Monday, July 24, 2017

Highway 83 Town of Stapleton, Nebraska to Have its Day in the Sun

By Stew Magnuson
Photo: By Stew Magnuson
To say that Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 will be the biggest day in the history of the Highway 83 town of Stapleton, Nebraska, may be an understatement.
That will be the day when it will be one of the Top 10 best spots in the nation to see the Great American Solar Eclipse.
Estimates of the numbers of folks who will flock to this town of 299 souls range anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000, but the truth is, no one really knows how many to expect.
Stapleton is what I consider my second hometown. My father and uncle were raised there and I spent many summers and holidays visiting my grandparents, who were lifelong residents. The VFW Post is named after my cousin, Staff Sgt. Edwin L. Magnuson, who died fighting in Italy in World War II.
Its previous claim to fame was being profiled as a typical small town” in the Jan. 2, 1971 New Yorker, in an article title “A Peaceable Town.” I devoted a chapter to Stapleton in my book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83; Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma.
Now the spotlight will be on this quiet village again.
Town leaders have known about the eclipse for years, and at first were promoting it with banners on light poles and thinking up fund-raising opportunities. A local expert and eclipse fanatic was brought in to brief them on the type of crowds to expect. They moved the annual county fair and rodeo to the Saturday and Sunday prior to the eclipse as visitors from around the world were expected to come in advance (See schedule below). There will be TV crews from as far away as Poland there to report the event live.
The fairgrounds and local golf course will be charging a small fee to those who want a good spot to watch. Excitement for the prospects of Stapleton’s “day in the sun” is turning into apprehension. The eclipse has so far garnered little attention in national media, but the hype machine will soon be ramping up as the day grows closer.
Stapleton has one gas station/convenience store and one small co-op grocery store and one restaurant — no motels.
As my cousin recently told me, every inch of the town is spoken for when it comes to accommodations. I for one will be pitching a tent in a cousin’s yard the evening before. On any other night, I could show up unannounced and have a place to stay. Not on Aug. 20 though!
Those who plan on traveling to Stapleton should come with a full tank of gas, food, water and sunscreen to last the day. Make sure you have IPO certified glasses to view the eclipse.
Travelers should plan on getting there in plenty of time. One can envision traffic jams on Highway 83. Those who don’t make it in time will probably just pull over to watch, which might exacerbate the problem. 
I know the people of Stapleton have been working hard to for several years to accommodate the huge influx of visitors expected. But they can only do so much.
Visitors should come prepared. It would be great if they can spend a little money to help the town defray its costs — buy a t-shirt, a grilled hamburger, watch the eclipse from inside the fairgrounds, etc., but keep in mind that there are no Wal-Marts, Walgreens or 7-11s around. Those are 30 miles to the south in North Platte.
Respect private property and don’t trespass. Dispose of cigarette butts properly. It’s a dry country.
All that being said, it should be worth the trip and the advanced planning.
For many, this will serve as an introduction to traveling on beautiful Highway 83 in Nebraska and the alluring and stunning Sand Hills.
A total solar eclipse is said to be a near spiritual event and for most — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Experiencing it in the wide-open Sand Hills will be amazing.

Friday August 18

Noon - Craft Fair and Flea Market
7:30pm - Logan County Rodeo: $15/Adults, $5/Ages 6 - 11
Saturday August 19
7:30am - 5K Eclipse Run/Walk: $25/person
8:00am - 11:00am - Pork Breakfast at the Fairgrounds
10am - 6pm - Craft Fair and Flea Market
Entertainment throughout the day: For young and old alike, games and activities for kids
2pm - Parade in downtown Stapleton
Food Vendors - On site throughout the day
6pm - Mutton Bustin' and Chicken Scramble for kids ages 3-15 at the Fairgrounds
7:30pm - Logan County Rodeo: $15/Adults, $5/Ages 6-11
8:00pm - 1:00am - Street dance and beer garden in downtown Stapleton, $10/person
Sunday August 20
9am - non-denomination church service at the fairgrounds
10am - 5pm - Craft fair and flea market
Noon - Working Ranch Rodeo at the Fairgrounds: $3/person
Food Vendors - On site throughout the day
Sundown (approximately 8:30) - Eclipse Presentation by Derryl Barr
Monday August 21
Eclipse viewing at the Logan County Fairgrounds! $10/person, ages 5 and under free. Includes viewing glasses, water bottle and entry into the "After the Eclipse" Bash.
Craft fair and flea market, food vendors on site throughout the day.

