Friday, May 31, 2013

The evil destructors are at it again! (Or not - UPDATED!)

Instead of deleting this post, I'm only going to update it - because, THANKFULLY, the barn in the photo is NOT endangered - the North Platte Telegraph used the wrong photo to emphasize what barn was being torn down at WCREC.

While still 100 years old, the barn that was torn down was a much less impressive single-story barn that sat just south of the barn in the photos below.

However, the reason I'm going to leave this post up, even though the story is erroneous, is because it COULD HAVE BEEN TRUE! Directly below this paragraph is a photo taken Friday afternoon of the barn that was actually demolished. That is ONE DAY after the story broke about the planned demolition. ONE DAY! If this had been an actual emergency, all of our outrage would have already been too late! So the reason I'm leaving this story up is as a warning. Are there buildings in your area that you think may be endangered? Then the time is NOW to begin asking the owners, city officials, permitting officers, etc. to find out what the plans are for them - don't wait until it's too late!
Below is the original post:

I have been ranting recently about the propensity of folks in western Nebraska to just tear down our built heritage and start over with substandard, ugly, cheap, throw-away new construction. (here, here, here, and here) This morning I learned of one of the cruelest blows of all. The University of Nebraska West Central Research and Extension Center has announced plans to demolish an historic 100-year-old barn, to be replaced by what I'll just bet you is an ugly, cheap, substandard, throw-away prefab steel building.
The beautiful old dairy barn on the grounds of WCREC is a T-shaped structure that has stood tall since 1914. Does anyone really think that what they're replacing it with will last that long? Or even half that long?
According to officials at WCREC: "It's unsafe at this point," Skates said. "It was built out of red clay tile that fractured in numerous places. Without spending large amounts of funds, it would be hard to correct the structural problems."

Really? A building that has stood for 100 years and there's no way to stabilize the red clay tile and repair the building? I say go ahead and spend the large amounts of funds and save it!

Reuse it! Repurpose it! Anything but demolish it.

There is a Facebook page where like-minded folks can gather together to brainstorm about ways to change their mind. Please join us there and give us your thoughts.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

In Times Like These

My sister-in-law is the Editor and Publisher of the Sutherland, Nebraska Courier-Times newspaper. I have periodically reproduced her weekly column "Weekly Focus" here. In light of the tornado destruction, most conspicuously in Oklahoma, but in actuality many other places as well, where first responders put aside their lives to help their neighbors, this weeks column is most appropriate.

Once again, in the middle of the night, the scanner announced that a fire along the south side of Highway 30 had re-ignited. This was the third time that day volunteer firefighters had to go to the scene of this fire. If Tuesday’s record high temperatures are any indication, I’m afraid we may be in for a very long, hot and dry summer.

In times like these, fires can start from the smallest things, exhaust from a train, a tiny spark from a wheel, a cigarette…

In times like these, lives can be changed in a moment… property lost… pasture, fences and equipment damaged…

In times like these, those who serve on our local fire departments are going to be feeling a lot of strain on their personal lives. The volunteers who willingly respond to the scene of a fire any time – day or night – are to be thanked, but somehow that doesn’t seem to be enough.

In times like these, we may find ourselves needing to show more support than ever before.

What can we do for a firefighter? Most of them are extremely capable people, but how many of them have more than 24 hours in a day? Not one. Local communities may need to help out in ways never considered before.

In times like these, we need to be ever more vigilant with our farm equipment and our vehicles and have water ready when there might be an increased fire danger.

In times like these, tragedy can be exchanged for triumph… “Tired and defeated” is a much harder thing to face than “tired and victorious.”

I’d like to give a big “thank you” to our local firefighters and tell you that you are appreciated more than we have words to express.

I’d like to say “thank you” to all the fire department families, because the commitment to firefighting isn’t just about the firefighter, but also everyone else in the household.

I’d like to say “thank you” to all the local businesses who lend their trucks to haul water, and to the local farmers and ranchers who have their own water trucks and wouldn’t think of not showing up to help.

In times like these, we survive better in an atmosphere of thankfulness.

I remember several good stories from last year, when fire victims talked mostly about what was saved… their lives… their homes… perhaps fences or hay. Each of them thanked God. Each of them thanked all who had helped. Each of them had a greater peace because of their attitude of gratitude.

None of us can predict what tomorrow may bring, but an atmosphere of mutual support is the best way to face whatever troubles we may find.

