Friday, June 22nd, 2012
Farming in the west in not easy. Daily I smell the dryness, the drought. During three weeks of walking there has been virtually no rain. “We are entering the critical period for rain”, the farmers were lamenting near Odessa. “Four consecutive days of draught during tussling and silk appearance could cause a 50% reduction in corn yield. Pollination time is critical for water”.
I begin to read up on the relationship between abundant water and a good corn crop. “High temperatures, high winds and low humidity are a combination which makes it hard for crops to keep up with their moisture demands. Wind above ten miles per hour increases air flow through the corn’s canopy and increase surface water evaporation”, the local newspaper explained.”Corn’s up above $6 a bushel. Soybeans are going for over $13. Can’t make no money if it won’t grow”, the farmer lamented.
At church we all prayed for rain.
Thursday, June 21st, 2012
It was a nice stake house really in Kearney, Nebraska. The table of three [two men and a woman] directly in front of me was boisterous. One man loudly, for the entire restaurant to hear, dominated the conversation. â€˜I have seen enough of Doctor Phil to know all about how people behave”, he shouted to his booth mates. I hung my head, trying to avoid eye contact, and control my frustration. After all after a long blistering hot day on the road all I wanted was a hot meal and a little peaceful AC.
As the loud mouth left the restaurant he stopped at my table and said in a tone with slightly less volume, “It’s hell getting old”. The female companion added, “He is limping badly. Can’t hardly walk anymore”
“Oh but I can walk”, I said silently to myself even though on this point I too wanted to be a loud mouth. I thanked God for my blessings and ordered another glass of wine.
Thursday, June 21st, 2012
It is fun roaming from town to town down a lonely, hot, rural highway. Each community has its unique flavor. Residents, usually numbering only in the hundreds, are fiercely proud of their town’s heritage and place in history. [This seems to be different from the older towns and villages in the northeast where folks seem vaguely aware of their community’s history but do not seem to spend a lot of energy contemplating the past]
Elk Creek, Nebraska, like many other little places here, sprang up around the railroad, when the train company decided to build a depot on this track of farm land. Settlers, business people, and every day folk set up their living quarters around the rail stop. Just like in the dime western novel there were clap board houses, a church, and shops and of course a salon. Many of the earliest arrivals found work on the railroad. They also brought fervent sentiments for their ancestor’s religious beliefs. In this town many of the early inhabitants were Irish Roman Catholic.
Just like in “Lonesome Prairie” the original cattle were driven here by daring drovers all the way from Texas. The cattle barons assumed they had a God given right to take over the land that had been hunted for centuries by local Native Americans. Settlers arrived in mass not much later. Since “the Great White Father” way back in Washington, D.C. had given each of them free land for farming they naturally assumed they had a God given right to farm the land, and fence out bothersome cattle. Add to this explosive mix ruffians, drifters, gun fighters, gamblers and con men, The resulting violence was inevitable!
But hold on Nebraska! You are not alone. Every state west of the Mississippi has the same heritage. And, save the cattle, every state in the lower 48 has a past much the same. Yes, this is what America was once like.
Thursday, June 21st, 2012
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“Seems my family has had a farm in Cozad for as long as anyone can remember. I guess my father’s family came from folks who were homesteaders. They came from back east seeking that free land. Now we mainly grow corn and alfalfa. Up the highway they have a processing plant which produces alfalfa pellets. The make good feed for the livestock”, Marylyn Bean informed me.
“Right next door is the Henri Museum. He was quite a famous artist. Actually his real name was Cozad, same as this town. Now Henri’s father founded this town. The ranchers in these parts didn’t think much of settlers so inevitably there was a lot of trouble. One night Mr. Cozad was attacked in his home as he fought for his life he killed the fell that started the fight. But old Cozad had to flee town anyway or the ranchers would have had him hanged. That was the last anyone ever heard of Cozad. His son changed his name, moved to New York and well now he’s famous”
This had been one of the most interesting lunch breaks during my three weeks on the road. I bid Mrs. Marylyn Bean farewell but she surely will not be forgotten.
Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
“These young fellows, expert horse riders by the way, galloped their near thoroughbred horses, sixty to one hundred miles a day â€“ just to insure the mail got through”. This is how n 1870’s Nebraska newspaper described the Pony Express Riders of the day.
The founders of this fast horse mail system understood the potential of being able to move mail and communications quickly across the rapidly developing range and farm land of Americas new west. What they didn’t foresee was the invention of the telegraph and the expansiveness of the railroad. Alas, the great Pony Express Company went belly-up but in just a few short years it became a symbol of the development of the American west.
As I walk by the refurnished Pony Express station in Lexington, Nebraska I close my eyes ever so briefly and see myself blazing across to lonesome prairie urging my mount to go even faster to help me ward off this oppressive heat. A Mercedes blows its horn startling me back into the twenty first century.
Tuesday, June 19th, 2012
Cozad and Gothenburg are atypically deceiving along Nebraska’s rural route number 30. Sure like every little berg in America there is a Main street. The town’s grid is neatly laid out. Numbered streets, and lettered avenues, just like in New York, are common. But when you journey just a few blocks east or west of that ubiquitous Main Street the character of these towns is more like suburbia. Neatly manicured midsized, ranch style homes line tree shaded streets. Look loser and you’ll find the parks, uniform curbs, paved driveways and front lawn swing sets. Along the highway dogs know better that to run after eighteen wheelers or one hundred thirty car freight trains. On these back streets though have your spray handy. Every dog had been taught that they own the block they live on and don’t gape too long at the sights, the colors and the home town folks or you are sure to trip on a mid block speed bump. Now continue n another five blocks and there you will be once again surrounded by cattle, horses, waving corn, and the aroma of fresh manure. Maybe this isn’t suburbia after all.
Monday, June 18th, 2012
The best ultimate fighting to me is in a cage, one shaped like a boxing ring but enclosed by a ten foot high chicken fence. Inside humans duke it out. There s no exiting until the task is done.
I am in my own UFC Championship. My ring is the long, virtually never ending, hot, dusty, often noisy sun drenched road. The chicken wire is the hot steel railroad track on one side of the road forcing me always back on to the road surface. My gage completes its confinement on the other side of the road by stringing along mile after mile of newly planted corn fields through which there is also no escape.
The only way out of my self imposed UFC cage is to keep moving along the road – unless of course I turn around and head home. No, then I would simply be a UFC wimp!
Sunday, June 17th, 2012
“We saw you working so hard with that thing”, the farmer dressed in well worn overalls, and sporting a shaggy white beard and wide belly, said to me. It is 6 AM in North Platte where I had indeed been working feverously to send greetings to my wife and daughters before starting the day’s adventure along the road once again. “Just saying hello to my family for Father’s day”, I replied. “I’m gonna avoid my kids”, the farmer laughed. Sadly, I thought he was serious.
Saturday, June 16th, 2012
Their uniforms are red. As a northeasterner it’s hard for me to determine if this color red is really the University of Nebraska color or could it also be the crimson red they celebrate at the University of Alabama.
I am in North Platte still a few hundred miles from Nebraska’s main college campus in Lincoln. Still cornhusker fever is everywhere. At the Cornhusker Bar football memorabilia fills every wall. Autographed photos, old once shiny helmets, banners, mugs and words of encouragement from former players let everyone vividly know that this is a place exclusively for Cornhusker football fans. As a father, who arrived on a motorcycle, let’s his son sneak a sip of cold beer, I am reminded once again of the importance of the distinctly American cultural phenomena we call College Football.
Friday, June 15th, 2012
Students staff the seasonal restaurants located in tiny one main street towns along Nebraska’s hot and dry Route 30. In Oshkosh, Cheyenne is living with her father for the summer. She talks to me of her dreams of becoming a dental technician. She is bright. I encourage her to also look into four year colleges. She responds favorably adding, “I know my Dad won’t help me with the costs. He’s just a truck driver”
In Ocallala Dan tells me he has just returned from Los Angelis where he was doing standup comedy. “Ran out of money”, he remarks. “So here I am back home waiting tables. I have only 46 hours more to get a degree at the University of Nebraska. But I have got to go back to L.A. too try that comedy. If I don’t make it maybe I’ll become a lawyer”