Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Diverse Life: Jim Butler celebrates 98 years

by Larry Miller

1917 was a pretty tough year in the Great Plains.  It was actually pretty tough everywhere. 

War was raging in Europe, and the United States was drawing ever closer to becoming ensnarled in it. 

Too, a Spanish Flu epidemic was in its infancy and would claim more than 20 million lives worldwide by 1920 – some 500,000 of them in the United States. 

Being a dirt farmer in Dawes County Nebraska probably didn’t seem so bad for Thomas Jefferson Butler and his wife, Grace Brown Butler.  Working the land on his dad’s place about eight miles southeast of Chadron likely offered the prospect of providing a good life.    

“T.J.,” as he became known, was a native Nebraskan, born of parents who’d come from Missouri and Indiana.  He had married Grace Brown, whose ancestors came from Wisconsin and Iowa, and they would raise their family in the vicinity of Bordeaux Creek.

Jim Butler remembers his father:

Their first child, Melvin, was born in May 1917.   Three weeks later General “Blackjack” Pershing was leading U.S. forces in Europe as they joined the British, French and Russian forces in an effort to counter Germany and the Axis Powers.

The American entry into the was was critical – and timely.  Within eighteen months – and after the loss of some 17 million lives – World War One ended with the signing of an Armistice on November 11, 1918.

And Grace Butler, pregnant with her second child James LeRoy, had reason for some optimism about the future.  The war was over, and a new child was about to begin life  at their place along Bordeaux Creek.

Born on Bordeaux Creek and early education:

Jim Butler had never seen a football or basketball game when he headed for high school in Chadron.  No matter, there seemed to be no time for such activities anyway.  Every day, Jim and his older brother had to return home promptly after school to do their farm chores.  There was no time for sports.  They were, after all, country kids.    

The following year, a new coach arrived at the Normal School – and Chadron Prep.  While there was no football played at Prep in those years, the fortunes of their basketball team began to change.  And so did the circumstances of the Butler boys.  

Prep’s basketball team had been beaten by about everyone, including Whitney,” Butler recalled.  When Ross Armstrong arrived on campus in 1933, teams began to see some real improvement.

Both my brother Melvin and I were able to go out for basketball, and we made the squad.  We got beat in the district finals, keeping us out of the state tournament.  But when I was a Junior and Senior, Ross took us to state both years, but got beat in overtime.  We would have won the first year, but Joe O’Rourke and and another of our big scorers were sick and couldn’t play.”

I graduated from Prep in 1936.  In past summers, I had worked a bit for Rufus Trapp, the football coach at the Normal.  He had a place out on Big Bordeaux, and he’d have me fix fence, shock grain, or whatever needed to be done.   When I started college, he talked me in to playing football for him.”

Jim Butler was a standout athlete at Chadron Prep and Chadron State, despite the fact that he’d never seen a football or basketball game before he started high school at Prep.  After his college years he also played baseball with the Chadron Elks in their heyday.

I had never played football before college, so the first year was one of learning the game.  I played enough at guard my second year to earn my letter.  We also won the Nebraska college championship.”

Armstrong took over as football coach the next two years, and Jim Butler became a starting guard for the Eagles, winning Honorable Mention in the Nebraska college conference.  And his prowess at linebacker was considered key in the 12-9 football win over Wyoming in 1940.   He was also a standout basketball player for the college – a member of the powerhouse team of 1940 that shared the conference crown with Peru and included other well-known athletes like Bill Bruer, Dale Tangeman, and Bob Baumann.

But sports wasn’t the only thing capturing his attention.

In college, he met and started dating a Chadron girl, Madeline Iaeger. 

Undated photo - Madeline Iaeger Butler
She went to Chadron High and I went to Prep.  I didn’t know her until we were in college.   Her grandfather was Louis Iaeger, a local pioneer who was pretty well known as ‘Billy the Bear.’” 

Louis J.F. Iaeger was a native Pennsylvanian whose 19th century adventures included earning a navigator’s certificate at a young age, shipping out as a quartermaster aboard vessels sailing from San Francisco to the Orient, and a stint with the Buffalo Bill Company, playing the part of a bear – thus the nickname “Billy the Bear.”  His, too, is an interesting story, which you’ll find within this biographical sketch of Louis Iaeger.

