Sunday, June 14, 2009

Update from the road: Dorchester

Story and photo by Bruce Thorson

June 13, 2009, Dorchester, Neb: J.P. Barley (right), 53, has lived here for the last 20 years. After it rains he jumps on a tractor and pulls a metal grate across the town's dirt roads. "The road graders come through here and try to grad out the washboards when it's dry. You can't do it that way. You fill a pothole with dry dirt and the first time someone drives through it, poof, all the dirt in the hole flys out. You still have a pothole. Dry dirt don't compact," he said. "Wet dirt," he said with a laugh, "will compact." Barley has worked at a meat packing plant in Lincoln for the last 31 years. Barley was enjoying the late afternoon camaraderie with Jason Preslicka (left), 37, Matt Pracheil, 26 and Barley's son, L.J. Barley, 25. L.J. also works at the meat packing plant. Preslicka will start work there, too, this week. Preslicka was salvaging iron and scrap metal for the last couple of years but the economy has changed that. "Iron prices went to hell," he said. Preslicka pointed to piece of scrap iron there on the street corner where they were standing. "That piece right there is probably about a ton. A year ago that would get you $418. Today it's worth about $30. And that's the reason he's making a job change. "The cost of iron and metal is directly related to the price of gasoline and the car business, and both have gone down," he said. Preslicka, quick with a big, toothy, friendly grin, jumped in the rear seat of his friend's pickup truck, waved goodbye and drove off for Lincoln, his new hometown.

Story and photo by Bruce Thorson

June 13, 2009, Dorchester, Neb: Donna Parks, 47, is a licensed barber, been one for 26 years. She owns Donna's Hair Creations and says business is doing better than last year.

Story and photo by Patrick Breen

June 13, 2009, Dorchester, Neb: Kohl Tyser, 7, runs alongside the Grocery store in Dorchester, Neb. Born and raised in Dochester, Tyser said he like the town and had tons of friends to play with.

Our first day back on the road and I was feeling oddly uneasy. The quick drive from Lincoln to Dorchester was a relief though, and Clay, who is bringing his car, got us there surprisingly safely.

My first impression of Dorchester was the same as many small towns we have been through so far. A few business clustered around the paved main street, and then gravel roads the rest of the way around town.

I took a good half-an-hour just exploring the town. Literally walking from one end to the other. As the rocks grind and slip in-between my feet, I look onto porches and into garages for the people. I didn't notice much, but have found a very common theme walking through their bumpy streets. America.

I can't tell you definitively that small towns love America more than large cities, but if you took the ratio of American related lawn ornaments in small towns to cities, I bet it would be close to 2 to 1.

My favorite house was one a few back blocks from main street. The America flag looked new. As close to new as a flag can get, I guess. The lawn posted a sign reading "America" painted red, blue and white. The colors which America has adopted and raised. Standing a few yards away, and kind of staring creepily at me looks like either a pilgram or early patriot holding an American flag. The house had the customary four American flags hanging from different parts of their house and I assumed that on fourth of July, the house would add an "I love America" banner to its repertoire.

The people who lived there either weren't home or were strenuously trying to avoid having their picture taken. I cursed to myself, thinking about what a wonderful portrait it would have made for an old couple.

One of the things I have noticed when perusing these small towns and talking to their residents, is that the freedom this country provides is very important to them. Most know of someone close that is in or was in the military. They understand the sacrifice those people make.

In no way am I saying that cities like Lincoln don't appreciate its military, but I believe these small towns just have become more accustomed to members of their community joining the army to fight for America.

As these thoughts leave my mind, and my feet walk away from the patriotic house, I remember I am here to document not comment. I pull the camera strap a little tighter and take off back down the road looking for some more of these small-town Americans.

Story and photo by Clay Lomneth

June 14, 2009, Dorchester, Neb: They say nothing ever happens in small towns. The "they" in that sentence includes everyone in Dorechester I talked to yesterday. We would ask them what goes on in Dorechester, what do people do here? Every one of them would look at us, cock their head to the side and repeat the question in disbelief. Some would even look around as if trying to spot the hidden cameras.

I beg to differ. Plenty goes on in small towns, plenty that we journalists are just itching to photograph. Plenty of things a lot of small-town residents are used to.

Something as simple as a child walking down main street in Dorechester could make a good image. That never happens in Lincoln or Omaha, you wouldn't see a seven-year-old taking a stroll down O or Dodge Streets.

A lot goes on in Dorechester if you know where to look. Lucky for us, a lot of the action was right in our backyard.

We're parked in back of a bar right now, the owner Rob was more than kind enough to let us use his electricity and property as home base.

Kyle, Pat and I had just about given up in Dorechester, as far as images went. We were about to just trust the people in the town when they said "Nothing happens here."

Kyle and I decided to go explore again, and we walked outside, cameras in hand. Kyle was munching on an apple, and he threw it absentmindedly toward the basketball court when he finished. When he looked back to see where it landed, he noticed a group of kids hanging out near a van.

"I almost hit them," Kyle laughed.

We went over to see what they were up to. Crowded around a van, they were also trying to figure out what was going on in Dorechester that night. There was talk about a beer pong tournament going on in a house on Main Street, and we were informed we missed a hundred-foot long Slip 'n' Slide a while back.

So what was going on tonight? One of the teens, Simon, broke out some golf clubs he had bought at a thrift store for 3 bucks. He began hitting drives over the basketball court, chuckling at what he might have hit when the ball landed.

That died down, and a pick-up game of basketball begun. The first game ended fine (minus an argument or two about flagrant fouls). Then they decided to make things interesting, putting some money on the table. After two games, even that got old. "Lost 11 [freaking] dollars to those [hooligans]," one player grumbled. (Note: some words in that sentence were changed in order to publish this.)

Kyle and I spent a little bit more time with them, and when it looked like the night was just wrapping up, we said goodnight. "We'll let you know if we decide to do anything stupid," Simon called after us.

Story and photo by Kyle Bruggeman

June 14th, 2009, Dorchester, Neb: Many people talk about the 'American Dream.' They talk about what it means to them and how they plan to go about getting it. For Dorchester resident Nancy Wilson and her son Levi it's all about family (pictured above). For husband and father Jon Wilson, 31, that dream means being a provider for his children and to follow "the path that God has set" for him.

Wilson has lived in a small community all his life. He has seen an influx of Latino people that come to Nebraska for work in factories. He calls America a "pot of stew" where everyone comes for a dream and opportunity. And that everyone has the right to be happy.

Wilson is originally from Hiawatha Kansas. after being promoted in his job at Schwan's Food Delivery Wilson moved to Dorchester five months ago. Wilson has seen an increase in his business. Which he says might be because "people don't want to spend money on gas to get their food." Whatever the case may be, it has allowed him and his family to live a little more comfortably in a time when other families are not.


  1. Great work as always! Clay, everything is working in your picture. Perfect. Any off camera lighting on the drinker/car?

  2. You are welcome in Dorchester anytime!