Saturday, September 29, 2012

Johnstown, Nebraska

So a little further along Highway 20, I had my second serendipitous encounter with Willa Cather, sort of.  Somewhere back in the blog archives you may remember the humorous little story of how we met up with Willa Cather's great nephew, George (it's just as well that I couldn't remember his last name or I would probably have been stalking him by now), who also lived in New York and who was the only other adult on our 3:00 tour of the capitol building in Lincoln, and about our dinner at Billy's and his Cather related stories, and how I left feeling somehow related and needing to make a pilgrimage to Red Cloud, which we have done more than once, and a lot more.  Your assignment, due next Monday, is to find that blog entry, and any others related to my Willa Cather/Red Cloud experiences, and anything else you might find on Wikipedia or wherever and write a 10 page essay that will bore all of us to death,  suck  the life and joy out of her literature and provide the perfect academic experience that will make you never want to hear her name again.  I jest, of course, but isn't that the job of a high school English teacher, to make you never want to read serious literature again.

So my second Cather encounter was in Johnstown, the town in which they filmed the CBS movie version of O' Pioneers.

As you can tell from the sign, the star has faded on this claim to fame, and the town has receded back into its former anonymity, although there are still signs of its former brush with fame.  Due to the vagaries and vicissitudes that define the circumstances provided to a photographer, I passed the town in the morning and was lucky enough to find the sun shining on the more interesting side of the street, of which this was all of it.

There was a bit more, but I wasn't there for it, but you get the idea.  Unfortunately, the only operating business other than the post office was a bar on the shaded side of the street that didn't look like part of a movie set.  But for closure, I do need to get back.  Interestingly, there no longer seemed to be any effort to capitalize on their fame in terms of tee shirt shops, etc.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Wood Lake, Nebraska

My welcome to Wood Lake was anything but warm or inviting.  As I turned off Highway 29 and onto Main Street, I was met by two older women in a Cadillac who started to follow me around , staring.  They left after a while, but returned for more of the same, and then there was the guy in the gray pick up truck who was uncharacteristically unfriendly for a Nebraskan and stopped to ask what I was up to. Just taking pictures I said, why he asked, because that's what I do I said.  He said ok and pulled off.  Other people stared too, but I went about my business otherwise unmolested, but unsettled, wondering why people would be so protective of this beat up old town that was mostly boarded up anyway.

What I found out talking to the postmaster in the post office which is the two story building to the right in the first photo, is that three nights ago, at about one in the morning, this hidden, peaceful little ghostly town, whose only operating business (that I could see) is the post office, was attacked by a band of vandals who drove through town, broke most of the windows, and then drove off.  You think of this kind of senseless violence happening elsewhere, but here in this almost non-existent place.  I'm sure that the residents were more than unsettled by this impossible occurrence, hence their vigilance when I entered town.

The postmaster told me that windows were broken in cars and stores in Valentine as well, 70 he said, and that all of this occurred on the last night of the county fair.  Drunks, he figured.  But we all get drunk now and then and don't do mean, senseless stuff like this, I said.  He just shrugged.

He told me the present post office building used to be the railroad administrative office for the area, when there was still a railroad.  When they left, the PO moved in and until recently the old postmaster lived upstairs.  No longer.

This is the old hotel.   The windows were broken here too, but not all boarded up.  The plate glass from the broken window to the left was exceptionally thick.  Had never seen such thick glass, and standing by the now exposed interior, I felt very cold air pushing out of the building, very cold.  It had no electricity, and the it had been quite warm, unseasonably hot even, during this summer of the drought, so why so cold?

These are pretty much all of the buildings on Main street in Wood Lake.  A small town that may never be the same now that such senseless violence has touched their community.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

Highway 20 east from Valentine, Nebraska...

Back on Highway 20, heading east toward the north east corner of Nebraska we haven't seen.  Below is one of my "stock" photos of Highway 20 that I'm sure you've seen before.  But if come up with anything better, and it ain't baroque, why fix it...

The day started out optimistically enough.  We were in the Daktoas and hadn't been thinking about the drought that has come down hard on the middle great plains.  Our trip down from the Dakotas offered no sense of the devastation ahead that we would find in Nebraska.  The corn, sunflowers and wheat up north were rampant...aggressively verdant;  full and green and ripe as you would expect for this time of the year, late summer.  The wheat was tall and gold and being harvested, the sunflowers explosive, and the corn tall and full as you would expect.  No drought there.  But just below the Dakota border however, the situation in Nebraska was different...drought of Biblical proportions,  beyond despair, beyond redemption, beyond belief for this late in the summer.  Here in "God's own cow country" from Cherry County east,  it was a nightmare...

it was late August and the corn was not as high as an elephant's eye.  It was withered and dead!!!