Madeline Iaeger and Jim Butler were married in 1940, and in 1941 their first child – Gary – was born.

Europe again was in turmoil, with Germany on the march across Europe, Asia and Africa.  The United States had avoided direct involvement in the war, but with the passage of the Lend-Lease Act in early 1941, American industry shifted to a war-time footing that would vastly increase the production of aircraft, ships, and other war materials for the Allies.

Jim Butler’s older brother, Melvin, joined the Navy and became a pilot.  He had gone through the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program at Chadron State and Snook Air Service at the Chadron airport.  He completed his military training at Pensacola, Florida and San Diego before joining the Pacific Fleet as pilot of a patrol bomber.  Ensign Butler was stationed about a year at Honolulu and survived the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

Jim Butler and Madeline had already moved from Chadron to California. 

Her parents moved there earlier, and “I needed a job, and so we moved there, too, and I went to work for the Vega Aircraft Company,” Butler recalled.   The Vega plant in Burbank was a major production facility for Allied patrol bombers.

In a short time, I was foreman of a 10-man crew building those bombers.  Although I wanted to join the service, they wouldn’t relieve me from my job.  Apparently, we were doing what others couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

In September 1942 came the bad news that Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Melvin Butler was reported lost at sea during flight operations in the Pacific.  News of the incident was delayed for several weeks; a story about the incident appeared in the November 27, 1942 edition of the Lincoln Evening Journal, after the Butler family had been notified.  Word then came that his aircraft had been shot down near the Solomon Islands in the western Pacific.  Lieutenant Butler was never found.  He was 25 years old.

Perhaps that’s when Jim Butler conjured his own plans for joining the service.  But getting released from a critical wartime job in an aircraft factory was no easy matter.  He continued to work at Vega Aircraft.  Then in September 1943, Jim and Madeline Butler’s second son, Dale, was born.

Finally wangling a release from the aircraft company, the young Butler family pulled up stakes and journeyed back to Nebraska in the dead of winter. 

We ran in to a really big snowstorm between Rock Springs and Rawlins.  We had no heater in the car, and I was really glad to see the lights of Rawlins!”

After returning his family to Chadron, Butler went to Denver to enlist in the Army Air Corps.

Undated photo of Jim Butler and his dad 
I passed the test for pilot and bombardier.  Like his brother, Jim Butler had already gone through the CPT program when he was a student at Chadron State and worked at the Chadron airport for long-time aviator Frank Snook.

That’s how I got my pilot’s license,” Butler recalled.

His official enlistment took place at Fort Logan , Colorado in late January 1944.

When I went in to the service and started training, Madeline and Dale went back to California to be with her folks.  Gary stayed with my folks in Nebraska.”

In California, Madeline landed a good job, but one that was very demanding.

She was a smart gal.  Her major was chemistry.

I was away in Texas taking pilot training…and I got a letter from her mother that Madeline was in the hospital with pneumonia.  And even before I could respond, I got a telegram that she had died.  It was a tough deal.

That was in January 1945, and the war was winding down.  The fighting in Europe officially ended with “VE (Victory in Europe) Day on May 8.

As soon as the Air Corps found out that I had two kids, and that my wife had died – and of course I had lost my brother, too – they started talking about discharge.  I was released from active duty in May 1945.”

Butler returned to Chadron.  But the end of the war meant an abundance of returning G.I.’s, and not a lot of jobs to be had.  And he had little appetite at that time to return to college.

He was thinking more and more that he’d simply go back to California where there were more jobs.

Donna Sailor Butler
But my dad wanted me to work in the trucking business with him, and so I did.  Factories had been building military equipment during the war, so there just weren’t many trucks for farmers to get their crops to market.  We could haul wheat all winter long…we made good money.  Golly, I could make $100 or $125 a day.  That was big money in those days!”

While attending a dance at the Kelso Pavilion east of Chadron, his friend Pat Muldoon introduced Jim to Donna Sailor.  They began dating and she helped persuade him that he should go back and finish college.

And he did just that, quickly completing the work necessary to take his Bachelor of Science degree in Education (Industrial Arts) from Chadron State in 1946.  He also took a new bride that year, when he and Donna were married.  