Join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 Facebook page HERE.

Stew Magnuson is the author of the Highway 83 Chronicles, a series of three books about history and life found along U.S. Route 83. The final book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83 in Texas was released in March 2017 and follows The Last American Highway: The Dakotas, and The Last American Highway: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma, edition.
All three are available ONLINE or in bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83.
For signed copies or retail opportunities contact him HERE

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Costner, Brando and Tom Hanks: A Cinematic History of U.S. Highway 83

U.S. Highway 83 — cutting right down the middle of the nation and traveling 1,885 miles from the Canadian border all the way to Mexico — might seem as far away from Hollywood as it gets. The movie industry has come to Highway 83, though. Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks and Dianne Wiest — all Academy Award winning actors — are among those who have filmed movies in the communities or lands along the Last American Highway.
Here is a cinematic history of U.S. Route 83.

Dances With Wolves. The most honored movie to be filmed near Highway 83 is undoubtedly 1990’s Dances With Wolves, the first Western to win the Academy Award for best picture since 1931. One buffalo hunting scene as well as the Fort Sedgewick scenes were filmed at the Triple U Buffalo Ranch near the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.
Those were the days before computer generated imagery took over and the buffalo hunting scene was reportedly one of the hardest to pull off, according to a June 14, 2014 article in the Capital Journal, which looked back at the 25th anniversary of the film.
Several extras and experts in the Lakota language were recruited to work on the film from the Rosebud Reservation, which also sits on Highway 83.
Dances with Wolves introduced filmmakers to the beauty of prairies and blue skies that go as far as the eye can see,” the article said.

Casey Tibbs
Born to Buck. In 1967, rodeo superstar turned Hollywood actor and stuntman Casey Tibbs needed to move a herd of horses off a nearby Indian reservation. He hit on the idea to make a documentary about the trail drive. He wanted to show audiences raised on phony TV westerns the “real West,” while using the beautiful South Dakota prairie as a backdrop. Tibbs was well known in Hollywood (He dated actress Katherine Ross for two years), but couldn’t secure funding. Using his own money he hired a film crew to follow a trail drive, according to the biography Casey Tibbs: Born to Ride by Rusty Richards. He had his pal Henry Fonda provide the narration. Tibbs doubled for Fonda and appeared with him in the move The Rounders. The trail drive ended with a rodeo sequence in Fort Pierre. The independent film did quite well financially and is still available today on DVD. The Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its release this year. A documentary about Tibbs’ life, Floating Horses, is currently making the rounds at film festivals.
Independence Day. Don’t confuse this movie filmed in Anson, Texas, in 1983 with the 1996 alien invasion blockbuster. It is instead a little remembered gem from the 1980s with a cast of actors who would go on to great careers. Anson stands in for an Arizona town. The movie is a realistic study of small town life that avoids Hollywood stereotypes about those who choose to live their lives in such communities. Its characters ring true. Look quick for the Highway 83 sign in the opening credits. Several scenes were filmed on the road or along it. Anson’s charming town square is in several scenes and one of the main characters lives in an apartment overlooking the highway. Dianne Wiest would soon star in Hannah and Her Sisters, for which she won an Oscar. She was overlooked in this role as a battered housewife. For years, this movie was only available on VHS, but last year it was rereleased on DVD. Worth seeking out! 
Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando
Viva Zapata! Legendary filmmaker Elia Kazan knew he was up against the clock. He had the money to make a movie about the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, but had to get it done before the studio bosses changed their minds. This was 1952 and the McCarthy Era when movies about socialist revolutionaries were frowned upon, especially in Mexico, which wouldn’t let him film there. But he discovered Roma, Texas, where the historic 19th century buildings by the Rio Grande provided the perfect backdrop. He signed Marlon Brando to play the title character. Brando was little known to movie audiences, but during production the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire came out, and he would soon be a star. Co-star Anthony Quinn — playing Zapata’s brother — was the only major cast member who had Mexican roots.
The cast stayed in a hotel in Mission, Texas, and had to travel in an unconditioned station wagon to Roma on Highway 83 every day in full costume and makeup. The trip on 83 was even longer for two scenes filmed near another 83 town, San Ygnacio. Quinn would win a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance. Brando and screenwriter John Steinbeck were nominated.

