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Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook by Bill Blauvelt Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan Life, Beyond the Ranch, by Tonya R. Pohlman

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
        One hundred years ago this month bids were being sought for the construction of state-aid bridge to replace the wagon bridge over the Republican River near the west edge of Superior. The new bridge was to be made of reinforced concrete of the balanced arch design with two 50-foot, two 55-foot and two 60-foot arches. The roadway was to be 16-feet wide.
If I have my history right, the wagon bridge was washed out by a flood before the concrete bridge was constructed, and the concrete bridge failed prior to the 1935 flood.
Before construction of the current bridge, piers and pieces of concrete left from the bridge built in 1915 were still visible in the river bed.
My Grandfather Blauvelt was one of the last people to cross the concrete bridge. I remember him telling of what it was like to cross the river on the sagging bridge. Aware the bridge was failing, he made a quick trip to town for supplies and was able to get back to the south side before it broke apart. Without the bridge, the two-mile trip to town would have been several miles longer. He didn't tell me what he so urgently needed to make it worth crossing a failing bridge but knowing grandfather, I suspect Redman chewing tobacco was on his want list. Grandfather never went far without his Red Man and bought it by the case.
My father told of using the bridge and trying to hand walk across the river. His attempts and those of his friends usually ended in a plunge into the river water backed up under the bridge by the mill dam. But that was okay for they enjoyed swimming in the river.
With the concrete bridge out of service, a pontoon bridge was brought in to provide access until a more permanent structure could be built.
A federal government program to provide work for the unemployed was utilized in conjunction with the building of the replacement bridge. When a call for men with teams went out, grandfather reported for work with his team. He was denied a job because in the words of the boss, "You have a farm." Grandfather said he wondered why they expected to be able to find unemployed men with teams. Unemployed men during the Great Depression would not have been able to afford the feed required to keep a team of horses or mules.
Dad said the replacement bridge was shorter than the failed concrete bridge and blamed the restriction on some of the flooding problems later experienced on the stateline.
But the bridge wasn't expected to last a long time. The state highway department wanted to construct a bypass around Superior and an overpass over the busy Burlington and Missouri Pacific railroad tracks.
World War II delayed such projects and by the time the war was over the railroads had changed the routing of many trains and the overpass was no longer deemed necessary.
I suppose the highway department planners were not much different than they are now. In the 1930s their studies called for an overpass. In the 1940s they didn't. We've seen the same thing in Superior. For a few years, we had a signal light at Third and Bloom and now we don't. In the 1940s they built three bridges for Highway 14 on the river bottom and thened one after the 1949 flood. In the 1980s they removed one bridge and shortened the other two. All because of their studies.
The temporary river bridge was to last about a half century before being replaced by the current bridge.
The temporary bridge was better than the pontoon bridge but it was a challenge.
Motorists disliked it for it was barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. When I started to drive an automobile, I approached the bridge with caution in case I should encounter a wide load and need to stop and wait for the load to clear the bridge. When attempting to ride a horse to town from Blauvelt's Hill, I never had trouble with the first three bridges, but something about the river bridge frightened the horses and seldom did they willingly use the bridge. Once when we were two-thirds of the way across and I had begun to relax. I shouldn't have for the horse stepped on an expansion joint, was startled by the sound and turned and ran off.
During a flood the bridge collected debris. After watching highway department workers standing on the debris piles trying to work the collecting material down stream, I decided they had a job I didn't want. But one department worker told me, "As long as that bridge remains in use, I have job security."
In its last years, holes were developing in the bridge deck and the deck had to be frequently patched. The patches involved welding plates onto the underside and then filling the holes. When I rented canoes, I cautioned the renters to not stand beneath the bridge for fear a piece of falling concrete would strike their heads.
Some of the concrete from the 1915 bridge remained in the river channel for decades. The concrete created water swirls which scoured out deep holes catfish liked and made for good fishing.
I remember listening to stories handfishers told about their escapades trying to catch the fish. At least one young man tried to draw air through a garden hose so he could stay underwater in the hole for a longer time while feeling for a fish.
People playing in the river who were not familiar with the area sometimes thought it would be fun to sit or stand on the concrete. They were in for a surprise when they found the otherwise shallow river was over their head.

