Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas Snowstorm

It was probably the winter of 1948 or 49. My family had moved from the plains of Kansas to a farm near the Platte River in Buffalo County, Nebraska. We were up in the hills north of the Platte between Elm Creek and Kearney. The Platte River part of the Oregon Trail ran between us and the river. I was absorbing and cataloging frontier history even then. My next youngest sister and I went to school at Midway school house. It was a nice country school with two classrooms and a basement. It still exists at the intersection of Midway and Odessa roads. However it is now a nice farm house with a modern farmstead around it. I cannot remember a Christmas program at that school. I am sure we had them, every school did. At that young age we seem to need something special to tweak our memory.

And I do have a memory to share. My family had been invited to a Christmas program at a neighboring school several miles east of our community. It was a different world back then. Rural areas had no electricity and no communication except radios powered by six volt car batteries. Weather was reported on as it happened. We went to the school program. We watched skits, listened to students sing Christmas carols and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Suddenly people realized there was a full blown blizzard in progress outside. You don’t mess with a Nebraska blizzard. You get to a shelter and wait it out.

The Nielsen family lived near the school and they invited several families to stay with them. They were family friends and they were probably the ones that invited us to the Christmas program. My folks’ 1936 Chevy sedan was helpless in a foot of snow and visibility was down to a few feet. The folks gladly accepted their invitation.

The Nielsens owned a farm and ranch operation. They lived in a large frame house surrounded by various livestock buildings. When everybody got inside they started getting out cots and beds. It was a typical farm house, some rooms were heated and others were not. The women and small children would sleep in the heated rooms and the men and boys would sleep in the unheated rooms. Mrs. Nielsen went to her wardrobes and trunks producing sheets, blankets, and quilts. Dad and I drew a tall leather covered settee that folded out into a bed. We had sheets and a blanket, but by that time she was to the bottom of the trunk.

She pulled out a hair-covered lap robe, obviously left over from the horse and buggy days. It was a tanned hide with a quilted ticking liner that smelled slightly of mothballs. Dad and I slept warm as toast under it. We awoke to the sound of female chatter and the smell of pancakes and bacon frying in the pan. It had stopped snowing. . .

I thought it was a buffalo robe and called it that. In later years Dad said he thought it was a horse hide. I have never seen a horse with that much curly hair. Buffalo robe or horse hide robe, it gave an eight-year-old boy a Christmas snow storm memory and warm feeling for good neighbors along the Sundown Trail . . .

Merry Christmas! I hope the weather is just right for you wherever you are.

Categories: Nebraska, times gone by, Winter | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Fish Story

Sgt Ryan & fish

I have received some comments regarding the fish in uniform picture taken back in 1967.  There is a story there and I will explain.  I took my military training  and my time in the Missouri National Guard seriously.  I look back on the experiences I had and my fellow Guardsmen with great fondness. . .  One time I was criticized by a journalism professor, perhaps humorously for backing into a story.  So I will get on with it. . .

That year I did not bring civilian clothes with me to the annual two week training at Camp Ripley, Minnesota.  I usually always drew weekend duty anyhow.  Would you believe I ended up with the weekend free and no civies.  That limited me to the post.

I had heard of a lake way back on the north end of the post called Engineer Lake.  It was supposed to be excellent fishing.  One guy that had drawn weekend duty had brought his fishing rod and he offered to lend it to me.  He did not have any lures, so I went to a small convenience store just outside the main entrance and bought a few jigs with walleye in mind.  On a last minute impulse I bought an ugly looking spinner with garish orange colored feathers attached.  Those, if I remember correctly, were the only spinners they had.  There were just a few of them on a dusty shelf-worn display board, but I bought one anyway.

I then went to the motor pool and asked to check out a jeep.  The Motor Sgt. said, “Nope.  Can’t check out a vehicle for just one guy to go fishing.”  I went back to the barracks and asked how many guys wanted to go fishing.  Five more off-duty guys jumped at the chance.  I went back to the motor pool and the Sergeant let me check out a ¾ ton truck.  We headed north.  The road followed the headwaters of the Mississippi River for some distance before turning west into the pines.  I found Engineer Lake and there were tell-tale signs  that it had been used for Baily Bridge exercises.  Two rowboats lay upside down on the shore.  It was a fair-sized body of water.  We decided to use the boats.

Everybody had fishing rods and a few lures.  We turned the boats over and discovered that there were no oars.  So we did a Sgt. Highway and improvised with boards scrounged from a ramshackle dock and launched.  No luck, not a strike, not even a nudge.  Everybody tried everything they had.  No luck.  Finally I put the ugly orange feathered spinner on.  Wham, the Northern Pike in the picture hit.  The other two guys in the boat said they were afraid I was going turn the boat over fighting it.  I caught several more fish to the background of groans and catcalls from the gallery.  I took the spinner off and each guy would catch a few fish and pass it on to the next guy.  Everybody caught fish.  Some kept them and some threw them back.  It turned into a real fun day.

I brought my fish back to the company area mess hall and proceeded to clean them at the outside sink.  That is when someone produced the camera.  I am holding the first fish I caught.  We estimated it to weigh in the neighborhood of eight pounds.  Not a real large one as Northern Pike go, but a fun fish for sure.  By the end of the day, the feathers on the lure were almost completely worn off.  I think I still have it in my tackle box.

A cook stuck his head out the back door of the mess hall to see what was going on.  When he found out what I was doing he said to bring the fish in.  He was an outdoors guy and knew just how to fix them.  He cut them up in Twinkie size hunks, battered and deep fried them.  The guys left in Headquarters Company that Saturday evening had a fish fry with dinner.

That is the story.   One of the nicer memories from along my Sundown Trail.

Camp Ripley

Camp Ripley today
(photo taken from their Facebook page)

Categories: Military, soldiers | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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