I find it important that we pray for one another and be grateful for the contributions of all… in times like these.
Note: Locally, the Sutherland area has been blessed with several inches of rain in the past couple of days, so hopefully the anticipated hot dry summer won't come to pass. However, there was a sad accident at the Sutherland Reservoir where an elderly woman lost her life and our local volunteer dive team conducted the recovery. Our first responders are indeed a blessing, regardless of the emergency.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tehachapi, CA - In the running for Rail Town USA?

Now, before you start throwing railroad spikes at me, I don't believe for an instant that North Platte has any competition for the title of Rail Town USA. However, I spent an interesting afternoon in Tehachapi, CA. Tehachapi is a railroad town.

The sign at one of the cutest little diners I've ever been to offers a 10% discount to UPRR and wind energy employees. Tehachapi's main claim to fame is the Tehachapi loop, where the UPRR and BNSF shared tracks completely loop back on themselves to rise 77 feet in elevation.

It is billed as one of the railroad engineering marvels of the world, and I have to agree that it is. In the town itself, they have reconstructed an historic depot adjacent to the railroad tracks with a cute and comfy viewing deck for... wait for it... the average of 50 trains a day that pass through! Now this is a reconstructed depot because sadly, the original depot was destroyed by fire just weeks before the grand reopening of its restoration
Rather than be discouraged, the town constructed a replica and built a viewing deck around it for the 50 or so trains that pass by, and filled the depot with artifacts and tidbits of the history of the town.

Further on down in the cute little park that lies between the Tehachapi Highway and the railroad tracks is another quaint little viewing platform and picnic spot.

As of the 2010 census, Tehachapi had just over 14,000 people, which would make quite a large town for rural Nebraska, but a pretty small town for California. One thing it does have going for it is a very active Main Street community.

One of the projects they have undertaken in recent years is the painting of a series of murals depicting early life in Tehachapi and milestones in its history. They've also created a great historic walking tour, and have made sure that all of the signs, whether for streets, municipal buildings, historic sites or business are cute and in keeping with the atmosphere of the entire town.

We very much enjoyed our time in Tehachapi, and would love to go back and spend some more time there, but what I want to stress, is that the town itself ISN'T REALLY ALL THAT SPECIAL!

If you visit the Chamber website, the Main Street website or the official municipal website, you'll see that there aren't that many attractions, and not a whole lot of businesses that have a huge appeal to visitors.

There are many towns that we have visited that have lots more things to do, but Tehachapi has worked very hard to capitalize on what they have. There are a couple of artist co-ops, a movie theater, a performing arts theater and one of the cutest home-town diners we have ever seen (get the pie!). Otherwise, it's businesses with local appeal.

They figured out that if they kept their town pretty and quaint, capitalized on their history and culture, worked together, it would make life much more pleasant for their residents, and would get a few visitors speeding by on the freeway to stop and spend some time and money.

And just to throw in a random picture, below is the huge Tehachapi wind farm located just outside of town.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on. Did these thoughts stir any ideas of what could be done in your small town?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Stories: I Remember Sutherland by Rodney Fye Part 4

Part four of the reminiscences of Rodney W. Fye as recorded in the 1891 - 1991 Sutherland Centennial Book.

Sutherland never looked better in those days, for then there were trees everywhere, including great spreading trees that arched over Walnut Street to touch in the middle, creating an enormous shady bower that stretched from down straight north to the foot of the hill on which sat the “big tank” that provided the village’s water supply. There was a luxurious hedge of spirea around the school yard forming a green wall bright with millions of delicate white blossom. Everywhere in town were lilac bushes, though they seemed most in evidence in May when their fragrant blossoms were formed into huge bouquets for classroom teachers’ desks, for church pulpits at baccalaureate services, for spring dances in the gymnasium, and for speakers’ podiums for graduation ceremonies.

In the 1930’2 – 1940’s there often were as many as two live-music dances in town at the same time. Sometimes the Mexicans had their own, a raucous blend of country western and Tijuana brass before anyone had heard of Herb Alpert. And there was small-town violence and some alcoholic macho fighting, sometimes with machetes red with blood, over girls or imagined insults so undefined as to be forgotten the next day.

Several busy grocery stores included Yaudes’, Wiig’s, Gordon’s, Cocker’s, Aden’s (successfully located in several different buildings). Drug stores included Arnold’s, Emery’s and later, Bowers’, where I earned pin money on hot summer nights fighting off June bugs and selling popcorn to movie goers next door (No, Louise, those black kernels were not always burnt corn).