Sparse, stunted shoots that should be 5 or 6 feet high and full of corn... barren, abandoned, wilted...left for dead...

 just plain dead.   Millions of acres lost...Farmers already living on the edge, lost and hurting.  It is impossible for a few photos to begin to document the devastation but hopefully you get the idea...  This is late August and there is nothing but desolation as far as the eye can see.  No matter how much it rains there is no harvest...a tenuous future at best for our heartland.  They say it may be global warming and that this is the beginning of something bigger and ongoing.  Who knows, but...

God help the midwestern farmers!!!!!!!!

Traveling along Route 20 were these old telegraph poles, some empty, just like this, some with scraps of wire still hanging from them.  This is number 250 of maybe 500 or 1000 or more poles that ran along side of the railroad that is no longer there, but ran to the left of the poles.   There are still remnants of the railroad bed in various places to confirm its former existence.  There are still hundreds or thousands of these poles along the 20 and along other stretches where the different rail lines ran till the 1950's according to the locals, when they were ripped up to provide the rational for the necessity of the trucks that would be replacing them as a means of hauling the crops.  Short sighted and counterproductive as are most of the corporate/politically driven decisions that have laid the groundwork for our decline into a nation grappling for meaning and headed for eventual oblivion, just like the agricultural villages along the tracks that are now empty, irrelevant,  tumbled down reminders of what once was, when there was a reason for being.  If I am repeating myself regarding this issue, its because it can't be said enough.  One thing that puzzles me is why they never tore down the poles.  Their continued existence might cause people to ask questions.  Too many questions.  These need to be studied further.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Highway 83, Valentine, Nebraska

As planned, our Highway 83 amble ended in Valentine, Nebraska, just as it did last time, when we were heading north, up from the Kansas border but didn't know we were on the"83".  Only when we settled in for the night in Valentine and saw the Souder's Highway 83 publication did I realize where we had been.  Got some good pictures anyway, in spite of the fact that there were no expectation other than to breathe in the sweet, vast grass lands of the Sand Hills.  At the time, I also lamented that every time we were in Valentine I never seemed to be inspired to photograph anything.  This time, there was the agenda of punctuating the 83 thing, so we were on a mission.  Jackie got us off to a good start with this great take on Main Street.

                                                                     Photo by Jackie

Slept well after that mad dash through South Dakota, which I am now regretting (the mad dash part) as I look back on things, but we had only 10 days, and there was still the north east quadrant of Nebraska to cover, so as always, next time...  Woke up refreshed and ready to see what there was to see in Valentine before heading east for the day.  Jackie set the bar pretty high.

Two takes on the abandoned grain elevators at the end of town where the railroad used to run all along Route 20 until it was torn up in the 1950's so that the trucks being produced by the politically powerful auto industry could haul the grain in what is only now being understood as one of a thousand short sighted, corporately/politically driven decisions that had come to bite us in the ass.  In addition to gross inefficiency, it has turned almost all the towns built up along the railway sidings into ghost towns of abandoned, tumbled down buildings and rotting grain elevators, devoid of purpose, people and a future; Kilgore, Cody, Merriman, Gordon, all of them all the way across Norther Nebraska to Harrison.  As the county seat, Valentine has fared better, for the most part...

Except for the Valentine Motel which has not managed to do so well on that short stretch of highway south of the town where where the 83 and 20 converge for a mile or two before going their own ways.

As always, our stay in Valentine would have been diminished if not for our ritual Mexican meal at Milo and Max which was highlighted in a prior posting.  Food was still great.  Had the beans and rice and a cheese enchilada and Jackie had the evening special, a tostada that was big and good.  So big that she could eat only half.  The other half we had for lunch the next day, solar heated in the back window of our car somewhere around Bristow, Nebraska with a couple of bananas we had nicked from the motel buffet and some airline cheese that we stashed for future reference.  

Milo and Max with Jackie outside and ready to eat.

Tomorrow, Highway 20 east as far as the morning will take me, and then back to Valentine.  And they do take their name seriously...

if you haven't noticed by now...



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Highway 83 SouthDakota...

