Monday, May 19, 2014

A Morning Exploring Some Mysterious Grain Bins Found on Old Highway 83

For a road buff such as myself, figuring out where U.S. Highway 83 once traversed is a constant pursuit.
The federal highway system was created in 1926 — not really that long ago in the course of human history — but in many cases we have already collectively forgotten the original paths of these old routes.
That is not the case for the old alignment for Highway 83 from North Platte, Nebraska, south to the town of Maywood. It is well marked. An “Old Hwy 83” sign is at the corner of every quarter section on this gravel road.
I had the opportunity on a spring Saturday morning to explore Old Highway 83 for the first time. It was not hard to find. I headed east on East Sate Farm Road south of North Platte until arriving at Old Highway 83 a couple miles later.
Exploring this old stretch of highway is worth the time, if for no other reason than to stop at what is surely the most unique antique store on the 1,885 miles of U.S. 83 (old or new sections), which about four miles south.
Grain Bin Antique Town is worth the stop for those on the hunt for collectibles, or interested in our agricultural past.
Placed in a row overlooking a scenic valley are 15 Depression-era wooden grain bins, restored and repurposed to serve as small antique shops.
The octagon structures are still a bit of a mystery.
Owners Lori and Pat Clinch bought 14 of them from a farmer near Imperial, Nebraska.
It is thought that the government sent the easy-to-assemble kits to farmers so they could store grain in the countryside, but the Clinch’s and other researchers haven’t found much in the historical record to confirm that. The original owner had them since the late 1930s.
Pat is a builder, so after acquiring the first batch he installed larger doors and windows. The boardwalk along the bins came from recycled wood from an old school. Then they acquired a 15th bin from a farmer north of Stapleton, Nebraska, who had read about the Clinches in the local paper.
Most of these bins fell into disrepair over the years, and finding so many in good shape was a small miracle, Lori explains. Some were converted into tool sheds or served other purposes. The seller in Imperial had kept his in great shape.
“The oil from the grain protected the wood and gave it a natural beauty,” Lori explained.
A farm cat escorted me as I walked down the boardwalk. The bins are crammed with country antiques. I scored a quilted doll blanket for my daughter for $15.
I continued down the road south. The county had come by and plowed up the ditches, overturning the dirt and allowing me to walk along and hunt for old bottles.
One can imagine an archeologist 1,000 years in the future excavating the shoulders of these old roads, and making all sorts of assumptions about our society. Getting caught with an open container of alcohol was frowned upon, they could surmise. And others were just too lazy to dispose of our trash properly.
I find a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can recently unearthed by the county plow in remarkably good condition. It advertises the new “pull tabs. “No Opener Needed,” which makes it a circa 1963 can (the year I was born). I leave it there for that future archeologist to find.
It’s curvy. It’s loose gravel. It’s really not all that safe to drive at high speeds. In other words, it’s what traveling down 83 would have been like in its early days decades before it was paved from end to end.
Old Highway 83 dips and rises, with some sharp curves, and serves as a good reminder of what highways were like before they were paved, and straightened out. That, coupled with the drinking and driving, must have cost a few lives.
My father, who was from Stapleton, Nebraska, 30 miles north of North Platte, must have traveled this road many times on his way back and forth from McCook, where he attended the community college and played football.
The land here is flat enough for farming, although it is too early to see what are going in this year. I take pictures of wild turkeys and a beautiful ring-neck pheasant, who apparently knows that it’s not hunting season. He barely budges as I stop the car and begin shooting (with my camera, of course.) All these farms nearby and their loose grain, along with the shelter belts, makes the a pheasant-wild turkey paradise.
Drivers might get lost when arriving at East Echo School Road, don’t go straight. Go east one section to pick up Old Highway 83 again.
My trip ends with my car coming over a crest into the Medicine Creek Valley, where the town of Maywood is located.
Maywood, population, 261 at the last census, is equidistant from North Platte and McCook, and its quiet on a Saturday morning. Most businesses are located seven miles to the east in the town of Curtis, which is three times its size. Many of the residents here commute to one of those two cities.

Grain Bin Antique Town is open Wed.-Sat., 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check out its Facebook page at:

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, (available at A to Z Books in North Platte and Common Scents Greenhouses and Nursery in McCook) and winner of the 2009 Nebraska nonfiction book of the year: The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stop Nebraska Public Power From Destroying the Beauty of the Sand Hills on Hwy 83

Easter Sunday morning last month, I woke up in Stapleton, Nebraska, at 5:30 a.m. so I could get on the road going north early.
I knew I had one of the most beautiful drives in the state ahead of me. Indeed, the morning light bathed the one of Nebraska’s great secrets and treasures, the Sand Hills, in soft morning light as I drove up U.S. Highway 83.
Imagine something like this..
I had to stop about once every mile to take a picture of this unique landscape.
Just the night before one of my cousins had told me of the Nebraska Public Power District’s plan to plant giant power lines along this scenic highway. “Surely, that can’t be true,” I thought.
.... planted across the beautiful Dismal River...
... or strung along a landscape like this. Photos by Stew Magnuson
Unfortunately, it is. NPPD’s R-Project would install giant power line towers along the road. This is actually its “preferred” route. There are alternatives away from the highway.
Nebraskans, lovers of the prairie, fans of our nation’s scenic highways must unite to defeat this ill-conceived plan.
Many, sadly, don’t know what is at stake.
The proposed power line route hugs the highway so closely it is actually impossible to distinguish the two on the map NPPD provides. (Link to map here). The monsterous lines will be clearly visible from the road.
Along with scarring the natural beauty of the Sand Hills, the towers would mar one of the most beautiful river valleys in the state, the Dismal River.
I remember meeting a motorcyclist at the scenic overlook at the Dismal River in 2009.
“It’s not so dismal,” he told me.
The Dismal was named because early settlers found it so treacherous to cross. It has nothing to do with its natural beauty. In that regards, it is a total misnomer. If this plan goes forward, motorists will gaze down from the overlook and see steel towers carrying power lines.
The biker explained that he had ridden up Interstate 80 on his way to Colorado a half dozen times, but had never ventured north. He was amazed at what he had been missing.
So too will other travelers. There was once a U.S. Canada Highway 83 Association that encouraged motorists to take this Great Plains highway, and spend some of their dollars in the small towns along the way. The association is long gone, but the idea lives on. Other states such as Kansas are declaring some of their roads Scenic Byways, and heavily promoting them as a way to encourage motorists passing through to get off the Interstate and come see what its communities have to offer.
This is what Nebraska should be doing — not destroying the natural beauty of our prairie lands.
Highway 83 from the Kansas border south of McCook to the South Dakota north of Valentine should be declared a Scenic Byway and developed for tourism.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Nebraskans from both parties joined together to stop the Bureau of Land Reclamation from damming the Niobrara River. (Does anyone today regret fighting that fight?) A similar alliance helped steer the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline route out of the Sand Hills.
We can all come together again to defeat another bad idea.
Nebraskans, and anyone who travels this federal highway, must speak out to defeat a poorly thought out plan to string ugly power lines along one of the state’s most stunning landscapes.
Leave comments on the NPPD’s website (LINK HERE), speak out at the public hearings, write letters to lawmakers and authorities.
Stop the R-Project’s Preferred route through our beautiful Sand Hills.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, and winner of the 2009 Nebraska nonfiction book of the year: The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)