Across the street from the old Post Office, there was also a jewelry store (with a big clock standing in front, worthy today to grace the plaza of some big-city urban shopping mall), later replaced by a meat market at the same location. Across the street from the library, with its odors of musty books promising hours of escape and fantasy, there was also a funeral parlor with a western frontier-style front right out of a Gene Autry movie. There were also several restaurants including Jones’ CafĂ©, which quickly became the best place to eat in miles, and there were several auto repair shops, including Dringman’s.

The old opera house next to the power plant had been abandoned for several years by the time I reached high school, but I was fascinated with it and the possibilities of restoring it. I think if anyone with the money and interest in financing the project had offered me the opportunity to work on the restoration, I would have done so for free. It is not surprising therefore that I have so enjoyed investing in and restoring old properties. I will always wish my first project could’ve been the dilapidated old opera house in Sutherland.
When I was a child, one favorite recreation for the growing Fye family and many others was making the walk on foot from Sutherland to the South River on late summer afternoons for picnics in the woods at the foot of the south bluffs. Grandma and Grandpa, often with all nine of their married children, their spouses, and all their descendants would move as a flock with about as much noise, out to the south road and over the bridge. There was seldom any planning or formality to these picnics. They were happenings more than anything else. They just seemed to occur simply because they were so enjoyable. They couldn’t possibly be avoided where they deserved repeating as often as good weather allowed. The food was always excellent (all the women in the family were superior cooks). The good humor and hearty laughter was such a permanent fixture of such get-togethers in one form or another still continues to this day among surviving cousins to the third and fourth generation, since older family members are all gone now.

Christmas and the Fourth of July were more formal gatherings, regular excuses for family celebrations that drew far-away relatives home to Sutherland for the incomparable feasting, the good-natured humor and the hilarity we have all enjoyed so much of our lives.

Twenty years ago, one of my friends from New York stopped off in Sutherland to meet my family and to continue with us by car to California. He said, “I just can’t understand it, how you all have so much fun in each other’s company. Look at your Aunt Blanche (the late Mrs. Elza Burcham) and your Aunt Mabel (Mrs. Vern Coker). They have already spent the whole day together shopping and now they are in the kitchen working and visiting and acting like they haven’t seen each other for years, and you know they spend each day the same way. Do you realize that I have a sister I haven’t spoken to in a lifetime and have little interest in doing so? In fact, I hardly knew my own parents, since I grew up in boarding schools and they died young. I truthfully don’t even know if I have aunts and uncles. I’ve really only ever met but one of my cousins. I wonder if you realize the value of your heritage.” That was when I realized how special was that heritage from Sutherland and from my family. In the Sutherland of my childhood, there was a closeness and concern and love for each other in the family and in the town. When I was growing up, I had not only taken for granted that interest and concern, but I had even often mistaken it for nosy, intrusive gossip.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Stories: I Remember Sutherland by Rodney Fye Part 3

Part three of the reminiscences of Rodney W. Fye as recorded in the 1881 - 1981 Sutherland Centennial Book.

My wage was $20 a month. When Waldo Warren got me, he also got The Log, the local high school paper, of which I was the editor, and he was thus guaranteed a weekly supply of school news, to which he devoted an entire page each week. I was given complete freedom over style and the content of that page I was responsible for weekly. When I left his employ after a year, he said, “If I were you, I’d forget about ever being a printer. You don’t really have the aptitude for that end of it. You’ll do much better if you concentrate on the editorial and writing part of publishing and stay away from the ink and presses.” I think I had just allowed the giant presses to chew up several yard of newsprint. Whenever that happened, hundreds of stamp-sized pieces of paper had to be picked off the drum and out of the ink which had the consistency of molasses.

My job at the Courier transformed me from a rebel without a cause into a responsible teenager with one. Whereas my overactive mind and energy had been devot3ed to thinking up ways to punish and thwart the school authorities for what I thought was their authoritarian lack of attention to our social needs, I now had the “considerable, I thought) responsibility of producing weekly something of value for the community, for which I was earning approval, praise, and encouragement, commodities which, with but a couple of exceptions, I’d found in short supply in my relationship with school administrators.

I got encouragement from Beth Sarrah (Mrs. Marvin McNeel) to get a college education and pursue a writing career, but she was an exception among my teachers. Some had already written me off as a failure in school and were willing to wager on lack of success in life. I’ve been a teacher (Subject: English to the brightest 40 students at the best high school in Utah). I know now that I was a problem student at Sutherland and I would be classified as a juvenile delinquent today in any high school I’ve ever taught. I have to admit that in my approximately ten years of teaching young adults, I’ve never taught a student as challenging as I must have been. I was even expelled from high school in one awful, terrifying moment. The words still thunder in my ears: “You have been an organizer and a disruptive influence. We do not want or need your kind in our school. You are expelled and you are not welcome to ever come back.”

