Friday, July 31, 2009
Story and photos by Bruce Thorson
July 30, 2009, Wayne County Fair, Wayne, Neb: Tractor pull. I'd never seen one of these events before. Theses souped-up tractors, of all makes and models, pull a weighted sled down a dirt drag strip and pull it more than 300 feet, in some cases.
Noisy? Yes, they are and the crowd loved every minute of it. I'm not a fan of racing, drag racing or tractor pulls, but it doesn't mean I can't enjoy it for what it is. The crowd there, the drivers and the pit crews are all very into what they do.
I had a good time and I might, at some point in the future, return again to a tractor pull to make more pictures.
Kelly Grone (left, front), Stuart Lubberstedt and Kelly's daughter, Kayla, and others in the crowd, covered their ears during the 5700 modified class event of the tractor pull. This tractor class is very loud.
Carol Conner went to get three funnell cakes. She came back with six and wasn't sure how that happened. Her son Mitchell is helping to carry a couple of the drinks.
Pit crews and other spectators watch the tractors during the pulling events.
There's a lot of smoke that belches out of these tractors while they pull the sled down the track.
Story and photos by Bruce Thorson
July 30, 2009, Missouri River, Santee Sioux Reservation, Neb: I first met Don LaPointe, Jr., when I arrived at the tribe's governmental offices. I went there to get permission to take photographs about the BIA workers checking the prairie grasses on the reservation.
After talking with him for a few minutes, I discovered he is the director of the Santee Parks and Wildlife department. One of his jobs is to go out on the river and fish. Wow, great job!
The next day, out on the river we went. His brother, Deon, came along. He, too, works for the agency.
As for the economy, Don noted that income for the tribe through hunting and fishing revenues are down. He said that started less than two years ago. With last summer's high fuel prices, it kept customers away. And now with the economy where it is, "Folks are just not showing up," he said.
Back out on the lake, Don noted that he also writes a fishing report. With no fish to put on the stringer, Don thought I must pretty bored, and then when the motor wouldn't start he thought my day was ruined.
I replied that I'm in a boat, on the water, the sun is shining and I'm taking pictures. That for me is a perfect day.
Don said, "Without any fish I guess my report will be pretty short."
Thank you Don and Deon. I had a great time and met two nice guys. Hope to see you again.
After pulling up anchor, the boat's motor wouldn't start. Fortunately Don had taken the boat upstream and Deon used the oar to steer the boat while the current powered the boat. Shortly, another boat of fishermen showed and up they towed us back to the dock.
Don gets the boat loaded on the trailer and he said he was taking it straight back to the mechanic who had just looked at it the night before. Of course, it ran great while in the shop.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
July 29, 2009, Santee Sioux Reservation, Neb: On a hilltop overlooking the Missouri River, Larry Thompson (left), 56, heads downhill to roll up the tape measure while Nathan Reece, 28, full-blood Ojibwea, and Luke Schneiders, 21, part Santee Sioux, identify the grasses growing on the Santee Sioux Reservation. All three work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and are working on a burn project that began in 2002. According to Thompson, "Fields need to be burned to help them be healthy."
He went on to say that with all the fire fighting efforts over the past few decades, the natural burning of the fields has stopped. As a result, the weeds and other plants are choking out the good grass. This project is designed to see if burning the fields will reverse the process and allow the good grass to flourish.
The tribe uses this land to graze more than a thousand head of cattle and about 40 head of buffalo.
July 29, 2009, Niobrara State Park, Neb: Getting up this morning at 6:30, this was my view from the trailer. The Mormon Canal is in the foreground, the Niobrara River just slightly visible in the upper center of the photo and the Missouri River (the river itself is not visible) is located all the way in the background beneath the ridge on the horizon.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
July 28, 2009, O'Neill, Neb: The Golden Hotel, opened in 1913, was a thriving business in the 1920s. The rooms were modern in its day, offering telephone service in the room, hot and cold water and some rooms had a private bath.
Christine Carman and her son, Jake, purchased the hotel three years ago this month. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I asked Christine what was so historic about the hotel. She said, "The rumor is that Al Capone stayed at the hotel." Chicago's most famous mobster had brothers that lived in the area, according to Christine.
"The mirror," she said, "was reportedly installed at Capone's request so he could look out his room and see who was coming up the stairs."
Another famous man moved to O'Neill. William Froelich, born in Stromsburg, moved into a home just two blocks north of the hotel. Froelich worked for the U.S. Attorney General's Office in Washington D.C. and took part in prosecuting Capone for tax evasion in 1931.
