Saturday, April 28, 2018

Things Go Better With.........More Information!

by Larry Miller

It apparently all started years ago with a huge bag of bottle caps that were intended to put the finishing touch on the just-filled Coke bottles coming off the line at the old Coca-Cola Bottling Plant in Chadron.

Seems the Dawes County Historical Museum has come by those misguided bottle caps, spurring questions about the old plant. 

"What year was it built," Budge asked.

"I don't know, but I'll bet somebody does," I replied.

That short conversation with Budge Cripps of Whitney, Nebraska – a guy who's been deeply involved with the Dawes County Historical Museum for several years – has sent yours truly off on an information scavenger hunt.

My desk is a mess, there's dirty dishes in the sink, the garage needs cleaning, and I've got a wee bit of a cold......but all is not lost.  I've found yet another diversion from doing the things I should be doing.  It's a new historical puzzlement – searching for clues that might help answer Budge's question.  No answer yet, but a few good leads.

My first thought was to contact high school classmate Tommy Sims.  After all, Tommy's dad bought the plant and moved from Kansas to Chadron in about 1957-58.  A quick call to Tom resulted in an exchange of information over lunch at the Alpine Inn in Hill City (They have really good brownies, by the way – and I expect Coca-Cola, too).  

Tom, shown here with a plaque from the plant, had some great old photos, too; alas, they were not dated.  But our "Columbo" instincts took hold when we saw a photo with baskets of flowers on the floor of the plant, like perhaps....a celebration?  Ah, ha!  A Grand Opening!  Well, maybe.

Most telling was that plaque Tom had wisely spirited from the wall of the plant those many years ago – when it went out of business.  We conjured that was probably about the time Safeway was building a new store along West Third Street in Chadron, reaching back and likely gobbling up some of the land upon which the plant sat.  (I'd forgotten – if I ever knew – that there were actually two different Safeway buildings at that location, subsequent to their earlier store I remember on the west side of First and Main).

Tom says the plaque was probably presented to the plant by the now-defunct Miller-Hydro Company way back when.  And Miller-Hydro, he says, was the manufacturer of the mechanized bottle washer in the plant.  After inspecting that plaque, we surmised that it was likely presented to the plant when it first opened.  If our interpretation of the numbers at the bottom-left of the plaque are accurate, that was probably about the 16th of June 1939.  Perhaps that was the opening date.  And maybe that's when some of Tommy's picture of the plant were taken.

Then, I thought of the late Harry Meyer,  who was known around Chadron as "Mr. Kiwanis" for more than half a century.   Born in Colorado and member of the "Last Man's Club" of World War One veterans, he was a jovial and enterprising guy I got to know in about 1958 at the KCSR radio station.  I got to know Harry pretty well.  He was in the sunset of his years, working at the station as its bookkeeper.

But Harry was also known as a Coke guy.   Or rather, THE Coke guy in Chadron.  He had run the Coca-Cola Bottling Company way back when – but just when the heck was that?  Well, according to the Pictorial History of Dawes County, Harry owned the plant from 1929 to 1953.  The next owner was George Garrison, who had it for nearly five years.

Exploring a few old Chadron city directories, I discovered that Harry and his wife, Gertrude, owned and operated the Chadron Creamery as early as 1936.  And according to ads, they were a manufacturer and distributor of dairy products, candies, Near Beer, and......Coca-Cola.

But where was the Chadron Creamery in those days?  East 2nd Street?  Second and Chadron Avenue?  I'm inclined to think that Harry and "Gert," as he often called her, handled Coca-Cola among the many other products marketed at the creamery – but I'm skeptical they were bottling Coke in those early years.  I suspect it was 1939, when the Miller-Hydro bottle washer and other equipment necessary for filling the uniquely shaped Coke bottles were purchased, probably for a new or renovated structure on the west side of Second and Chadron Avenue.  What do you think?

A picture of Harry at work, and a few other Coca-Cola related photos (courtesy of Tom Sims) are included in our Early Chadron gallery.  There's even one that suggests that "Things Didn't Always Go Better With Coke."

A bit of follow-up in the Chadron newspapers of the 1930's, and cross-checking with local telephone and city directories of that period, should help to answer Budge's question.  Until then, I'm thinking there was a plant, somewhere in Chadron, in 1939.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A chance to keep Deadhorse history alive!

In an effort to update historical information about the Deadhorse community and those who have lived in the community, please send stories, historical information including pictures and any other memories you'd like to share to:
Kim Madsen, 60 Grantham Road, Chadron, NE 69337.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Revisiting the mysterious naming of Chadron

by Larry Miller

Traveling northward on U.S. 385 recently, I stopped near the city dam about five miles south of Chadron to read and admire the Nebraska Historical Marker dubbed "Chadron Creek Trading Post."

Not for the first time, I felt a few pangs of guilt for not knowing more of the specifics regarding the history of my old home town – and the surrounding region.  I reckon many-a-soul spend their youthful years pursuing activities other than history, and so it was with me.

However, I do remember often hearing that Chadron was originally established in 1884 and was known as O'Linn.  And I recall hearing varied stories about Chadron being named for a fur trader by the name of Pierre Chadron.   So much for recollections.

Returning to my South Dakota home, I pulled out two important locally-produced books to which I often refer regarding Chadron history:  Chadron, Nebraska ~ Centennial History ~ 1885 to 1985; and Chadron Quasquicentennial 1885-2010.   I wanted to update my foggy memory about Chadron history, and the books did not disappoint.

Veteran historian Jim Hanson, whose impressive credentials have taken him all over the country, including the Smithsonian Institute and later the Nebraska State Historical Society, authored sections in both publications.  In them, he offered information that corrected and expanded my youthful recollections about Chadron's naming.

It seems that my "Pierre Chadron" was actually the "Louis Chartran" noted in this historical marker up the hill from city dam and Chadron Creek.   And it appears the town was not named directly for Chartran, but for the creek that carried his name – now Chadron Creek.  Hanson's story in the Quasquicentennial book does an excellent job of summarizing the history of "Chadron Before Chadron."

A few other related observations.

There were seven authors listed for the 1985 Chadron history book:  Jim Dewing, Rolland Dewing, Jim Hanson, Don Huls, Les Mann, Con Marshall, and Jon Olson.  I've had the pleasure of knowing five of those gents.  And if it was all men conspiring to put out the 1985 book (I suspect lots of ladies helped, too) things changed only a little bit by 2010 when the Quasquicentennial publication was printed. While it appears good friend Con Marshall – one of the most prolific writers I know – served as chairman, writing and assembling much of the book, ladies dominated the History Book committee.  They were Jennifer Cleveland, Bev Stitt, Rosanne Keepers, Sharon Jones, Marge Stoner, and Barb McDaniel.  While their names are not seen in bylines, they performed a myriad of tasks ranging from proofreading to advertising.

I expect in coming years we'll see more female historians.  Those researching and writing history.  If the list of winners from the recent Western District History Days at Chadron State College is any indication, that time has already have arrived.  In more than 50 years of media work, I've seen an industry dominated by men become the turf of men and women alike.  

And while I'd like to attribute my interest in history to teachers at Chadron High School, Chadron State College, and Iowa State University (they were all men), I can't.  My interest in history was dormant and limited during most of those years – only to be awakened by the splendid writing and superb research conducted by the late Barbara Tuchman (The Guns of August, Stillwell and the American Experience in China, etc.)

But then, of course, there's age.  It seems to me that many of us begin to appreciate history only later in life – just before we ourselves become history.