A former teammate of mine, Dale Tangeman, was Superintendent of the school at Igloo, South Dakota.   There was a big Army Ordnance depot there, and Dale needed a football coach and someone to teach shop.  It was a big place, and there were really some great kids there.

After a year at Igloo, the Butlers were back in Chadron, and they had a new son, Scott. 

Through an unusual set of circumstances, Jim Butler found himself in a quick career change.  From a shop teacher and coach to………Dawes County Sheriff?

Jim Butler – Lawman:

That’s exactly what happened as Jim and Donna Butler and their growing family of boys took up residence on the top floor of the County Courthouse during the blizzard of 1949.

The county commissioners appointed him to complete the unexpired term of Sheriff Cy Spearman.    The Butler’s apartment in the courthouse had two tiny bedrooms, and a very small living room and kitchen. 

As their family grew with the births of twin boys, Criss and Curt, the living accommodations became too crowded – even with oldest son Gary living with his Butler grandparents.

Butler acknowledges that he enjoyed most aspects of serving as Sheriff.  And the citizens of Dawes County were pleased with him.  He was elected to two subsequent terms in office.
The Butler’s were looking for a change.  And – after 10 years in the courthouse – it came.

Lawman Butler traded his badge for a classroom at East Ward Elementary School, first as a teacher – then as Principal.

I then got my Master’s degree at Chadron State and also attended summer school one year at the University of Iowa.  I also went to Western State in Colorado and earned a Specialist in Education certificate.  I thought we might go to Colorado.”

But as it turned out, their destiny remained in Chadron, where Jim Butler would remain for 26 years in the public school system.

I was offered a contract to go to Sheridan, Wyoming, but Chadron superintendent Heine Schroeder asked me how much they were offering me.   He said he’d match it.  So we stayed.  Donna and the kids were real happy about that.”

Jim Butler seems to have enjoyed just about everything he’s pursued.

He quickly admits that his greatest joy, however, was his years within the Chadron Public Schools. 

Jim Butler:  "I always looked forward to going to work."

But both Jim and Donna Butler pursued other interests as well.

She was a remarkable musician and is well remembered as a highly-popular piano teacher for many years. 

I absolutely loved to hear Donna play the piano.  She played by ear, and she also taught herself to play the organ.  Our favorite songs were ‘Stardust’ and ‘Deep Purple.’”

And Jim Butler sings Donna’s praises – not just as a highly-talented musician – but as a loving mother.

He recalled one of his more challenging moments as a young parent, when his son, Dale, was born in California in 1943….and how his second wife Donna later would help them overcome adversity.

Over the years, Donna and I enjoyed antiques.  It was our hobby.  When I retired, I repaired and refinished old furniture.” 

When the Butlers moved to Lincoln in 1992, he remodeled their home so he’d have room for a workshop in the garage.

Donna passed away in 2008.  They had been married for 62 years.

Jim Butler’s boys have done well.  Gary and his wife live in Savannah, Missouri.  Dale and his wife Carol live in Kansas City, Missouri; Scott and his wife recently moved to North Carolina.  Criss and his family live in Omaha, while Curt and family – Lincoln residents – frequently see the elder Butler and share meals.

Jim Butler has continued to eagerly follow University of Nebraska sports – everything from football to volleyball.

Until the last few years, Jim Butler would make regular auto trips by himself from Lincoln to Chadron for Chadron Prep and Chadron State reunions.  2010 marked a special return to his hometown, as Butler was inducted into the Chadron State College Athletic Hall of Fame.  All five Butler boys were able to join him for the occasion.
To be sure, Jim Butler has achieved success in many ways.  His accomplishments range from youthful exploits as a talented athlete, to a colorful – if abbreviated – career as a county sheriff.

But likely his proudest achievements have been those relating to the development and nurturing of young people – his own five boys – and the numerous youngsters he has taught and mentored along the way during his career as an educator.

As Jim Butler celebrates 98 years on this earth, he can – and should – take great comfort in the thousands of lives he has touched in so many positive ways.

Happy Birthday, Jim!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ted Turpin – longtime newspaperman – dies at 84

By Con Marshall 
A former Chadron resident, T.C. (Ted) Turpin, who began what evolved into an exceptional career in the newspaper and publishing fields, among others, while attending Chadron State College in the early 1950s, died on Dec. 5 in Tucson, Ariz., where he had lived since the mid-1960s.               