I know now I probably deserved to be expelled for a lot of reasons, but not for the reasons I was given. If only I’d had a Bill Fulcher to challenge me and show me how to afford a college education, I might have been so busy preparing for college I knew was possible that I think I would not have had time to be a problem to anyone. But best of all, I would not have had to struggle so hard the next fifteen years to get a college education. I was so convinced after my high school experience I was without academic ability that it came as a tremendous shock at 35 years of age to discover that not only could I handle regular college work, I could even go to graduate school.
I became the first in my mother’s family in 100 years to get a college education and only the second in my father’s family to earn an advanced degree. A college education was an expensive luxury people of our class did not expect to attain. Class consciousness in Sutherland? (Yes, in my growing up years, Sutherland possessed a class consciousness that exceeded anything that exists in sophisticated San Francisco).

My parents had such complete and unquestioning confidence in the school system that any punishment I ever received in school was doubled on my arrival home. And to make sure, my mother seemed to have spies everywhere in the faculty who made sure the news of my misbehavior preceded my arrival at the dinner table. On the day I was expelled, my Grandfather Combs was so disgraced, he refused to speak to me or even acknowledge my presence in the room for the shame I’d brought on the family for being “an organizer and a disruptive influence.” He was a law-and-order man who once threatened to whip me good when he heard I’d attended a dance without paying the 50 cents admission. “No grandson of mine will ever fail to pay his own way…” etc.

My mother was beside herself on the day of my expulsion, filled with as much shame as if I’d been excommunicated from the whole educational process for all eternity, which I in fact had been. There was nowhere to finish school if not Sutherland; although for a week until I was invited back to school I was secretly making plans to relocate to Hershey and graduate there under an alias. In short, I was well served by every experience in my home town except school. As a former educator myself I know things for me could have been / should have been better. I am truly sorry for my teachers, especially for those whose lives I may have shortened, that I wasn’t more cooperative. I’m gratified to see the conditions are better for today’s SHS student than they were for me in 1946. I have good reasons to support the alumni fund as generously as I am able if it will save just one student from the agony I experienced trying to overcome unnecessary obstacles in getting a college education.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Creative Energy Solutions - Right for Nebraska?

I'm spending the next month in the Antelope Valley of California, anxiously awaiting the birth of my granddaughter. Since sitting at home staring at my daughter trying to detect signs of labor isn't our idea of a good time, we have been out exploring.

Lancaster/Palmdale is in the high desert north and east of LA. Local leadership, whether in community administration or in the business community is serious about capitalizing on renewable resources to power their town.

There are small wind generators on the light poles in the Sams Club parking lot. According to what I can find out, these 17 wind turbines are expected to generate 76,000 kWh annually, enough to power approximately 6 homes. There has been so much controversy lately over Nebraska wind energy and the dismal record we have of capitalizing on this renewable resource, small projects like this might be a way for us to move forward.

Wind energy doesn't have to mean huge wind farms like these that are seen on the largest wind farm in California in the mountains north and east of Lancaster. These look almost like they sprouted from the mountains, but would be much more disruptive on this scale in the beautiful Nebraska Sandhills (not to say that the stark mountains here aren't beautiful).

According to the Nebraska Energy Office, Nebraska ranks 4th in the nation in reliable wind - I think we can all attest to that. Historically, using the wind to generate power is nothing new for Nebraska. Wind generators were not uncommon before rural electrification. While Nebraska may not have quite as many days of Sunshine as Lancaster, CA. We do average nearly 70% sunny days. Perhaps we could also follow the lead of Lancaster mayor Rex Parris in his goal of "being... the first city that produces more electricity from solar energy than we consume on a daily basis." To that end, local businesses and government facilities erect sun shades to protect cars in parking lots, and those sun shades double as solar panels. Win win situation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'Atta Boys and Aw Shucks

I am coming to embrace my inner crankiness. Here is evidence.

Grand Island Masonic Temple
Congratulations to our friends in Grand Island who have recently announced the renovation of an historic Masonic Temple in their downtown into a $12 million luxury hotel. I am so happy for their community and am looking forward to seeing the incredible transformation this will mean for their downtown. Kudos to the energetic and far sighted leadership in Grand Island for making this project happen.