This is the last leg of our Highway 83 amble for the year.  While crossing into South Dakota we were met with the most interesting signs of welcome and warmth which we were not accustomed to in our travels.   You probably notice that these signs were shot facing north because the daytime light is in the southern hemisphere shining north, except in the morning before 10:30 or so, so you work with what you have.   Being that the sign was produced by South Dakota, other side (entering the state) provides a more elaborated exposition of the glories of South Dakota, but in the same understated manner, so you get the idea.  In looking at other people's images on the internet, I am often amazed at how many of the signs, buildings and other things they shoot are back lit,  poorly illuminated, and while the subject matter may be good, the photos are dull and don't pop off the screen.  I can't tell you how many photo ops I have missed for this reason or have taken anyway, but wouldn't bore you with them.

The connection and mutual appreciation of a people organically united in the cause of existence and mutual self reliance at the most primal level of interrealtedness that the prairies demand in order to survive is something that I know someone from the east could never begin to understand, so I won't try.  The rest of us are about fragmentation, self absorption , and increasingly uncivil discord, with a lost sense of common purpose and the loss of a unifying self, with ideology trumping common cause.  The beginning of the end.

At the intersection of North and South Dakota on the 83 which you can see in the right hand corner of the second photo if you click on it to enlarge it.

While reviewing my photos for this leg of the journey, I found that I didn't take many photos in South Dakota.  I was still traumatized by the ongoing invasion of the sunflower people...

and photo fatigue caused by the brain numbing sameness that the prairies induce.  I know there was a lot more to see, but we were tired, it was late, and we needing to get to Valentine, Nebraska before it was too late.  While we did stop at the few towns along the way, which were fewer and further between, Agar, SD was the only one we ended up spending any time in, probably because of the imposing grain elevators that greeted us.

There wasn't much of a cohesive town in terms of contiguous buildings at this point in the town's devolution, just a post office and a few interesting buildings, but no place to buy a quart of milk at 9 pm or have a beer with friends...

Looks exactly like the PO in Moffit, ND.  The post office dept. must have been sowing the seeds of their irrelevance by regressing to irrelevant buildings that would be no loss to someone someday.  Too bad.

As I said, the down town was fragmented and there was not much more to see.  But the sunflowers were a foreboding presence as always...

Obviously shot in the later afternoon because the sunflowers are all facing east and bowed in prayer...
Our last stop in South Dakota was to fill up at a Sinclair Station in Blunt, ND, and then a straight run to Valentine, Nebraska as evening descended...

I know there is a lot more to see in South Dakota, but we made the decision to stay close to Highway 83, I'm sure photo fatigue blinded me to all there was to see...As always, next time.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Highway 83 North Dakota heading south..

South of Minot, ND on Sunday morning, the first town we encountered was one that was dear to my heart in as much as it was my grandfather's name, and apparently the name of lots of new babies, having become cool again, or maybe there are just a lot of people out there who had grandfathers named Max.  I have a bunch of young cousins named Max and I joke with my daughter that if she was a boy, she would have been named Max (no joke actually).  She is thankful things worked out in her favor, name wise, anyway.  When I hear the name, all I can see is an old man who smoked cigars, played a mean game of pinochle, and was married to a woman named Gertie.

Moffit, ND is an interesting little unincorporated town along the way, with a population of a little over 100, none of whom I saw during the 20 minutes or so we spent on Main street which consisted of 5 or 6 houses, a post office, and a bar called The Bucket which seemed to have been out of business for some time.  No church, no store, nothing but the Bucket, the P.O., those 5 or 6 houses, and a barking dog.

This last photo was taken on Moffit Road looking out onto Highway 83 at a truck that had been dogging us for miles.  As I often say, "When I'm driving through the midwest, there frequently seem to be only 2 cars on the road, me, and the idiot right behind me trying to climb up my ass and refusing to pass me no matter how slow I go."  Its a long story about how I got this picture of the truck.

One thing you become aware of quite quickly traveling through the Dakotas is the sunflowers.  Miles and miles of sunflowers.  Never gave a lot of thought to where sunflower seeds/oil came from, but now I know.  I never thought of flowers as scary, clowns possibly, but flowers!!!  After a while, those armies of sunflowers became quite oppressive.  They are everywhere.  They all face east, worshiping the morning sun, bowed as if in prayer, but looking ominous, almost predatory, ready to spring and devour some unwitting admirer, moi perhaps...Armies...everywhere...ready to strike...really!!!  A fifth column along our northern border...we worry about those pesky Mexicans sneaking across our borders to pick our fruit and cut our grass, but maybe it is those polite, smiley faced Canadians who are secretly planting the seeds of our destruction.