July 27, 2009, Bassett, Neb: When I first drove into Bassett, I couldn't help but notice the zebra house. The next day I went and knocked on the door. Kindra James is the owner of Here's Your Sign, and that's what it is, a sign business. She makes vinyl decals, business cards and offers embroidery. Most of her business is with truckers. They are required to have specific transportation and vin numbers on the door of their trucks. "The state has been cracking down on truckers in this area. So, my business is good right now," she said. I asked her where the affinity came for zebras. "I don't know for sure but I've always loved horses," she said.
Driving further down the Bassett main street, I couldn't resist this shot. There are two vehicles I wouldn't mind restoring. They are 1957 Chevrolets. My first car was one, a two-door convertible, three on the "tree" with overdrive and spinner hubcaps. I rebuilt the motor in it, my first-ever rebuild. It ran great and I successfully rebuilt another seven or eight motors, on various cars I owned. They all ran great, too.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Max Two Crow enjoys a view of Rushville atop an 86 foot high grain bin on July 17th, 2009.
Note: This image contains multiple photos placed together through Photoshop.
Photos and story by Kyle Bruggeman
July 19, 2009, Rushville, Neb: Farming is mostly a year long job, but never is it more exciting and more exhausting than during harvest. A time where all the hard work and dedication to the fields pays off by the truck loads.
Dennis Marcy, 48, knows the rewards of raising farm land, but for him it is easier to rent his land to other farmers to do the dirty work. Marcy can then spend his days freely and just wait for harvest to come around to collect a check. Last year he spent time in Russia while others looked after his land.
Most wheat and corn is hauled to a grain bin where it is sold and stored. Rushville's bin can hold grain by the tons. It is operated by a team of four people who test the grain for moisture, weigh the trucks load, and get the grain into the bins.
It is impossible to know when the farmer is going to arrive with his newly cut crop. Thus the bin crew is often waiting around. They kill that time by listening to the radio or by giving each other a hard time. Sometimes they go on top of the 86 foot high grain bin and look over the town.
Delayne Blacksmith scrapes out the few remaining wheat kernels from a late night drop off at the Rushville grain bin on July 18th, 2009.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Story and photos by Bruce Thorson
July 26, 2009, Taylor, Neb: Loup County is the poorest county in America, according to recent published statistics. There are 207 people, at the 2000 census, living in Taylor, Loup's one and only town. The county has a total population of 712.
Driving in the day before, I went up and down its residential streets, which took only a few minutes. I spied Taylor's Calvary United Methodist Church, worship at 9:30 in the morning.
That's where I decided to go Sunday morning. Once again, these dang Nebraskans: warm and friendly.
I even got two jars of wild plum jam. Too bad I don't eat bread. I'll figure something out.
The reverend is Bill Stovall. He had just been installed as reverend there a month earlier. He thought maybe that's why I showed up to take pictures.
When I mentioned to several attendees I was there because Loup is the poorest in the nation, I was given the best "the glass is half full" answers. They went on and on about how living in a small town you get to know everyone, how you can count on them for help, how friendly they all are and just how quiet and uncongested a small town is. One woman noted that with all that, if she died right now, she'd be the wealthiest person in the world.
It's all about perspective...
Rob Dockweiler (left) reads the scripture while his son, Tory, 5, snuggles his stuffed animal during the morning service.
July 23, 2009, Mullen, Neb: Mitch Glidden loves to get other people tanked. That's as in stock tank, and he uses them for people to float down the Middle Loupe River. Once again I met another friendly and outgoing Nebraskan. I asked him if he had anyone floating down the river in a tank and would it be OK to take pictures. He said, "Yes, you can do that."
Mitch owns the Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe Rentals. He bought the motel in 1993 after a windstorm wiped out his efforts at hog farming. He added the canoes in 1994 and the tanks came in 2003.
The economy has made the motel business somewhat spotty. Right now it's about two-thirds full during the week because the railroad has work crews staying there.
The number of people riding the tanks, however, has been increasing every year since he started them.
From May until about the end of September, his work day starts at 7 a.m. and ends when it's dark.
Tankers have to get flat in the tank as they pass beneath a steel bridge.
Story and photos by Clay Lomneth
July 24, 2009, Calamus Reservoir, Neb: I've always loved camping. Most of my life I have tent camped. So, having a travel trailer to live in is almost like having a motel room. It is very convenient to live this way. Not all of the places we've camped on this project have been the most stellar for views, but some have. Over the last couple of days I was at Calamus Reservoir. There's some great scenery here. I enjoy sitting, sitting and looking and taking in the day. I find it interesting that other people go to great expense and travel to get to a place like the Calamus. There's great stuff to look at here. And what do some of these folks do? They set up their Dish TV. I'm comfortable in the trailer but I wouldn't want to spend time in it watching television. With the exception of the times being in a restaurant or bar that has a television, I've not watched it since June 3 when I left Lincoln.
This is a great project!