Contrast that with North Platte. In 1974 our community awoke on a Sunday morning to rubble where the beautiful historic Union Pacific depot once proudly stood. The walls that for five years had sheltered more than six million of America's finest troops on their way to the front lines of World War II had been demolished in the blink of an eye. Fingers are still being pointed at Union Pacific Railroad and our community leadership at that time with both saying the other is to blame. 

Hardly a day goes by when I'm telling the story of the North Platte Canteen that I don't hear the comment "It's such a tragedy that the depot was torn down." I concur.

Next came the 1930's building at North Platte High School. Years of
deferred maintenance had turned it into a sorry and dilapidated structure, yet still beautiful and stately. With the school needing to expand, alternatives to demolition were actively being sought. A strong plan was put the voters by the North Platte Public Library which would have involved a bond issue for total renovation. Despite community outcry over North Platte's propensity to dispose of our structural heritage, it was soundly defeated by the voters and the beautiful building is no more.

Recently we heard of the plans for the St. Patrick's Parish of the Catholic Church to demolish the beautiful, historic McDaid building. And only a small murmur of outrage over the terrible gap in North Platte's cityscape this decision is going to mean. While I understand the Parish is under no obligations to involve the public in their private decisions, the right thing to do would have been to let the community know this was the direction they were moving and mobilize a task force to seek and fund alternatives. It is going to be a sad day when the wrecking ball claims another victim.

And that brings us to the endangered Pawnee Hotel building. If you have ever been in the Pawnee, you know of the beautiful art-deco architecture in the two-story atrium, the classic mezzanine, the previously elegant Crystal Ballroom, the fun of the Tom Tom Room and White Horse restaurants. We are kidding ourselves if we think this beautiful historic building is safe from the fate of the Depot, 1930's school building and the McDaid building. It is no secret that the current owners are financially strapped. When the decision is finally made to shutter the current use of the building, is there a plan in place to save it? Are alternatives being explored? Is funding quietly being sought? Is there any LEADERSHIP anywhere in North Platte stepping up to the plate?

Thankfully, there is one bright spot in the dismal skyline of downtown North Platte, and that is the 1913 Post Office currently being renovated into the Prairie Arts Center by Creativity Unlimited Arts Council. Thank God that these wonderful men and women had
the vision and the drive to make this happen. Having been involved with this energetic group for many of years, I can tell you that fundraising to save this building has not come easy. With all of the outcry over the loss of the Depot and the 1930's school building, one would think that donations would come pouring in to save this local landmark, but sadly, that isn't the case. However, this is a very determined group of people and they will get the job done.

So what's next, North Platte? What is the next loss of our architectural heritage we will wake up to? And where is the leadership to keep it from happening?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Stories: I Remember Sutherland by Rodney Fye Part 2

Part two of the reminiscences of Rodney W. Fye as written in the 1891-1991 Sutherland Centennial book.

Those were the days before small towns lost out to regional shopping centers, when Sutherland streets were filled with people every night, but especially on Saturday night. That was when farmers and ranchers came to town with their families to shop and to visit. Everyone’s favorite pastime, it seemed, was to drive downtown early enough to watch the passing parade of friends and neighbors.
From the advantage of our cars, shared with friends or relatives, we had an endless stream of topics passing before us we could discuss. Depending on who was with us, we likely heard a lengthy recitation of the genealogy and family connections of the subject who had caught our attention. With such rich background available to us, we were invariably able to draw conclusions and to make assumptions that either condemned or excused the person so caught in the focus of our gossip. It seemed no scandal, no mistake, nor no misbehavior went unnoticed or unpublished or, I might add, unremembered.
Those were the days that the great transcontinental Lincoln Highway 30 snaked through town past the north side of Grandma and Grandpa Fye’s property. I often stood on the north sidewalk with cousins in the late afternoon of a summer day. We would eat warm, ripe tomatoes from Grandma’s abundant garden and we would watch an endless stream of vehicles pass into the sunset. We imagined those places from whence the vehicles had come being far-off license plates and the places to which they were headed. The romance of the moment was overpowering as we contemplated the possibilities in the sunset filtering through the dust. Those were also the days the railroad’s steam engines were just beginning to be replaced by new diesel locomotives, still so new and novel that we would often race to the corner for this glimpse of the future. Travel posters fueled our dreams and pictures of happy couples on the platforms of observation cars always disappearing romantically into a golden sunset beyond mountains that had to be located in Wyoming, Idaho, California, or some other of the playgrounds of the rich and famous.
Best of all, Sutherland was right on the path of all this movement and excitement. I never thought of Sutherland as isolated. I saw Sutherland as an observer on the national scene, but hardly an important participant (except for the extraordinarily large number of servicemen in the town contributed to World War II, perhaps more per capita than any other town or city anywhere). At any rate, perhaps it was inevitable that I would become a newspaperman. When I was about fifteen, I had written an anonymous letter to The Sutherland Courier complaining that the school administration had refused to allow students to use the new gymnasium for parties for any purpose but athletic events. The reason the school gave us was that wartime shortages (including presumably teachers to chaperone such events) prevented such luxuries.

