Sunday, August 11, 2013
SMALL TOWNS IN OUT-OF-THE-WAY PLACES: HISTORY, ROMANCE AND MYSTERY
impressions of a trip through our northern plains
…fifth in a series…
Pretty much every aspect of riding on the rural open road is compelling.
Whether it is a far-off vista, or a set of exhilarating turns, or the aroma of freshly mown hay, or the view from whatever you’ve found yourself summiting.
Among those pleasures are the secrets hidden in the small towns most of us either fly over or fly through. From the air, they may not show up or they may look only like crossroads.
From the ground, though, they must be the repositories of stories – little histories – untold, unique and critical to somebody at some time, I’m sure.
Little towns are places where we can get a glimpse of life before the digital revolution made things happen so fast. Times past when we gathered for entertainment, rather than downloaded it…
Times when we didn’t need to accumulate much stuff in order to have enough stuff…
Times when all the news we needed to know we received with a cup of coffee and a plate of scrambled eggs.
In the northern plains, places harken back to days of physical labor and poor pay...
...and success being dictated the range fire that didn’t happen or the river that didn’t overflow.
And when the crop came in, the market dictated what the farmer might receive...
...irrespective of how many early mornings, stillborn calves or working Sundays before goin’ to meetin’ the old boy invested.
An outpost in the hinterlands might be “town” until one could cobble together the time to really go somewhere to trade…
…loading up the buckboard and hitching it to plough horses, or fire up the Dodge or the Diamond Reo, laden with whatever came from the garden…
…perhaps boarding in town for a night or two…
…spending an idle moment wandering about and wondering a bit...
...what it might be like to live here and not work the hands quite so much.
Remnants remain with their stories. Adjacent to this Quonset post – the whole town is façaded Quonsets except for the abandoned church –
- is a trading post in that church clerked by a woman who works winters as an instructional aide for special needs students.
Her autistic son, she told us, gave her all the experience she might need to be qualified for the job. Her husband had died in a traffic collision some eighteen years back and she hadn’t the wherewithal or desire to move back to “the city.” So she clerks in the summer and works the school the rest of the year, unless the snow makes the road impassable.
The recent drought has dried up the land, and with it, one of the final vestiges of this part of the plains: the cattle industry. Trucking in feed is just too costly. And water? Way too much one year
and then none for three. Even with 21st century technology, success rests with someone or something else’s whim.
Still, every fifty to eighty miles, there has to be a Sinclair station where you can fill up and maybe take some extra home in a drum. These little bergs support community parks that invite a softball game or a mid-afternoon nap on the lawn.
And they find a space to preserve some element that defines who or what they once were.
Some dress up the old brick bank turning it over to a non-profit who’ll run a museum or refurbish the narrow gauge. And hope for the tourist trade.
Others maintain the 120-year-old outpost geographically positioned right where the hungry traveler will pass and, maybe pause, mid-morning to late afternoon.
Other businesses fail because that’s the order of things with change.
Still, it is fascinating to reflect for a moment – maybe visiting with a local – and gain and impression of how things might have been sixty or eighty years ago.
Because in many places on the northern plains...
...sixty or eighty years back is now.
Church of the Open Road Press