July 20, 2009, Spade Ranch, Neb: Sometimes I don't have to go far to find an interesting image. Here's one that was literally right out the camper door. While camping at the Spade Ranch, I was right next to the chicken coop. Those birds really help keep the yard free of bugs. They even cleaned my car's bumper. It was covered with dead bugs and they went around in front and behind it to peck away at the bugs smashed there. There was even a live grasshopper on the bumper. As soon as it jumped down on the ground, it was a goner. A chicken was all over it, picked it up in its beak and down to the stomach in a matter of seconds.
July 21, 2009, Sandoz Ranch, Neb: Celia Barth, her maiden name is Sandoz, poses in front of the home of Jules and Mary Sandoz. Celia, the first grandchild for Jules, owns the ranch where Mari Sandoz, one of Nebraska's foremost writers, grew up. She died in 1966 and is buried on a hillside overlooking this valley.
I bumped into Celia as she and her husband were cutting the grass around the old homestead. Back then, she said Sundays were busy days here at the Sandoz Ranch. Cars would come down the road, over the hill directly across from the home. The road is gone now, but during those days there would be lots of people at the ranch. "We had parties, dances and rodeos here at the ranch," she said.
The home also housed a store and post office. As for the economy, Celia said, "People need to know the difference between earned money and credit. If people learned to live on earned money, which is the money you have on hand now, there wouldn't be the problems they have," she said.
She let me poke inside the home. It still has photos of the family members in a corner hutch and a lively photo of Mari from a happier time.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
July 20, 2009, Spade Ranch, Neb: Clay Bixby, 20, pilots his plane low over the Spade Ranch, formed in 1888 and one of Nebraska's oldest ranches, as his father, Brett, and brother, Mace, watch. Clay's mother, Colleen, thought it better to duck.
Nestled in the sandhills, the Spade offers grazing to horses and cattle.
Clay Bixby untangles the rope used for the dinner bell.
Clay Bixby drives a horse team pulling a steer so that Mace Bixby can practice his roping technique.
Chickens roam during the day eating the bugs and keeping those pests down.
July 18, 2009, Chadron, Neb: Auctioneers take bids for tools as the career of Bob Retzlaff comes to a close.
With almost every item in his shop gone, Bob Retzlaff and his wife Lois pause at the front door to his shop before departing for the last time. After 25 years in the agriculture repair business and a mechnic for over 40 years before that, Bob is venturing into retirement.
Lois Retzlaff kisses her son Verlin after the auction ended and all the tools and equipment had been sold.
Wayne Speer (left) and John Wentworth were sticking around the auction waiting for the toy tractors to go up for bids. Both got tired of waiting and left before the toys were sold off.
Boyd Hoffmeier carts off with his prize possessions from the auction.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Story and photos by Bruce Thorson
July 16, 2009, Crawford, Neb: It was a serendipitous moment in time. I met Jack Pelren as I was about to make a u-turn. We were looking for the local newspaper and I knew we had passed it. Before I started spinning the steering wheel to the left, I saw this man on the sidewalk in boots, blue jeans, with the cuffs rolled up, white T-shirt and a sky-blue cowboy hat.
Jack, 74, told us where the newspaper office was located. I gave him the quick version of our project. Kyle Bruggeman, one of the UNL students on the project, asked him about bumper sticker on his truck advertising the fiddle contest and did he play the fiddle. Jack said no but he could sing.
A moment later, Jack cleared his throat and sang a smooth rendition of an Eddy Arnold song. Then, he sang the same song in the manner of Ernest Tubbs. He was smooth, very smooth.
I asked him what he did for work and replied he has worked on Harley Davidson motorcycles just about all his life. I told him we were going to the newspaper and than I'd come see him see him a little later.
Leaving the newspaper office, I spotted Jack walking along the sidewalk. I asked him if he'd show me his machine shop where he works on the motorcycles. He was reluctant at first. "I need to clean it up first," he said. As a photographer, I hate it when people say they want to get their shop, home or office cleaned up before I can see it. I like seeing people and where they live, work and play as it really exists and not in the form of how they want it ready for pictures. That to me is fake.
Jack opened the screen door to his shop and I stepped in. The smell of cat urine hit me in the face like a cast iron skillet being swung by Barry Bonds for a home run.
He told me about the cats he has. "I take care of about 30 cats," he said. "The cops in town have been rounding them up. Then, they're killed."
Jack loves the cats he takes care of. Just about everywhere I looked about his shop and inside his tiny home, I saw bags of food. The cats looke healthy, too. But that urine smell...geeeeeesh!
He told me to come back tomorrow and he'd have it cleaned up. I came back the next day and got hit with the skillet again. "It smells better, don't it?" I replied no. He said he'd probably need to mop the floors.