Ted Turpin in 2011
Turpin, 84, was often in the spotlight as a youth in Chadron.  He was a 130-pound starting guard on the Chadron Prep football team, a distance runner and a Golden Gloves boxer and was often involved in fine arts activities.  He graduated from Prep in 1950 and from Chadron State in 1954.
While in college, Turpin was the editor of “The Eagle” newspaper three semesters, set the school record in the two-mile run, was a football and basketball cheerleader, sang in the choir and select vocal groups, received the Sigma Delta Nu key for scholarship, belonged to Blue Key National Honor Fraternity and was the Ivy Day orator.
Also during this era, Turpin was a sportswriter for the Chadron Record and was a sportscaster for KCSR Radio briefly after it went on the air in May 1954.
After teaching and coaching for one year each at Brule and Big Springs High Schools in the Ogallala area, Turpin switched to journalism and was a news reporter and later the editor of the North Platte Telegraph. While serving in the latter position, he was elected president of the Nebraska Associated Press Managing Editors Association and was chosen North Platte’s “Outstanding Young Man.”  In addition, he was co-founder and first president of the Lincoln County Historical Society.
In 1961, Turpin went to Washington, D.C., and was an administrative assistant to newly-elected U.S. Rep. Dave Martin for a year.  The next three years, he lived in Chicago and Cleveland while working as the Midwest agricultural reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Turpin in his newspapering years
He moved to Arizona in 1964 and was a political writer and later the business and financial editor for the Tucson Daily Citizen. He resigned in 1967 to launch two business ventures.  One was a weekly newspaper, the Green Valley News, and the other “Homes Illustrated,” that grew into a real estate magazine that was published in at least five states. According to his obituary printed in a Tucson newspaper, these ventures “were his bread and butter the past 40 years.”

When Turpin returned to Chadron State in 1983 to speak at commencement and receive the college’s Distinguished Service Award, he was serving his sixth term as the Arizona chairman for the National Newspaper Association and was in his seventh year as a board member for an agency that worked with citizens in poor rural communities to help them improve their lives.
One of Turpin’s acquaintances when both were growing up in Chadron remained in touch with Turpin through the years is Mike Smith, once the sports editor and Sunday supplement editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and now of Isanti, Minn.
Everything Ted ever did turned out great,” Smith said.  “He always worked hard and knew how to make things click. He was one of the most interesting persons I have ever known.”
While Turpin was attending Chadron State, he met and married Kathleen Gunn of Lusk.  Although they divorced in the 1990s and both remarried, they remained friends.  He is survived by two children and three grandchildren.  

Editor's Note:  Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story with Dawes County Journal.  The 2011 photo of Ted Turpin is courtesy of Mike Smith, taken during a Chadron Area Reunion in Phoenix, Arizona.  Here is a link to Ted Turpin's obituary. Ted's mother, Bernice Turpin, according to the 1954 Chadron City Directory, was a rural school teacher.  Ted had a brother, Mike, who was about five or six years younger.  Neither was mentioned in his obituary, and both may have pre-deceased him. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

World War II bolstered Chadron Airport & College

By Con Marshall
The Chadron Airport, long an invaluable asset to the community, wasn’t something that magically appeared. Through the years, it has grown a lot like Topsy:  One step at a time, certainly without a master plan or a big-time government grant, at least initially.

The threat of war, then World War II, were major inspirations.  The desire of numerous adventurous men and several women who wanted to learn to be pilots was another mainspring in its early development.  The fact that Chadron had a college with dormitory space and food services also was a plus in the whole scenario.

