Yes, we got as far as Ogallala at about 8:25 last evening, and the towns are getting farther and farther apart, so we decided to find a motel here. We started to see some interesting looking mom-and-pop motels along Route 30 as we came into town, but all of them had their neon NO VACANCY signs lit up.
“This is a bad sign,” said Bob.
Every motel was full or at least claimed to be.
“Maybe out at the interstate?” I said.
I-80 has been running parallel just south of Route 30 for many miles now. We can often see big trucks moving along it in the distance. And there were several motels out at the Ogallala interchange. We got rooms at this Holiday Inn Express, but finding a restaurant at 9 pm proved a bit more difficult. The young guy at the front desk suggested the Spur, a place just down the access road next to the Best Western, but it was closed because of oven problems or something or other. And we ended up at a restaurant called Valentino’s that we saw as we headed back toward 30. It was a pizza-pasta-salad-bar place, and it was food.
Yesterday, our best luck was in Grand Island, Nebraska. In the process of doing research for this program, somehow I got a copy of a children’s book titled LINK ACROSS AMERICA by Mary Elizabeth Anderson, and much of it took place in a school in Grand Island named the Seedling Mile School, a school named for one of the early paved stretches of the Lincoln Highway just on the outskirts of town.
Using Butko’s descriptions of the original route of the road, we turned left off 30 onto Shady Bend Road, went a half mile and turned right on Seedling Mile Road. We saw Seedling Mile Court. And then the handsome brick school called Seedling Mile School.
I tried to see if I could find Mary Elizabeth Anderson’s phone number because her bio at the back of the book said she lived there in Grand Island, but I couldn’t find it through information. I looked up the address of the local Waldenbooks, thinking we might stop there and ask if they knew her as a local writer.
But first we drove down the mile, but the original path of the seedling section is interrupted now by the “improved” Route 30, so you have to take Seedling Mile Access Road to get back out there.
And following one of Butko’s tips, we pulled into Kensinger’s Service Station, a small but striking little building with three pumps out front and a great sign that juts into the sky saying simply GAS. We pulled in beside the station and the owner, Dick Grudzinski, was over right away to see what we were doing. We explained our mission, and he chuckled and reluctantly agreed to help. He said there was “some guy from California here last week who stayed for two days taking pictures of the station and the old road.”
Just behind the little station there’s a chunk of the old seedling mile, and Butko says it may be the only remaining stretch of original seedling mile concrete in the country. It’s cracked and overgrown with weeds. It belongs to the grasshoppers. But we took pictures (and video) too, and then we got back to the station as Dick was closing the door. He closes at 1 pm on Sundays.
We convinced him to stay open for a quick 5 minute interview, then a few extra shots of him in the station, and he was great. He has a white cat named Cat who lives in the office, and Bob loved her, and we came to understand better how unusual it is for an independent full service gas station to still be around, especially when the state government has blocked a lot of his business by “improving” Route 30, making it difficult (impossible?) for eastbound traffic to turn into his station. We sympathized and wished him luck. He wished us luck too.
I gave up my quest to find Mary Elizabeth Anderson’s phone number. Dick was our story here, and he talked a bit about the old school too.
And he recommended Lee’s Cafe for lunch. Just off 30 on the other side of Grand Island, it’s an old family-run place that obviously used to have curb service out back under the awning, but now just serves inside. It was a homespun place where the hostess let us know that the cucumbers on the salad bar were from her garden. “The watermelon’s from my brother-in-law’s.”
For dessert, Bob had the triple chocolate cake (homemade, of course) and I passed on my old favorite, coconut cream, to try the unusual one on the pie list, sour cream raisin.
“Sour cream raisin,” I said, “I’ve never heard of that.”
“You’ve never heard of it?!” the young waiter said incredulously. “It’s good.”