, good Italian food isn't meant to be hurried, and it was good food, and we enjoyed great conversation around the table.
All in all, we infused quite a few outside dollars into the local Davenport economy, supported some great mom-and-pop businesses, had fun, networked with friends and learned a LOT! A very successful conference if you ask me.
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Adventures in Iowa

When tourism professionals travel together, you know we are going to ask the right questions, critique the information we receive, and if the time allows, act on the suggestions of the locals.

Today, we hit a jackpot while driving across Iowa. First of all, let me tell you that Interstate 80 through Iowa is BEAUTIFUL! It's no wonder when people get to Nebraska, they think that we are filled with flat nothingness. After the rolling hills, picturesque farms and beautiful scenery along I-80 in Iowa, I can understand it. In fact, we actually passed through the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area - Where the Story of American Agriculture Comes to Life. It is absolutely beautiful - the barns & silos, well kept homesteads, quaint towns. I highly recommend a visit.

However, what made the trip truly memorable happened when we stopped right off the Interstate at the Amana Colonies. Now I will be truthful with you - I had been here before and never bothered to ask or explore any further. However, we found out that this particular store really has no connection with the colonies, only capitalizing on the location and the name recognition. Now this is fine, especially because the lady at the counter was more than willing to tell us the story of the Amana Colonies and encourage us to visit.

It is only about five miles north of Interstate and absolutely well worth a trip. We only had time to spend a couple hours, but it could easily be considered a destination, and well worth staying at one of the cute bed and breakfasts or small lodges and spend several days.

The visitor center is in a converted barn, and we were allowed to climb clear up to the third story cupola on the roof and get a picture.
The colonies of Amana are absolutely stunning in the architecture, which remains true to the original development. The history of the settlement comes from their website:
In 1855 they arrived in Iowa. After an inspired testimony commanded the people to call their village, "Bleibtreu" or "remain faithful," the leaders chose the name Amana from the Song of Solomon 4:8. Amana means to remain true. Six villages were established, a mile or two apart, across a river valley tract of some 25,000 acres - Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana. The village of Homestead was added in 1861, giving the Colonies access to the railroad.

The Amana Colonies would become one of America's longest-lived and largest religious communal society.

In the seven villages, residents received a home, medical care, meals, all household necessities and schooling for their children. Property and resources were shared. Men and women were assigned jobs by their village council of brethren. No one received a wage. No one needed one.

Farming and the production of wool and calico supported the community, but village enterprises, everything from clock making to brewing, were vital, and well-crafted products became a hallmark of the Amanas. Craftsmen took special pride in their work as a testament of both their faith and their community spirit. The Amana villages became well known for their high quality goods.

Up before dawn, called to work by the gentle tolling of the bell in the village tower, the unhurried routine of life in old Amana was paced very differently than today. Amana churches, located in the center of each village, built of brick or stone, have no stained glass windows, no steeple or spire, and reflect the ethos of simplicity and humility. Inspirationists attended worship services 11 times a week; their quiet worship punctuating the days.

Over 50 communal kitchens provided three meals daily to Colonists. These kitchens were operated by the women of the Colony and well supplied by the village smokehouse, bakery, ice house and dairy and by huge gardens, orchards and vineyards maintained by the villagers.

Children attended school six days a week year-round until the age of 14. Boys were assigned jobs on the farm or in the craft shops, while girls were assigned to a communal kitchen or garden. A few boys were sent to college for training as teachers, doctors and dentists.

In 1932, amidst America's Great Depression, Amana set aside its communal way of life. A ruinous farm market and changes in the rural economy contributed, but what finally propelled the change was a strong desire on the part of residents to maintain their community. By 1932, the communal way of life was seen as a barrier to achieving individual goals, so rather than leave or watch their children leave, they changed. They established the Amana Society, Inc., a profit-sharing corporation, to manage the farmland, the mills and the larger enterprises. Private enterprise was encouraged. The Amana Church was maintained.

Today the seven villages of the Amana Colonies represent an American dream come true; a thriving community founded by religious faith and community spirit. Declared

a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the Amana Colonies attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, all of whom come to see and enjoy a place where the past is cherished and where hospitality is a way of life.

Evocative of another age, the streets of the Amana Colonies with brick, stone and clapboard homes, flower and vegetable gardens, lanterns and walkways, recall Amana yesterday. Our community today is vibrant, celebrating both its past and its future, here today for you to experience.
While the community may no longer be communal, they have definitely carved out a niche for themselves, becoming very successful commercially, while providing America with something it vitally needs - a clean, quiet, peaceful, quaint, picturesque glimpse into our collective past. A hint of what was, what remains in small areas, and possibly what could be.
We visited late on a Sunday afternoon in September, and the streets and shops were still busy with people! That is music to the heart of any tourism professional!

Th Amana Colonies are a National Historic Landmark and the older neighborhoods are protected by the Amana Colonies Land Use District's Historic Districts. Many of the homes and shops date back 155 years to the original construction, and new construction remains true to th "brand" - the look and feel of the area.
The shops range from microbreweries and wineries to candy, antiques, woolens, meats, coffees and teas, brooms and baskets, kitchen assessories, clothes, toys. You name, it is here, and all just deliciously fun to stroll around and find.