There apparently were two primary instigators in getting the airport “off the ground.”  One was Arden Hixson, a native of Crookston and a Chadron State College student who later became the “poster child” for the program that was the inspiration for the airport. The other was Frank Snook, one of the area’s first pilots who was using his small plane primarily to hunt coyotes while flying out of an “airport” he had developed at Crawford.
Early Dawes County pilot Frank Snook
Maybe Snook was unintentionally involved in the airport project first.  In a story printed in the Chadron Record in September 1990, he told Goldie Dawkins that in 1938 “a government official” hunted him down in Crawford and asked him to move to Lawrence, Kansas, to become an instructor for a pilot training program that the University of Kansas was planning.  The official explained that if the United States became involved in the war that seemed imminent many pilots would be needed.
I told him I didn’t want to move and suggested that Chadron had a college,” Snook is quoted as saying in the story.  “He reminded me that Chadron didn’t have an airport, but I told him I knew the mayor and some of the council members, and perhaps something could be done about that.”
At the time, planes flying into Chadron landed at what was later known as “the Ormesher airport” east of the Dawes County Fairgrounds.  Maybe it could be expanded, but the owner of the land wanted $6 an acre for it and that was deemed to be too much, Snook told Dawkins.
Before long, Snook said the city rented or bought a quarter section west of Chadron where the airport developed.  The land met one requirement.  It was flat. But it was covered with cactuses and getting it shaped up took some doing.
Hixson entered the picture about the same time.  According to a letter he wrote for his 50-year reunion of the Class of 1940 at Chadron State, in the summer of 1939 he learned about a government plan to teach college students to fly. Hixson said he “had always” wanted to become a pilot and approached Robert Elliott, president of the college, and E.L. Rouse, director of instruction, about the possibilities of CSC becoming involved.
According to Hixson’s letter, published in Chadron’s Golden Age Courier in December 1970 along with a story written by Belle Lecher, the college officials initially weren’t very encouraging, but said they would consider it.  They noted Chadron didn’t have an airport and they didn’t know anything about aviation.  
Arden Hixson - Chadron Normal 1940
Hixson’s letter says he mentioned to Elliott and Rouse that Snook was hunting coyotes with his plane at Crawford and the college had capable faculty members who could be trained to help with the program. 
Lecher’s story states Heman Carmean, the Chadron mayor in 1939, was supportive of the airport notion and when Hixson went to the city council it agreed to help.
Things moved fast.  By October 1939, Chadron State was on the list of 55 colleges in the nation that had been approved by the Civilian Aeronautics Authority for participation in a civilian pilot training program. The initial quota of students to take the training was 10, one of which could be a woman.  That would be Hope Brooker Anderson.  Hixson was one of the men.
The stories by both Dawkins and Lecher discuss the problem of removing the cactuses so a runway could be developed. The would-be aviators initially used hoes, rakes, shovels, etc., to cut them off or dig them up.  Before long, a county commissioner, probably Ward Diehl, came to their rescue and saw to it that a county road grader was made available.
Snook initially taught both the “ground school” and flight instruction, but before long Chadron State physics professor E.T. (Tripp) Michael went to Minnesota for special training offered by the Navy and he took over the ground school training.  Other CSC faculty members such as Lyle Andrews, who taught weather, and Ross Armstrong, who taught physical fitness and code, became involved.
About the time Hixson was graduating from Chadron State in May 1940, he was a winner of ground school competition sponsored by Shell Oil Co., involving 10,000 flight school students. He became Nebraska’s representative for seven-state competition in St. Louis. 
The contest involved flight maneuvers needed to complete the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) course and earn a private pilot license. Hixson also won that and went on to Washington, D.C., for more competition against the winners from the remaining six regions.
Hixson, in his letter in the Golden Age Courier, said he received a solid gold wrist watch as the regional winner and was a guest of honor at a banquet attended by more than 200 aviation notables. By the end of 1940, Hixson also had both instructor and commercial licenses and was being paid $5 a hour to teach flight in Wichita. He eventually was the flight commander at Homestead Flight Center in Florida, a pilot for Delta Airlines, an inspector for the CAA and spent the remainder of his career monitoring and evaluating flight programs, including those in a half dozen South American countries.
Altogether he had 31 years of federal service relating to flight.

