Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blue Hill, Nebraska

Last year, on our way out of Red Cloud, north to Hastings on the 281, where we spent the night, we passed a town called Blue Hill, notable for its name in as much as we had just left Red Cloud.  In an uncharacteristically unNebraskan manner, they called attention to themselves with a fifty foot high sign on the side of the highway...This is not a great photo, but neither is the sign.  What were they thinking?

Didn't spend much time there and don't remember much about it, but did take these nice pictures of the main street and the railroad station.

Need to get back next time around to see what the town was like.  Somewhere on the 281 between Red Cloud and Blue Hill was the Green Acres Motel.  A very colorful area indeed.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Red Cloud Redux or rather, re-do...

Back on Highway 136 , the road that runs along the southern edge of the Sandhills a few miles north of the border with Kansas.  This photo of the 136 driving east from Red Cloud to Ruskin is so good it looks photoshopped, but it is not!!!

 Ever since our chance encounter with Willa Cather's great nephew George, at the state capitol during our last visit to Nebraska (see blog posting, Red Cloud, 9/26/11), we have developed a certain affinity for Red Cloud and the Cather Family in general.  Like General McArthur, I pledged to return to work on that last Red Cloud blog entry which I found woefully lacking, but then again I feel that way about most of them, but here I am anyway, back in town a year older, no wiser, but hopefully a little more in touch with the Nebraska I am trying to find.

As luck would have it, the Cather Family home, which had been vacant and up for sale last year, was bought by the Society and turned into a bed and breakfast and we were able to spend the night in the very home that Willa grew up in from 1903 on and visited on her returns home over the years.

Inside are views  of the dining room, living room, and the Sweetwater suite the room we stayed in which was said to have been Willa's mother's room, refurnished.  In the upper right hand corner of the first photo is Willa, overseeing things.

Across the street from the house (Stewart Street) are the sad remains of the Baptist church where the Cather family first worshiped until they became Episcopalians in 1922, according to a recent society news letter.  In the most recent news letter highlighting the guest house, a photo of our Sweetwater room was on the cover.

This photo was taken last year.  According to the Cather  Society news letter the Episcopalian church is newly renovated and in wonderful shape and is being used by the society, but the Baptist church remains abandoned and in an increasing state of disrepair, but it is not out of sight given its central location, so hopefully the roof is in good repair and the society will find good use for it before it implodes.  

Got up early the next morning and hit the streets to make the most of what I could see was going to be another mainly overcast day.  This photograph of the State Bank Block seems to have been taken by just about everyone passing through Red Cloud, so why should I be any different, although it does seem more dramatic given the ominous backdrop which worked in my favor for a change, which is all you can hope for in such an oft taken picture...

Regarding unfinished business, last year I took a picture of the post office...

but neglected to go inside where I would have found 3 depression era murals painted as part of the New Deal WPA art project, if I had only known.  I was feeling badly about this, especially give my particular affinity for the USPS, and hoped to get back.   They were painted in 1941 by Arthur Musick, who went on to have a moderately successful career as an artist and teacher.  This is the largest of the 3 and the most accessable to photograph...

Lastly, last year I took a picture of an empty storefront that was reported to have been the place of business of Willa Cather's father after he gave up trying to be a farmer...

One year later it has now become an antique shop...

In conjunction with my earlier 9/26/11 Red Cloud posting,  I think that's an overview Red Cloud, more or less for now.  For more, check it out yourself, and while you are there, become a member of the Willa Cather Society.  Its not expensive and you will become part of something quite important, and very American.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Rural Electrification Project...

Leaving Maywood and heading north on the 83, there was not much to see, and I got thinking about the rural electrificaton program, which I tend to do a lot when we are out on the road in the midwest.  One of the prime movers behind this New Deal program was a Nebraska senator from McCook, George Norris, for whom the main street in McCook is named.  Building and generating the energy at the big dams was the hard part, but once this was done, it was just a matter of rounding up a few thousand unemployed kids from the depression stricken cities and transporting them west to stick a few million poles in the ground, string wire from one to the next, and bring electrical power to the vast expanses of rural American farms, ranches and little towns still living in the "dark ages" of kerosene lamps and wood fired stoves and largely and blissfully unaware of the world around them.

The idea was so perfect that it has barely changed a bit since its inception.  It remains little more than poles in the ground with millions of miles of wires strung from one to the next, bringing "light and joy" to all.  Standing in abandoned towns or looking down still unpaved roads leading to isolated farm houses,

it is interesting to try to conjure up images of what life was like not so long ago when people sat beside oil lamps in the evenings after a hard day of sod busting,  plowing or cutting hay, talking to each other, playing musical instruments, telling stories, or just sitting quietly smoking a pipe,  going to sleep early, and waking early, according to the natural rhythm of life on the farm.  Then came radio, electric lights, etc and the world began to take on an un-natural glow, and everything began to change.  I have always thought that the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the movie changed from the black and white of Kansas to the technicolor of Oz was a perfect metaphor for this transformation.   What a magical  experience to leave the tedium and isolation of farm life for a few hours, head into town and see a movie, buy shoes or a beer, and catch up with your neighbors.   For some first hand, eye opening, eye witness accounts of the rigors of the pre- electric/pre -mechanized life on the prairies, read Willa Cather... O Pioneers and My Antonia. 

Got me thinking about the irony of the computer age.  Here we are, using high technology so mind boggling complex that we really know nothing about it, that can do the most extraordinary things that we can't even comprehend, in mini micro seconds beyond our capacity to fathom, using computer chips as thin as a hair and as small as your pinky nail carrying tens of thousands of circuits that can do millions of calculations in an instant, and it is still being powered by some electric wires strung across some wooden poles dug into the ground by some kids from the city once upon a time, a technology that haven't changed in 80 years or more.


Monday, July 2, 2012

North on Highway 83 from McCook...

Spent the night in McCook, the "Go To City of Southwestern Nebraska".  Don't know what it means, or who makes these things up, but I suppose it makes sense to someone.

McCook is one of those moderately large sized towns that were once railroad hubs, were quite prosperous centers of commerce and community, and while they no longer serve the function for which they initially evolved , they are still well maintained and struggling for an identity and sense of purpose.  Just spent the morning, walked around and had coffee at Sehnert's Bakery which I had been looking forward to.  Just about everything there that was not bread was deep fried, but our travels through rural Nebraska would indicate that out there, this is considered good eatin'.  The main reason we look forward to our stays in McCook, is the great Sumatra coffee at Sehnert's.  Always pleasant surprise.

While I did mention below that I needed to take some pictures of the other side of the street some afternoon, next time around,  I did find this photo I took last year sitting under the tree at Snert's, as we like to call it, drinking a cup of sumatra.  As I imagined, the other side of the street looks about the same as this side.  That's our rented car in front there.

While this is not meant to be an exhaustive overview of McCook, the rest of the town does not vary much from the photos shown, so you get the idea.  Clean, and well maintained for the most part, like so many once important main streets, and in search of an identity now that the soul sucking box stores parked along the highways at the edge of town have stolen their reason for being.  The main street in McCook, Norris Avenue is paved in brick and gently slopes down to the railroad tracks.  These photos cover close to one block on the side of the street the sun was shining on.  The other side, which was shadowed, and not photogenic at the time, looked kind of the same.  Lots of empty storefronts,  lots of people trying to make a go of it.  Didn't know I would be doing a Highway 83 thing when we were in McCook, so I will try to get back,  next time as always, if there is one.