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Shlaefli

Farm life has always been my life. While researching my history on the Boyles side of the family, I learned my father was a fifth generation farmer. I was a farmer's daughter and now I'm a farm wife and farm owner. Some are saying farmers lack the political influence they once had, and with the size of farms increasing, the farmer population is shrinking. Farmers are sometimes blamed for rising food prices and often condemned for receiving government payments. We will always need farmers; farming continues to be a wonderful and meaningful way of life.
According to the National Association of Wheat Growers, "Kansas produces enough wheat each year to bake 36 billion loaves of bread. That's enough to feed everyone in the world, more than six billion people, for about two weeks." An AgFact states, "50 percent of the world's food items are produced by small farms using mostly family labor." Farm Policy Facts: "For every $1 spent on food, farmers receive less than 12 cents for the raw products."
One year, a farmer may celebrate a bumper crop and the next year lose most of the crop because of drought or disease. Yet they keep the faith and continue on, hoping the following year will be a bin buster. "The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer," said Will Rogers.
One of my favorite speeches that seems to capture the true grit of a farmer was given by the famous radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey, in 1978. Harvey gave this speech at an FFA meeting held in Kansas City.
"And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a caretaker ... so God made a farmer.
God said, I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board ... so God made a farmer.
I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild; somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies, then tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon, and mean it ... so God made a farmer.
God said, I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt, and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say, maybe next year. I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps; who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon, and then pain'n from tractor back, put in another 72 hours ... so God made a farmer.
God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds, and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor's place ... so God made a farmer.
God said, I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave balls, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark.
It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners; somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week's work with a five-mile drive to church; somebody who would bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh, and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says that he wants to spend his life doing what dad does ... so God made a farmer."

A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

My evenings and weekends have been filled with an activity I don't find particularly unpleasant, but I'm surprised at how much time it takes to do it right. I've been browsing for film festivals to submit two short films.
This is the first festival season I have actual films to submit, rather than just screenplays. In the past, I was only looking for festivals with script contests, and I typically entered the same ones each year. When I first started, I snail-mailed hard copies of my script along with a printed entry form and a paper check to pay the entry fee.
Then I started using a service called "Withoutabox." You only have to upload your script and information to them, then choose which festivals you wanted to enter. Click this box and an electronic file of your script is forwarded to the contest. Click that box and the entry fee is charged to whatever card you have registered with them.
And it's just as easy with films; you upload a digital file of your film to Withoutabox, then click the boxes to enter festivals. As several friends of mine found out, if you're not careful or prudent, it's easy to spend a lot of money on entry fees. Some are as inexpensive as $25 or $30; some are closer to $75 or $80.
So anyway, I have a new feature script I'm entering into a few contests, plus two short films I have writing and producing credits on ­­ a documentary called "Shakespeare With Noodles" and a comedy called "Damn it, Mamet!" We've been looking for festivals here in the midwest which we'll try to attend if possible, starting with Omaha in March (I always go to that one) and Kansas City in April.
Browsing film festivals in Colorado is exhausting. I would never have believed there were so many in one state. I think it's because of all the ski resort towns. They all have movie theatres and lots of places to rent rooms, all of which are pretty much empty in the summer. Hence the film festivals. I believe there are more film festivals in Colorado per capita than even in California.

Life, Beyond the Ranch, by Tonya R. Pohlman

It is true that you do not realize how much you missed of any particular thing, until it is gone and then returns. On Saturday, my husband and a friend installed a new water heater in our home. Though the old water heater had not yet quit working, or so it seemed, the output of hot water in our home had gradually diminished. We had water. But it was far from hot.
It was to the point with our old water heater that I considered boiling water on our stove to combine with the lukewarm water I was able to draw from the bathtub and other faucets.
I think there are times when we find ourselves compensating for what is lacking, often in ways that are merely temporary, futile and even unhealthy, rather than making an investment to either fix what is broken or recognize when the irreparable necessitates something new.
Our lack of hot water rapidly went from a mild problem that necessitated a quick "in and out" bath or shower, to considering other alternative like the dumb and desperate time I washed my hair in an ice cold creek in British Columbia during one of my family's lengthy treks along the Alaska Canadian Highway.
But late Saturday evening, I felt transformed from a hapless vagabond in a foreign land, to at least a member of my country and queen's court, if not outright royalty, or the queen herself.
From barely tepid water to potentially scalding, white hot, almost steaming bath water, one cannot imagine the difference without experiencing it. My inner beast was most definitely soothed by the magic of hot water, whereas before, my inner beast and other body parts might have been clean but simmering in annoyance from a hurried bath in rapid cooling, already well on its way to cold water.
I prefer to take baths. I do not like showers. I will take a shower if it is necessary. But I do not enjoy water pouring constantly on my head or smacking me in the face which I liken to self-inflicted water torture. Of course, if the water is cold, it doesn't matter if it is smacking me in the face or I am submerged in it. Either way, I emerge shivering, irritable and on the brink of hypothermia.
As it turns out, when my husband and our friend removed the old water heater, they discovered that had the temperature been turned to a higher setting, or had it been left in place much longer, it would have quit for good, most likely on a day when an immediate replacement was not possible. And it would have left a watery mess on its way out.
It is always better to tackle a problem before it tackles you.
I imagine each person has an idea of what he or she considers a decadent indulgence ­­ something we not only enjoy but also appreciate because we may not always be able to have it. Perhaps one's indulgence involves chocolate, a gourmet meal, a night out with friends or a moment alone. My decadent indulgence is a hot bath ­­ whenever I want, for as long as I want, with bubbles or without.