The 1941 Chadron State yearbook said since the inception of the Civilian Pilot Training program 70 students had received private pilot certification, 20 of whom had continued their training with the Army, Navy, U.S. Aviation Meteorology or airline training schools.  It also reported that the Chadron Municipal Airport had expanded rapidly to include 450 acres, an intermediate airline field that was government lighted and marked, hangar and shop space and a “modern fireproof Administration Building.” 
The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, turned Chadron’s Civilian Pilot Training Program into something much larger.  It soon became a part of the military effort with officers coming to help fine tune the operation.
A photo in the Omaha World-Herald in June 1942 shows about 90 men standing on the front steps of Crites Hall. The caption says, “Commanded by Lt. Commander William E. Johnson, former lieutenant governor of Nebraska, a full quota of cadets are now training at the aviation station at Chadron State Teachers’ College.”  All 90 were then identified.  
Snook remained in charge of the flight program.  He told Dawkins the government purchased private planes for the training.  He checked them out and accepted 34, but rejected others. He also had 40 employees. Among them was Donald Putnam, a native of the Edgemont area and later an Oelrichs rancher.  He was the program’s chief pilot in charge of the training.
Long-time Chadron resident Gus Yeradi was among the mechanics.
Before long, cadets from all over the U.S. were arriving for three months of what was called pre-flight training. They arrived, usually 30 at a time, via the Chicago and North Western Railroad, were greeted by townspeople and marched up Main Street to the college, where they ate, slept and took the ground school training. After their stay in Chadron, they went on for what was sometimes called “combat training.”
Armstrong related years later that, because the fledgling pilots needed as much daylight as possible for their training in the air, he rousted them out of bed at 4 a.m.  for physical fitness and taught them code in the evenings.
The program is often credited with keeping the college open.  The enrollment in the fall of 1943 was just 95.  By then, nearly all the able-bodied men in the nation were wearing a military uniform.
Thankfully, there were never any major accidents or injuries during the nearly four years that the Chadron program existed.  It ended in 1944 when the Navy built larger facilities to train pilots at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and the programs on numerous college campuses were shut down.
At least four men who received their preflight training through the Chadron program lost their lives while serving as pilots during World War II.  They were Melvin Butler, Lee Coleman, Earl Finkey and Francis Wertz.
Not all of those trained locally became military pilots, but were aviators the rest of their lives. An example is Clayton Feldhausen, a 1938 graduate of Chadron High School. While he was attending Chadron State, he was among the early enrollees in the pilot’s program, went on for advanced instruction and instrument rating
According to Betty Reading of Chadron, Feldhausen’s sister, he did not weigh enough to serve as a military pilot, but he returned to help with the pilot training here. He later became an air traffic controller, a corporate pilot and an FAA inspector in Denver and for the entire state of South Dakota.

Reading says her brother took his job seriously. While visiting her in Chadron, he observed a small plane flying below the altitude limit over a congested area.  When the plane landed, he met it and cited the pilot for his actions. 


Editor's Note:  Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story.  To see these and more photographs relating to local history, visit our Early Chadron Photo Gallery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's World series time..... let's talks Baseball!

First, a disclaimer.  These cheery guys aren't from Dawes County.  Well, some of them may have lived in Dawes County around the turn of the 20th century, but these fellows played baseball for the team from Beaver Valley east of Chadron.  Yep, in Sheridan County.  But the Chadron team just had to be a favorite opponent!

We're told that this team routinely whopped the Chadron dudes.  Suppose we could do some fact-checking on that, but we like the idea that they beat the city slickers.  You'd think that Chadron would have consistently triumphed over these fellows.   But I'll bet they didn't beat Whitney!

If you're curious to know who this group of ballplayers from yesteryear were, check 'em out in our Baseball Gallery.  A larger resolution photo and name key can be found there, along with a few other old baseball photos.  Thanks to Lawrence Denton for sharing this bit of history.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"History in Action" celebrates 20 Years!

The latest edition of Chadron's Golden Age Courier, edited by Ron Wineteer, shares details about the forthcoming History In Action celebration on Sunday, September 25, at the Dawes County Museum three miles south of Chadron.

An early but beautiful September morning at the Dawes County Museum
"History In Action Day began in 1996," writes museum Executive Director Phyllis Carlson, "in order to provide Dawes County historical attention to our county and give a welcoming Thank You to our visiting public."

Admission to the event is free, but donations to the society, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, are tax deductible and go a long way in helping grow and maintain the museum.

Among the new additions to the museum:  the Marcus Cain Collection of Farm Implements, which is housed in a new building on the property.

There'll be a wide range of activities at the 2016 History in Action.  They include corn shelling, carriage and antique cars, butter making, leather work, apple cider making, horse shoe tossing, a hymn sing, and much more.