Months later when he was interviewing me to become a “printer’s devil” or his apprentice in the newspaper office, Waldo Warren, publisher of The Sutherland Courier, explained to me pointedly that “it is not the policy of The Sutherland Courier to ever publish anonymous letters.” Waldo left no doubt in my mind that so far as he was concerned the letter I’d written was not and never had been anonymous to him. I seem to recall that he had published my letter anyway, because he agreed with what I’d written, but he added a disclaimer and a warning about any more unsigned letters to his newspaper.

I was bored with school and became an unofficial party planner. If nothing else, I had plenty of ideas and was willing to share them with others anxious for a project, not always constructive. I had finished my four years of high school in three so I could get a head start on college. But I had not a penny for an education. I had never had any encouragement from teachers (except Beth Sarrah McNeel) to go on to college and consequently had no confidence I was even college material. If I were to be completely honest, my efforts to complete four years of high school in three was not so much to get an early start on college as simply to escape from the tyranny and boredom of high school one year sooner.
No one ever explained that grants and scholarships were sometimes available. If I had known there was financial help to go to college, I could have made everyone happy by getting on with it. As it was, I languished an extra year in high school, taking only one class and working full time at the Courier office, learning to set type, run the presses, and mail the paper.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I am becoming a crank

You all know a crank. Someone who is single minded and who thinks their opinion about a particular issue is the only one that's right. I recognize the symptoms. As a public servant, I've had to deal with them many times. Now, I know that I am one.

I have criticized the Lincoln County Department of Roads for their plans to tear down the historic North Platte River bridge north of Sutherland.

I have criticized the Village of Sutherland for tearing down a downtown building.

I have criticized the Village of Brule, Nebraska for tearing down a downtown building.

Now I have to turn my crankiness to the St. Patrick's Parish in North Platte for their plans to tear down the historic McDaid building and replace it with "six classrooms and a large meeting room."

The Parish Priest who helped to build the McDaid school once helped Father Flanigan found Boys Town in Omaha.
I also have to criticize our Nebraska Legislature for proposing a budget that eliminates funding for Nebraska's Main Street program - replacing the entire organization with a part time person within the Department of Economic Development who will also have other duties in addition to administering the Main Street program.

The Main Street Program has been hugely successful in helping Nebraska's small rural communities retain the historic integrity of their downtown districts, thereby improving the economic well being of their citizens - attracting entrepreneurs and visitors. What is wrong with us?

These old structures were built to last! Many are approaching 100 years, and with a little TLC could easily last 100 more, which is more than can be said for the cheap metal buildings they will be replaced with.

So yes, I know I'm a crank, but until the rest of Nebraska falls into step with preserving our built environment, you're all going to have to put up with it!

By Muriel Clark

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Sadly, we recently attended the funeral of a dear family friend, Don Arnold, a man who deservedly wore the title of "pillar of the community." It seems we have lost too many of these recently, and I wonder where the next generation of community builders will come from.

His son Dave, who I believe will one day be a force to be reckoned with in Nebraska politics, gave his eulogy. The poise and character of this articulate young man gives me hope for the future, as does the legacy his father left behind.

Our friend lived by three abiding principles: Work hard; Have faith; Serve others.

Dave left us with a challenge. After our time of mourning is over, let's honor Don's legacy by living our lives according to the principles Don lived by.

Wouldn't our communities be wonderful places if everyone did?

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday Stories: I Remember Sutherland by Rodney Fye Part 1

Excerpted from the 1891 - 1991 Sutherland Centennial Book.

Because it is so long, I almost overlooked this reminiscence in the Sutherland Centennial Book. I'm so glad I didn't, as it resonates on so many levels. As I said, it is VERY long, so please bear with me as I share it over several weeks.