North Platte just conducted a Community Assessment with Roger Brooks of Destination Development International. Roger is an expert in helping communities discover their brand (what they want to be known for), and helping them capitalize on it. One of his tenets is that after you discover your brand and begin marketing yourself as that, everything you do has to BE TRUE TO THE BRAND! They have definitely learned the lesson here in Amana, because even their mundane street signs are true to the brand.
During the presentation of Roger's assessment findings for North Platte, he showed slide after slide of how businesses can absolutely turn things around by simply creating curb appeal using inexpensive flowers and creative arrangements. Again, Amana does it!
Every store is gorgeous! Another of Roger's tenets is that 80% of consumer (visitor) spending happens in a pedestrian friendly environment. Even though Amana receives a huge number of visitors and it's easy to get around by car, it is also easy to find convenient parking and spend the day walking from one end of the community to another. It's the only way to experience this lovely town - and we did manage to spend quite a bit of money!
The community doesn't just rely on quaint shops for people to see, they also arrange for lots to do, which is at the heart of any successful tourism endeavor. Throughout the entire year, there are special events nearly every weekend, many of which contain opportunities to get to know the local artisans and residents and learn how to make projects of your own. Their festivals and events have headquarters in numerous large, beautifully restored barns just behind the Old Creamery theater pictured below. The professional theater company offers creative comic and musical productions throughout the year.
And just to reemphasize Amana's commitment to remaining true to it's brand, this is the Casey's store located in the heart of the area. Isn't it fantastic? Convenience yet still not a glaring eyesore taking away from the atmosphere of the area.
And yes, inside it's just a standard Casey's store!
Amana is now definitely on my must-do list as a place to return to and spend considerable time. I hope it's on yours too.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Changing Hearts and Minds One Friend at a Time!

In case you've ever wondered why we do the things we do, I'll try to explain.

Of course, we enjoy every minute! But there's always an underlying motive, and that's to share the beauty of Nebraska with people who might not otherwise get a chance to experience anything other than the Interstate 80 corridor.

As a matter of fact, even our obsession with Deadliest Catch has paid off in this endeavor. One Deadliest Catch friend recently moved from Georgia to Washington, and stopped over on her way there. We had the chance to make a midnight trek into the Nebraska Sandhills to see the precursor of the latest meteor shower and to treat her to an unparalleled view of the Milky Way.

Another Deadliest Catch friend took a road trip that brought them to Thedford along the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway.

We had a wonderful late lunch at Stubs, then Terri Licking kindly opened up the Thedford Art Gallery for us, and it really paid off as they bought around $300 worth of local art!

Not only am I looking forward to sharing more of Nebraska with these friends, I'm looking forward to catching up with all of them in Seattle next year at CatchCon!

Then, of course, is our new Couch Surfing adventure which I described in the previous post. Surfing our couch may be free, but if time allows, we do require our Couch Surfers to accompany us on a short trip into the Sandhills - they won't regret it. The Mister calls it God's Country, because when you step outside for a moment, all you see, hear and smell is the beauty of God's creation.

Below are some of the photos our first-ever Couch Surfer recently shared with us by email. Here's what she had to share on the reference she posted for us on

The true highlight was the next day when I spent several hours with Muriel. I felt like I won the lottery, in that her job is with Nebraska tourism! Her face lit up when I asked what she loved about Nebraska. By the end I was eyeing a "for sale" sign in front of a house we passed. I saw a bit of the Sand Hills, with its miles of gently rolling hills and no electrical poles, wires, noise. Muriel invited me to return for the annual visitl of the cranes and gave me a brief and interesting history lesson on the Union Pacific Railroad. She also shared her and Mark's involvement with Concerts in Your Home, which is an amazing movement, kind of like CS in its outside-the-box, creative way of connecting people (and music). Thank you Mark and Muriel for a lovely and positive experience.

In her email, she said:

I've retold the story many times, how, compared to Yellowstone, my visit with you was hands down, superior. I hope you like these pics and feel free to use them for Nebraska tourism if you'd like. I've also shared with many people about Concert in Your House.

As a matter of fact, I think I will use them for Nebraska Tourism! I'll start here with the Outback Nebraska blog.
One comment that we've heard repeated a number of times is that it is very reassuring to know that places like this still exist. We who are fortunate enough to live here take the beauty for granted, but for our city-bound friends living anywhere but our beloved fly-over country, it is literally a breath of fresh air to take that first step out of the pickup onto the side of the road in the Sandhills.
Just in case you aren't sure why the Nebraska Sandhills are called what they are, this literally is what they're made of - Valentine Sand. The Sandhills are the largest formation of grass stabilized sand dunes in the western hemisphere, covering about 22,000 square miles. The population is somewhat less than one person per square mile.
One of the most frequent critters encountered on a visit to the Sandhills is one of our beautiful box (or sand) turtles. Our rule is that when you find one of these creatures crossing the road, you have to stop and help him across in whatever direction it looked like he was headed. If not, then when you come back, you might find him squished in the middle of the road, and that is just sad.
They may not appreciate it - you can see this one looks less than pleased at the interruption, but it's better than being squished.
Even the readers to this blog get a hefty dose of Nebraska beauty most times when they stop by - changing hearts, minds (and opinions) about Nebraska, one friend at a time!
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.