Among the demonstrations will be a Civil War cannon, ferrier, quilting, tatting, live music, wheat ground into flour, a primitive camp, spinning and weaving. 

Exhibits include bee 'n honey, rural school, log cabin and barn, church, tractors (both old and new), military history items, chuck wagon, barber shop, antique machinery, and more.

It'll be fun for folks of all ages and -- of course -- lots of homemade pies, lunch on the grounds, and bottled water available at a price.

"All other refreshments such as ice cream, cookies, iced tea and coffee, and popcorn are by freewill donation," writes Carlson.  "We hope to see you there!"


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Jack Carnahan, 96, remembers 25th birthday best

By Con Marshall
At age 96, Jack Carnahan has had lots of birthdays.
There’s a good reason why he remembers one of his birthdays more than the others.  He turned 25 on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, helping end World War II.
Carnahan was aboard the USS Stormes, a Navy destroyer with radar capabilities that was anchored in the Pacific only a hundred miles or so south of the Japan.
“Sure I remember it,” said Jack, a Chadron resident who has spent his entire life in Sioux or Dawes counties except for the two years he was in the Navy.
“We were in a radar picket line; that’s that they called it,” he said. “There were probably at least a dozen other ships there, too.  Our home base was Okinawa. We were on Japan’s door step. We’d been there for 77 days and they (the Japanese) bombed us every night. It was wicked.
Sailor Jack Carnahan during World War II
“Harry (President Harry Truman) dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, my birthday, but they didn’t surrender,” Jack continued.  “So he dropped another one on Nagasaki on Aug. 9 and that did it.  If he hadn’t done that, me and a lot more Americans wouldn’t have gotten to come home.  The way it turned out, we were headed back home in just a few weeks.”
In reflecting on his Navy days, Jack knows he and most of his mates were extremely fortunate.  The entire destroyer, a 376-foot-long vessel which contained 360 men, could have been blown apart.  He recalls that on May 25, 1945, a Japanese airplane fired a 500-pound bomb “right into one of our torpedo tubes.”
“It hit the ammunition magazine, so a lot of our stuff exploded, too.  But it blew down instead of blowing up, like you’d expect. It blew a hole in the bottom of the destroyer that you could have driven a semi through.  It also caught fire. We lost 23 men, all of them who were in the ammunition area.
“It was terrible, but it could have been a whole lot worse.  Our ship didn’t sink and we were able to patch it up.
These 71 years later, Carnahan believes the loss of lives and damage to the destroyer could have been prevented.  He said the Japanese plane had been spotted in the clouds and the report was sent to the commanding officers.  But instead of taking immediate action, they hesitated and didn’t try to knock the craft out of the skies before it delivered its payload.
While Jack’s Navy days are memorable, he also has many other memories and stories to tell.  He’s a part of America’s “greatest generation” the one which grew up during the Great Depression, preserved America’s freedom by winning WW II and then helped make America the greatest nation in history.
Although Jack’s parents, John and Mabel, were living in Orella, located in Sioux County on the edge of what became Toadstool Park, in 1920 when he was born, his arrival occurred in nearby Ardmore, a village just across the state line into South Dakota.  That’s because Ardmore had a doctor.
Jack was third third child in a family of seven. 
He said his mother had an 80-acre homestead near Orella and his father had purchased two sections of adjoining pastureland.  His dad was the section foreman for the Burlington Railroad that ran through Orella.  The berg is still on some maps, but is now a ghost town with a few dilapidated buildings. 
“They say it was about a tossup whether Harrison or Orella would be the Sioux County seat,” Jack said. “We had the school, the  post office, a hotel, a grocery store and a dance hall, but I don’t think there was ever a church or a bar there.”
Jack said every day two passenger trains ran each way through Orella.  His two older brothers, Ansel and Kenny, rode them to Crawford to attend high school.  But after completing grade school, Jack and his brother Bob, along with their cousin Cecil Wasserburger, remained at the Orella school, which had a capable teacher, and took courses supplied by both Harrison High and the University of Nebraska to earn their diplomas. 
Since their dad was a full-time railroader, the Carnahan boys were kept busy ranching.  Jack recalls that in 1932 his dad bought a flock of sheep and the following summer when he was 13, he was designated as the primary herder in the shadow of Sugar Loaf, the area’s most prominent landmark, as the woolies grazed.
“There were so many coyotes that even if you took time away from the sheep just to eat dinner you might lose four or five lambs,” he said. “We finally got some 1080 poison from the government to help control the coyotes. But one year we lost more than 100 lambs and had to quit raising sheep.”
The family’s holdings expanded briefly during the mid-1930s when his dad bought 1,300 acres next to Toadstool Park for a dollar an acre.
“We really didn’t have the money to buy it and it was mostly badlands with not much grass, but the depot agent, a guy named J.B. Jolly, owned it and wanted to sell it. He convinced dad to take it off his hands,” Jack related.  “The next year, the government started buying land in the area and dad sold it for $2.25 an acre. It seemed like we made a lot of money then, but we realized afterwards we should have hung onto it.”
Similar land in that region sold for $1,095 an acre in March 2016 to a Floridian who intends to hunt fossils on it.
“When I was a kid, you could find petrified turtles and turtle eggs every day of the week in the area that became Toadstool Park,” Jack recalled.
The Carnahans expanded their operation in 1942 when they bought 480 acres near Whitney. It included 120 irrigated acres where they raised hay to feed their cattle in the winters.
This time Jack was in charge of the irrigation. He says it was harder than herding sheep. “I had a shovel in my hand day and night. It was the hardest work in the world.”
But irrigating prepared him well for his next venture.  When his brother Dick graduated from Crawford High School in 1944, Jack’s deferment expired and he was about to be drafted. That’s when he joined the Navy.  Boot camp at the Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho was a snap because he had been working so hard.
“I’d take two laps around the camp while holding my rifle over my head in the mornings before the other guys got there,” he said.  “It felt good.”
When the war ended a few days after the atomic bombs had been dropped, Jack had been a sailor only 15 months and didn’t have enough points to be discharged immediately.  So he remained on the destroyer as it went through the Panama Canal to Cuba and then along the Atlantic Seaboard to New York City, where he and his mates were based for several months.
The trip back to the U.S. was an extra long one.  The Japanese bomb had left the USS Stormes with only one of its two propellers and its top speed from then on was just nine knots, or about 10 miles an hour.  It would normally go 50 miles an hour.
After the destroyer was fully repaired in East Coast shipyards, Jack was aboard when it was taken on a test run to Greenland.  He received his discharge early in the summer of 1946 and returned to the home place to farm and ranch. He eventually purchased the property. 
Jack Carnahan a few years ago holding the photograph of "Riding the Ridge" ago
when it went through the badlands in the Orella, SD area where he was born and raised.