Cast Away. Highway 83 was portrayed in the 2000 movie starring Tom Hanks. How did Highway 83 end up in a movie about a FedEx executive stranded in the middle of the Pacific? SPOILER ALERT! He gets off the island. (It’s a 17-year-old movie, don’t get mad at me!) At the end of the film he reaches a real and figurative crossroads in the Texas panhandle. The mystery woman he meets on a lonely stretch of highway identifies the road as 83 and says if he heads north, there’s a “whole lot of nothing.’” Obviously I disagree with that statement.
However, that’s not actually Highway 83. In the background, viewers can clearly see Texas Farm-to-Market signs, not federal Highway 83 signs. However, the scene was filmed in Hemphill County at the intersection of FMs 48 and 1268. Interestingly, the first book ever written about Highway 83 was by photographer Maarten Laupman and writer Rob Daniels from The Netherlands. They took that phrase and named their book, “A Whole Lot of Nothin.” Link to an article about the book HERE.

Some famous film actors who hail from towns along Highway 83 include: Matthew McConaughey and Dale Evans, both born in Uvalde, Texas. Singer/actor Kris Kristofferson was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas. He stars in a new movie, Hickok, about the famous gunslinger, which is out on July 7. And if you saw the recent animated movie Cars 3, you heard the voice of Cristela Alonzo portraying Cruz Ramirez. She is from a small town near Highway 83 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo.

Stew Magnuson is the author of the Highway 83 Chronicles, a series of three books about history and life found along U.S. Route 83. The final book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83 in Texas was released in March 2017 and follows The Last American Highway: The Dakotas, and The Last American Highway: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma, edition.
All three are available ONLINE or in bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83.
For signed copies or retail opportunities contact him HERE.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Life and Death on Highway 83

Roadside memorial on Highway 83, Seward County, Kansas
It’s not uncommon to be driving along Highway 83 and to spot a roadside memorial with plastic flowers — and perhaps a wreath — marking where a deadly accident took place.
Friends and families place these memorials at the last place on Earth where their loved ones were alive. In South Dakota, the state places permanent “Think” signs at these spots when driving while under the influence, or without a seatbelt, are involved.
On my travels, I have sometimes pulled over to take pictures of these memorials, shaken off the prairie dust, put that vases upright and wondered about what happened there.
While I love Highway 83, these roadside markers are a constant reminder that it is a place of heartbreak for some.
I have kicked around the idea for this column for eight years, but never gotten around to writing it. I decided that it was time. That’s because Highway 83 made national news the other week, and for all the wrong reasons. Thirteen people lost their lives when a truck slammed into a van driving home elderly members of a church in Texas’ Hill Country. It is alleged that the driver of the truck was texting at the time.
The week before, some poor soul on the road between Anson, Texas, and Abilene decided that life was no longer worth living. He got out of his car and walked into a semi in an apparent suicide.
Since I have the search terms “Highway 83” set on Google, I see all of these tragedies on this road in my news feed. There are sadly, too many to mention in this column.
As someone who has kept tabs on this over the years, I urge everyone to be especially careful on Highway 83 from Interstate 70 on south through Garden City and Liberal. Locals have been asking lawmakers in Topeka for years to improve this dangerous stretch of road. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. The number of 18-wheelers and cars on this hazardous stretch is growing and it’s a crying shame nothing has been done about it.
Hughes County, South Dakota
Highway 83 from Laredo south to where the expressway begins near Mission was also once notorious, but I was glad to see that improvements were being made to the road the last time I passed through in December 2015.
Making a road wider isn’t always a guarantee that it will be safer, though. I was in the emergency room at a hospital in Bismarck (for a non-life threatening case of poison ivy, not an accident). The ER nurse, after hearing about my project, told me that they saw a lot of car-wreck survivors from the four-lane section of Highway 83 that runs from Minot to Bismarck. That surprised me. The fact that drivers are allowed make left turns onto side roads was the culprit, she said. They go to make a turn and don’t see or misjudge oncoming traffic. They lucky ones make it to her.
Tragedy struck my extended family as well when a cousin driving under the influence of prescription painkillers on Highway 83 north of North Platte wrecked the car, killing her daughter and causing severe injury to her granddaughter.
Depressing. But Highway 83 is no different in these regards than any other road. Last year marked the highest death toll recorded on America’s roads in more than a decade with about 40,000 losing their lives in accidents. Overlooked are those who suffered serious injuries in car accidents: 4.6 million over the course of 12 months, according to the National Safety Council.
But I see other stories in my newsfeed. Some are more heartening.
The first was September 22, 2009, when Jennie Goodwin was rushing to the hospital in Minot with her birth coach behind the wheel, according to the Minot Daily News. Her daughter Mollie made her appearance on Highway 83. The official birth took place in the hospital parking lot.
A pregnant Sheila Nobles was traveling with family from Orange, Texas, to North Platte. Nebraska on December 2, 2010, but had the OK from her doctor to make the trip because her due date was still a ways off, according to the North Platte Telegraph. She started having abdominal cramps when they crossed the Nebraska border. By the time they reached Prairie Mart south of North Platte, the pain became unbearable and her mother pulled over. While in the restroom, Sheila became incapacitated. Her mother got the key from the store manager and entered in time to catch the baby falling out. She named the girl Isabella.
Lynda Oldenkamp approached me after I gave a presentation about Highway 83 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She was born on Highway 83 in 1948.
She later emailed me details of the story: “I was born in the back seat of an uncle’s car on December 20, 1948 on the way from Murdo to the Pierre hospital.  My folks’ car was broken down so they had planned to use my uncle’s car when it was time to get to the hospital in Pierre. 
“It was Saturday night when I decided to start the labor pains, and my dad had to go find my uncle who had gone out for the night with his car so that delayed their start to Pierre. They/we didn’t make it and had to stop about 18 miles south of Pierre on the older/original road for the delivery.”
And that is life and death on Highway 83.

