by Jeff Barnes
Some of the readers of this page already know this, but I give historical talks around Nebraska. Nebraska is a big state and I put a lot of miles on my car. Over the years, I’ve come to identify favorite highways as well as those that aren’t so favorite, and it was one of the latter that I had to travel yesterday.
It’s not that US 275 isn’t a pretty drive. It follows the Elkhorn River and crosses it several times in the valley. But it is a two-lane highway with lots of gradual bends and lots of semi traffic and senior traffic while passing through small towns. I admit to being a bit of a lead-foot – speeding tickets in more than a few states will attest to that – and I am constantly frustrated at being unable to pass. So, yesterday, I altered my planned three-hour drive to Atkinson, Nebraska, into a five-hour one.
That would seem counterintuitive – but, Lord, did I love the extra time. I take photos while traveling and usually of historical sites. A couple years ago I completed a project of photographing all 93 Nebraska courthouses (finished in two years) and now I’m working at snapping shots of all 500+ state historical markers. I had 18 mapped out for yesterday and while we call these “highway” markers, many of them are not roadside.
And that was fine. I took country roads to get to the sites of a former county poor farm and defunct towns. I took city streets to find markers in parks of current towns. I learned about an 1869 log cabin built by Czech immigrants that employed construction skills rare even in Europe. I saw old abandoned cemeteries, and saw the grave of an Indian girl who died on the Ponca “Trail of Tears” in 1877 who local citizens still care for. I learned about a 1910 bridge built for wagons that continues to bear motorized-vehicle traffic.
I also enjoyed the autumn beauty of Nebraska from the road and up close. This truly is the best time of year in my state, with the harvest of the crops and the spectrum of reds, oranges, and yellows with the changing of the leaves.
But just as much fun was finding the rust-colored tones… of rust. Along the road you frequently find American classics – sometimes cared for, sometimes presented for others to take over the care for, and sometimes… well, who cares? Sometimes you love ’em just like this.