By the time he arrived home, his brothers were on their way to other careers.
Ansel, who also served in the military during WW II, became a veterinarian and initially practiced in Chadron before moving to Vermont, his wife’s home state; Kenny was a Chicago and North Western Railroad engineer in Chadron and later at Belle Fourche, S.D.; Bob became a surgeon who practiced in Casper; Dick bought a machine and laid lots of asphalt in the area while living in Harrison; and Jim, the youngest, became a railroader in Sheridan, Wyo., where he still lives.
The only girl, Dorothy, a medical technologist, lives in Hilton Head, N.C.
In 1948, Jack married Peggy Mittan of Chadron and they raised five children—Sandy, Bruce, Bev, Brian and Brenda—while living on the Whitney place.  For the next 35-plus years, Jack and a few helpers, including the kids, trailed his 200-head cowherd by horseback the 23 miles to and from the Orella pastures each spring and fall,
Following a lingering illness, Peg died in 1979.  Jack retired and moved to Chadron in 1985, then sold the land a few years later, but he’s had other investments ever since.  He and former Chadron teacher Virginia Jones have been special friends for more than three decades.
Jack is hale and hardy and obviously enjoys living. His long and productive life is not a huge surprise.  His mother, Mabel, lived to be over 100 and amazed many by annually participating in the CROP Walk from Crawford to Whitney when she was in her 90s.

- End-

(Editor's Note:  Thanks once again to good friend Con Marshall for sharing yet another terrific story about the interesting people, places and history of northwest Nebraska.  For those of us who've known some of the Carnahan family members over the years, this was a great read!  Thank you, Con.)