The best search results I have found show Rodney Fye as an 84 year old, currently living in San Diego, California. That sounds about right for a 1946 graduate of Sutherland High School. My heartfelt thanks to his wonderful family who was/is so tight knit and who raised such an intelligent, articulate man, and of course, as always, to the team who curated the Sutherland Centennial Book to preserve these stories.

Part 1
It has been nearly 45 years since I decided I would probably never find my future in Sutherland. I left Sutherland that long ago to get my education and to find my place in the world. Since then, I have become increasingly appreciative not only of the first 20 years of my life in Sutherland but also of the small-town values I’ve carried with me from those early years.

As we get older, the earliest memories we have of the forces that shaped us become stronger and more vivid. I remember a Sutherland so long ago and so far away that I sometimes wonder if the Sutherland I have come to idealize ever really did exist at all. I hope so. But I suppose I need confirmation from others that the Sutherland I remember is not one that I’ve created in my imagination. There’s a reason that’s important: If the best parts of the Sutherland I remember really did exist, perhaps there’s hope we can recreate the best parts of our past for a better future.

I remember with nostalgia a Sutherland that was at its romantic best in the 1930’s struggling through the depression years. I remember a Sutherland that was at its patriotic best in the 1940’s when we were working together to win the war. In the 1930’s, we were poor together. In the 1940’2, we worshipped together, we danced together, and we cried together and grieved together as we buried our dead together. Then after the war, when life was still simple and we could keep most of the money we made, we began to prosper together.

My mother was a Mormon convert. She had us baptized into her faith. But it was too expensive and
 inconvenient to go to North Platte for Mormon Church services there, except on very special occasions. That’s why I was raised in the Methodist Church in Sutherland, because my mother had been a Methodist and she loved the old Methodist hymns. She claimed, however, that her brothers refused to take her to church because, to their great embarrassment, she would sing “Old Black Joe” when she didn’t know the words to the hymn. She probably perfected the art of singing the wrong words and the wrong notes at the same time.

I know now from experience in my own faith something of the effort and commitment that Sutherland congregation enjoyed from such wonderful members as Pansy Cox. She painstakingly taught us children to sing “Up on the Housetop” and other children’s songs almost before we could talk. Then she coaxed those songs back out of us at the annual Christmas programs and at other specials. Ray King was another dedicated member. He managed with such good humor to teach dozens and maybe hundreds of Sunday school lessons to generations of restless young men. I was too young then to appreciate the examples these good people were setting each Sunday for a whole generation of us simply by their faithfulness.

There were other such pillars of faith I remember clearly, though I was barely in grade school: Ray’s parents were in their pew every Sunday, and toward the front of the chapel in a pew along the east side, there regularly sat an elderly Mrs. Shoup, the mother of Wesley and Bert. She spoke with great precision and authority, and I was impressed more than she ever would have imagined. I seem to remember she had a cane and she wore a fox fur stole which gave her a regal and aristocratic air whenever she stood up to bear testimony of her faith in God and to thank Him for his many blessings to her. Perhaps my memory of Mrs. Shoup standing regularly in Methodist service was why Mormon testimony meetings did not seem at all strange when I was older and began attending my own church.
Later, in high school, because so many of my friends were also either Presbyterian or Catholic, I sampled those services too, and was influenced permanently and positively by the Presbyterian Sunday School classes taught so excellently by Lucille Shoup.

More to come.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Getting Tanked Nebraska Style

It seems all of the news these days out of Nebraska and the Great Plains is of the ongoing drought - or, in several cases, catastrophic flooding. However, most of the water in Nebraska is tame, picturesque and an absolute joy to experience.

Tanking is a tradition begun in the Nebraska Sandhills and carried on throughout the state on the many shallow and slow-flowing streams. In fact, did you know that Nebraska has more miles of streams than any other state? Just look at the map and see the ladder of rivers that flow from central and western Nebraska to empty into the Missouri.

Locally our Platte river offers only sporadic opportunities to drop a tank in and float, depending on the irrigation season and snowpack in the Rockies. However, as listed below, you'll find many, many outfitters specializing in water recreation of many kinds.
Here are some of my previous posts about our tanking experiences:

And I can't say as I blame people for their interest in tanking. It's a great way to spend time with friends and family, you get to see beautiful scenery,
And lots of wildlife. Some big...
Some small.

Of course, you know that we are fortunate enough to have access to a tank, a river that this year has had plenty of water in it, trailers and 4x4's to get us to the river. But you really don't need all of that. There are great outfitters throughout Nebraska that can get you on a river. Just this past week, we had the opportunity to go tanking with the Calamus Outfitters on the Calamus river near Burwell.
I'll be doing an entire post later on about what fun they have to offer, but even on a chilly overcast day, the tanking was wonderful.