Everyone has to be born somewhere I always say when we are surprised to stumble upon the birthplace of some American luminary.  John Wayne's birthplace in a pleasant middle class home in Winterset, Iowa was a shocker.  I always imagined he was born on a wagon train heading west during a stand off with the local indians.  So imagine my surprise to pass Lawrence (Ludvig) Welk's birthplace, right there in Strasburg, ND,  along the 83, particularly surprising because he always sounded like a recent immigrant.

Perhaps it was the trauma of growing up amidst this hostile jungle of predatory vegetation that led for an intense longing for the fatherland and and incomplete assimilation, although he did pretty well for himself anyway.  Strasburg was the last town along the 83 before the South Dakota Border.  The town was clean and well maintained and therefore not particularly interesting, and there was no visible evidence that they were presently making any effort to cash in on the Welk connection.  Strange.  The only building that interested me was a really sweet little post office, but it was totally back lit and try as I might,  I couldn't get even a passably mediocre picture.  Need to be there in the morning.  In fact the only thing I came away from the town of Strasburg with was this sign on the sunny side of the street, and maybe that was enough and the reason the fates brought me there...But its too late for me.  Hopefully some youngsters will come across my blog before its too late.

As you can see, this is hardly an exhaustive survey of this leg of the journey, but we did stop in almost all the towns along the way, which were few and far between, but time was short, and I did my best to see what there was to be seen, but only so much catches your eye after a while.  It all starts looking the same, so onward to South Dakota we go.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

South of the Border, Highway 83 to Bismarck...

Loved Canada, always love Canada, but always glad to be back, although it was touch and go after that roughing up we got at the border, re-entering fortress America.  Here's me wearing my Cornhusker cap documenting the re-entry experience and being documented, documenting...

                                                                                                   Photo by Jackie

Came over the border at the Port of Carievale (during our entire 40 minute travail, we were the only car to pass through)  and had take the State Highway 5 east...

to get back to the 83 heading south.  It was a long day, starting to get late and we were hungry so made tracks for Bismarck, ND where we had planned to spend the weekend.  Interestingly, Highway 83 passes right through Bismarck, the capitol of North Dakota, and in fact passes right in front of the capitol building...

                                                                                                  Photo by Jackie

a most unusual, utilitarian, almost soviet style building that at no time would ever be mistaken for the capitol, were it not for the sign up front.  It seems that the old, original building burned down, and they built this !!!  America is nothing, if not diverse and frequently surprising.  Too bad there are so many of our own people trying to destroy it.  If we could just stop looking for demons to make war against and spent time looking in the mirror and coming to terms with the demons within...

The weekend in Bismarck was a quiet one.  It is a sleepy little town really, barely a city in the usual sense, and since little if anything goes on on the weekends, almost nothing was open, leaving us floating aimlessly in search of a decent cup of coffee. The one bright spot was a bar/restaurant called The Toasted Frog on the corner of Broadway and 4th Street right in the middle of "downtown".

The atmosphere was busy, urban hip and totally incongruous to the rest of the town which seems frozen in the 1950's, abandoned in the 70's, still half empty of people and purpose, and seeming to have  given up any effort at relevancy beyond its governmental function.   The Frog turned out to be the bright spot in our stay, an anomaly that provided reason enough to make this our pitstop on the next  trek north.

The beer was cold and good, the crowd, young and hip, and the wood fired oven pizza was great.  Thin crispy crust, tasty, well seasoned sauce, and the right proportion of cheese more or less to the crust, resulting in a glop factor of 1.5 for me and zero for Jackie who likes a bit more cheese than me.  I always ask for the pizza to be well done, but didn't this time to see how it would be.  It was close, but needed another minute.  Jackie thought it was just fine, and she was probably right .  I am just too picky when it comes to pizza.  But it was a hell of a lot better than most of the stuff they are trying to pass off as pizza in NYC, so it is beginning to seem like I am having to go out to the mid west for a good pie...

                                                                       Toasted Frog photos by Jackie

It tasted as good as it looks and if you should ever find yourself in Bismarck, tired and hungry for something good to wash off the dust of the prairies, check out the Toasted Frog.  You'll thank us.  
The next morning, we were back on Highway 83, hoping to make it from Bismarck to Valentine, Nebraska by evening.  Unfortunately this was only a ten day trip, so there was not a lot of time to linger.

                                                                Pablo and Jackie