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)

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