Nebraska seems to be most known for the long, straight, flat drive along Interstate 80. I've tried to educate the world that this ain't necessarily so, and I'll continue to do so. However, at one time Nebraska was also known as The Great American Desert, and this ain't necessarily so either. Remember what I told you about our miles of rivers? Just look at this map that I got off of Look at all of the rivers that run nearly border to border, and of course there's the Missouri that forms the eastern boundary.
Another interesting statistic that I learned recently is that Nebraska is second only to Florida in the number of airboats operating on it's waters. Pretty cool, huh? I know of at least one outfitter, Bryson's airboats ,that offer airboat tours.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has compiled a list of all outfitters offering water adventures in Nebraska.
Nebraska River Outfitters & Rentals
State sections indicated on map inside. This list is compiled by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for the convenience of the outdoor enthusiasts. The Commission does not endorse any outfitter.

Oregon Trail Wagon Train
RR 2 Box 502
Bayard, NE 69334
North Platte River

North Shore Marina
Canoe Rental
Gremlin Cove
Harlan County Reservoir
70738 Lake View
Republican City, NE 68971
Republican River

UNL Campus Recreation
Canoe Rental
Outdoor Adventures
841 North 14th St.
Lincoln, NE 68588

Canfield’s Sporting Goods
Canoe & Kayak Rental
Rich Canfield
8457 W. Center Rd.
Omaha, NE 68124

UNO Campus Recreation
Canoe & Kayak Rental
Outdoor Venture Center
6001 Dodge St.
Omaha, NE 68182

Tanking Down the Elkhorn
Tanking Outfitter
Jill & Steve Evers
P.O. Box 45064
Omaha, NE 68145
Elkhorn River Tubing & Adventures Brock Beran - (402) 301-7482

Lakeside County Store & Grill
Canoe Rental
Fremont SRA
3120 State Lakes Rd.
Fremont, NE 68025

Missouri River Expeditions
1011 S. Hawthorne Ave.
Sioux Falls, SD 57105
Missouri River

Missouri River Tours
Marlin Roth
86990 – 564 Ave.
Randolph, NE 68771
Missouri River

Broken Arrow Wilderness
Douglas & Darla Russell
1025 N. 4th St.
Fullerton, NE 68638
Cedar and Loup Rivers

Glidden Canoe Rental
West Hwy. 2 Box 368
Mullen, NE 69152-0368
Dismal and Middle Loup Rivers

Trapper’s Creek Outdoors
Mary Hughes
RR 1 Box 64
Burwell, NE 68823 - 308-346-5024
North Loup and Calamus Rivers Allison Springs

Gary Hughes
82360 468th Ave.
Burwell, NE 68823
North Loup River

Calamus Outfitters LLC
83720 Valleyview Ave. Burwell, NE 68823 - 308-346-4697
Calamus River

Kamp Kaleo
46872 Willow Springs Rd.
Burwell, NE 68823
Loup River

Rock Barn Outfitters
Fred Egelhoff
Valentine, NE 69201

Little Outlaw Canoe & Tube
Rich Mercure
1005 E. Hwy. 20
Valentine, NE 69201

A & C Outfitters
Valentine, NE 69201
Brewer’s Canoers
Randy & Mary Mercure
433 E. Hwy. 20
Valentine, NE 69201

Dryland Aquatics, Inc.
Ed & Louise Heinert
HC 13 Box 33
Sparks, NE 69220

Graham Canoe Outfitters
HC 13 Box 16-A1
Valentine, NE 69201
Located at Hwy. 20 and 83

Rocky Ford Outfitters
Kerry & Lisa Krueger
P.O. Box 3
Valentine, NE 69201
402-376-1124 (Off Season)

Sharp’s Outfitters
Wayne Sharp
HC 13 Box 34A
Sparks, NE 69220

Sunny Brook Camp Outfitters
Steve Breuklander
HC 13 Box 36C
Sparks, NE 96220

Nola Moosman
310 W. Hwy. 20
Valentine, NE 69201

Heartland Elk Guest Ranch
P.O. Box 3
Valentine, NE 69201
Niobrara River Ranch
HC 13 Box 30A
Valentine, NE 69201
So what are you waiting for? Contact one of these outfitters, plan your trip to Nebraska, and get out on one of our great rivers!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.