- Feb 11, 2005
- Reaction score
- northern Nebraska Sandhills
COULD HAVE BEEN A WHEELY BAD DEAL
By Steve Moreland – July 17, 2021
By Steve Moreland – July 17, 2021
The railroad went through northern Nebraska in 1885. Even though equipment was primitive, and the work was done with man-powered shovels and genuine hide-covered horse-powered fresnos, it seemed to go fast. All the towns along the railroad were established at the same time the tracks were laid, and they served as locations where water could be added to the steam-powered train engines. Consequently all of the towns along the Chicago North Western Railway had their beginnings in 1885.
One hundred years later, all of the railroad towns went to special effort in commemorating their centennial year in 1985. Even the Chicago North Western Railway got into the spirit of the celebrations, and brought an old passenger train out of retirement to give rides for a few days.
Merriman had a big celebration on the Fourth of July that year. There was a picnic in the park, with a multitude of attendees. Passenger train rides went both directions during the course of the day--one jaunt west to Irwin (where local horseback riders “held up” and “robbed” the train), and later in the day the train went to Eli and back. I took a team of horses and a wagon to Merriman that day, and drove them around a four city block circumference many times. Riders paid a dime per ride, with the proceeds going to the Merriman Methodist Church.
The team of horses was a pair of Belgian geldings I had purchased from John Nielson, who lived east of the Pleasant Point Church south of Gordon. John’s son, Malcolm Nielson, is a fellow graduate with the Gordon High School Class of 1970 and a good friend. I called the team John and Malcolm, in honor of the Nielsons. On one occasion a local young hooligan teen-ager threw a fire-cracker under our wagon. The horses handled it well, but the boy could tell I was not happy with his actions. All in all, the day was quite fun, and everyone had an enjoyable Fourth of July.
Gordon, our neighboring town to the west, planned their centennial celebration to coincide with the annual Sheridan County Fair and Rodeo. An editorial in the Gordon Journal a few weeks prior to fair time proclaimed in part: “If we all put muscle into it, we can stage a Centennial parade that is worthy to be called a parade. Gordon’s pride is on the line. Let’s give it our best shot.” Especially encouraged as parade entrees were antique vehicles, buggies, surreys, chuckwagons, and decorated floats.
When the day of the Gordon parade arrived, on Saturday August 17th, 1985, it seemed that the whole area had accepted the challenge. There were at least 30 horse-drawn entries that lined up for the parade.
Ed Pascoe from Merriman generously allowed me to use his 16’ bumper-hitch flatbed trailer that day. Carol and I used this to haul our big double-box wooden-wheeled wagon to Gordon, and we loaded our Belgian team onto a 10’ bumper-pull horse trailer. George and Roseann Chilton lived about a mile south of the truck stop west of town. We decided this would be a good place to hitch the team to the wagon, and take advantage of a couple miles of traveling to give the horses a little exercise before lining up for the parade.
The parade was fantastic! Horse drawn entries were recruited from a broad area, and they stretched as far as the eye could see. Our wagon was #27, and there were more horses and wagons behind us.
Our team of horses, John and Malcolm, behaved admirably. The parade ended on the north side of Gordon, so we started to drive the wagon back across town to the truck stop and then on to where we had left our vehicles. I decided to take a short-cut and go by the old Scamahorn Church, which is a museum. We got deeply down this road, but came to a place where cars were parked too closely together to get our wagon between them. There was now no choice but to but see how well John and Malcolm could step backwards. I used my best driving skills, and backed them a ways, let them stop a moment, and then we would go in reverse again. They performed amazingly well, and soon we had enough space to turn around and take an alternate route.
The team pulling the wagon walked some, and then we trotted some. Soon we were ready to cross Highway 20. There were cars coming from the east and a big truck coming from the west, but I chirped at the horses and we hit a fast trot to get across ahead of the oncoming traffic. All went well, and we trotted on down the county road to the Chilton farmstead.
I unhitched the horses from the wagon, took off the harnesses, and loaded them onto the horse trailer. Then Carol helped, and we pushed the wagon up a ramp onto the flatbed trailer. Just as we got it onto the trailer, the back left wooden wheel came off of the axle. That was a surprise! The wagon rocked and rolled a bit, but we got it secured, with the wheel back on the axle and tied into place. Where in the world did the hub axle nut go? It sure wasn’t around where we were loading the wagon.
Carol and I each got into a pickup and followed our back trail, looking intently for the hub nut. After driving to Highway 20, and then following our route back all the way, wonder of wonders the hub nut was laying by the Scamahorn Museum. These nuts are designed to stay tight as a wagon goes forward. The ones on the right have the standard formula of “leftie loosie, rightie tightie,” but the nuts on the left have reverse threads. As the wheels turn forward, the nuts stay tight by turning in that direction. When the wagon went backwards as far as it did, the nut had turned completely off the axle.
Yes, had the wheel fallen off on our trip back to the pickups, and especially as we trotted swiftly across Highway 20, it could have been a wheelie bad deal. All was well that ended well.
This was the team and wagon that we used for the centennial celebrations in both Merriman and Gordon, in 1985.