Jack has been a Harley Davidson mechanic since 1964, had shops in Scottsbluff and in Crawford. He's retired now but still works occaisionally making repairs for special customers. At the time he was rebuilding a 1964 two-cylinder engine.
He has about 20 or so cats living in his shop and another "special" cats living in his home, which is attached to his shop. The more domesticated cats get to live in the house; the wilder, less friendly cats, ones are in the shop.
As for the job the president is doing to fix the economy, Jack said, "He's one of the worst ones we've had. Bush was one, too, but this is the worst."
Jack was about finished rebuilding that engine and when I left him he was filing away, smoothing off the edges of a valve cover bracket that was just a little out of whack.
At 74 years old, Jack might be a little out of whack, too, but he is a cat lover, a kind-hearted and friendly man.
We should all know Jack. I hope we meet again.
Photos and story by Clay Lomneth
July 16th, 2009, Crawford, Neb: During this trip, I've met quite a few people that, if they were not doing what they are doing now, would have made good photographers. (Thank the photo god they were doing what they were doing, because we would have missed out on some great images). To me, Debbie Soester was one of them.
Kyle and I met Debbie after we went into a horse supply store in Crawford, acting on a hunch that someone that supplies horse owners might know local ranchers. It's hunches like these that make us good photographers. (It's that sense of sarcastic humor that grinds on Bruce's nerves, but that's another story.)
The owner of the store introduced us to Debbie as she walked by his store running errands. Hardly batting an eye, Debbie invited us to come to her house. It's chances like these that make us lucky photographers.
Debbie and Alan Soester have lived on their ranch since the '70s, and have four hard-working (and brave) helpers, also known as their children: Aubrey, Chance, Haley and Austin, ranging from ages 19 to 13. In addition to farming wheat, the Soester's raise cattle when wheat season is over to supplement their income. We arrived good timing, too - the Soesters were some of the first in Crawford to farm their wheat.
The first chore assigned to Aubrey and Haley when they got back from town was to administer first aid to a yearling bull who just got bit by a snake. Kyle and I tentatively followed Aubrey into the bull's pen. She gave us a look that we get a lot: half amused, but she knew we were in way over our heads.
"Just stay close to the fence," she said, "so if he gets wound up, you can jump the fence."
Aubrey and Haley rounded up the bull and got him into the chute and Kyle and I set to work. Trying to get different angles, I stepped right in front of the bull for a spell. "You might not want to stand there," Debbie said, laughing.
After Aubrey and Haley stuck an angry bull in the hind leg with a giant needle, I had the chance to talk to Debbie a little bit. She told me about her family's recent trip to Alaska, and showed me a photograph hanging up on her wall. I've seen a few photographs of whales flipping their tails in the past, but there had always been something missing before. They're usually shot mid-day in harsh light, or they look like they were shot with a 600mm lens and then cropped way down. Debbie's image is hands-down my favorite. It had none of these problems. Shot on an overcast day, it was perfectly exposed. She didn't make the mistake that an amateur might make by zooming in, giving the viewer no idea where the whale was seen. Debbie had the photographic smarts to give the viewer some action in the foreground (the whale) and show enough of the environment so that anyone who's been there could easily recognize it.
Suddenly it made sense why the rest of the Soesters were so camera un-aware. They ignored us and went about their daily business as if we weren't there, because they were so used to Debbie doing exactly that.
Maybe none of this had anything to do with luck. Maybe I am just not used to people taking you in, letting you become a part of their lives, feeding you lunch, trusting you (meaning Kyle) to drive their farm equipment. Maybe there are people who would do that in Omaha or in Lincoln, but it might take a bit to find them.
So thank you Alan, Debbie, Aubrey, Haley, Chance and Austin. And Debbie: keep shooting.
One of the cattle ropers at the Fort Robinson rodeo on July 16th, 2009.
Photos and story by Kyle Bruggeman
July 16th, 2009, Fort Robinson, Neb: If you want to see the best topography of Western-Nebraska, don't take Interstate 80. Instead get on Highway 20 and head toward Crawford, Nebraska. You'll find plenty of rolling bluffs intertwined with small town life. Ranching and farming go hand in hand, and in between you'll find community events like fur trading, fairs, and of course rodeos.
Small scale rodeos like the ones held in Fort Robinson are a great way to get a taste of cowboy life without all the corporate logos seen in rodeo arenas. You can stand right on the fence where bucking broncos come jumping out and talk with the cowboys as they wait their turn to rope a calf.
These hard-working men and women come from different towns in different counties yet they'll all tell you they love living where they do because the people there care for each other and look out for one another.
Doug Bowman stands behind the horse gates of the Fort Robinson rodeo on July 16th, 2009. Bowman brought a horse of his for other cowboys to ride, "She's too wild to break, but she's great for bucking" said Bowman.