Stew Magnuson is the author of the Highway 83 Chronicles, a series of three books about history and life found along U.S. Route 83. The final book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83 in Texas was released in March 2017 and follows The Last American Highway: The Dakotas, and The Last American Highway: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma, edition.
All three are available ONLINE or in bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83.
For signed copies or retail opportunities contact him HERE.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Highway 83 In Texas Book Now Available

U.S. Route 83 is like no other highway in Texas. It extends from its northernmost border at Oklahoma, passes through the ranchlands and oil patches of the Panhandle, hits a big speed bump in Hill Country, then follows the Rio Grande Valley all the way to Brownsville.
Award-winning author Stew Magnuson set out in 2009 to chronicle the past and present along this historically rich highway, traveling its length in May 2010 with the idea to publish a book about what he discovered. Like Highway 83 itself, it was a long road that took nearly eight years, but it ended on March 27 with the publication of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83 in Texas.
Magnuson calls The Last American Highway in Texas a hybrid history-travel book.
“Every town has a story to tell,” he says.
A massacre in Menard marked the beginning of the end for the Spanish Empire in America. Wellington is where the notorious criminals Bonnie and Clyde sent their car careening into the Red River. On a ranch just east of Brownsville, Ranger “Rip” Ford led the charge at the final battle of the Civil War.
Magnuson uncovers the stories of the famous, the infamous and the forgotten as he explores a road like no other in America.
The Last American Highway in Texas is available on and bookstores and gift shops along the highway.
Over the past eight years, Magnuson has carved out a place as the foremost expert on the fifth longest federal highway that runs 1,885 miles from the Canadian border to Mexico. He founded and administers the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page on Facebook, which now has more than 3,300 members. His website serves as a place for travel tips for those who want to explore the road. He writes the Highway 83 Chronicles blog about current events.
He successfully published two previous books about the road, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83:The Dakotas and; The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma. He has appeared on South Dakota Public Television and Nebraska Public Television, and done dozens of book talks and radio spots extolling the pleasures of traveling what was once called the Great Plains Highway.
Magnuson is also the author of The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska-Pine Ridge Border Towns. Published by Texas Tech University Press, it was named the 2009 Nebraska Nonfiction book of the year, a finalist for the Center of Great Plains Studies book of the year, and was recently named one of the Nebraska’s 150 most important literary works to mark the state’s sesquicentennial this year. He also penned Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding, a brief account of the Wounded Knee occupation.  
The Last American Highway in Texas is also sold at: Prairie Pages, Pierre, SD; PLains Trading Co., Valentine, NE;  Kimber's Convenience Store, Stapleton, NE; A to Z Books, North Platte, NE; Buffalo Bill Cultural Center, Oakley, KS; Keystone Gallery, Scott City, KS; El Quartelejo Museum, Scott City, KS; Finney County Historical Museum, Garden City, KS; Museum of the Plains, Perryton, Texas; Gageby Country Store, Canadian, Texas; Texas Star Trading, Abilene, Texas and Frontier Texas! in Abilene.
For signed copies or retail opportunities, Email Stew Magnuson HERE.