MEMORIES AND STORIES OF GORDON, NEBRASKA
By Steve Moreland, May 19, 2017
Memories and stories of Gordon, Nebraska have recently come to mind. Possibly this is because I was born there in the old three-story hospital on Main Street, on November 8th, 1951. The medical bill for this occurrence shows that it cost my parents a total of $124.25. This came to a little over 93 cents per ounce, because I weighed 8 pounds 5 ounces dripping wet. The attending physician was Dr. Frank W. Wanek, but his fees weren’t documented and preserved. At the age of four I had my tonsils removed, and this time was admitted to the new and much more modern Gordon Memorial Hospital facility located in the northeast part of town. The January 29th, 1956 bill for this procedure came to $37.60. In those days, Nebraska didn’t levy a state sales tax.
I recall my mother once taking me to the old Gordon clinic, which was located just across the street north of the present Cowboys Museum. There was a calendar on the wall that featured a Norman Rockwell painting. It depicted a young boy standing on a chair, with his breeches lowered exposing the top part of his backside. The doctor was preparing to give the boy a shot in his bare posterior, and to put it mildly, the picture scared me to death. I think a nice nurse even took down the calendar so the little crying kid would have more peace of mind.
My folks did their dental work with Dr. Sittler, so he was the first dentist that checked me out also. As I recall, his office was on the east side of Main Street in Gordon. I was only about four years old at the time, and Dad said that while he was paying the bill, I was having quite a conversation with rancher Woodrow Metzger, who was next in line.
My mom’s brother Bruce and his family from Minnesota were here visiting one time. I was trying to impress my young cousins by showing them how I could stand on my head. Somehow in the process, my neck became dislocated. It hurt like the dickens, and didn’t quit hurting. I spent most of the rest of the evening crumpled up on a corner of the davenport whimpering. After a night’s rest, it still hurt. Dad drove me to Gordon the next day, to an appointment with the chiropractor, Dr. LaJess. He popped my neck back into place, and I was good as new.
Another medical memory was when I was about ten years old and had a badly ingrown toenail on my big toe. Mom and I, and Lois Fairhead and her son, John, all carpooled to Gordon. Mom and I went to the doctor’s office to get my toe worked on, and “Aunt Lois” and John went Christmas shopping. The doctor’s working on my big toe was a painful procedure. He was giving me deadener with a needle about as long as my big toe. I was laid out flat, and wondered why they quit working on me. There seemed to be some kind of commotion in the room, and it turned out to be my dear mother fainting. The medical personnel had to see to her needs before resuming work on mine. I remember the ride on the way home. John had bought a Christmas present for his little Chihuahua dog, Mitzi. I thought, well that was nice, I should get something for my dog, Lassie. Then I thought, while he was having fun Christmas shopping all I got was this lousy sore toe. Everything turned out fine eventually.
Sometime in the early 1950’s, the local passenger train made its final run on the Chicago and Northwestern line that went through from Valentine to Chadron. My mother bought tickets for her and me to ride this train as it went from Merriman to Gordon, and my grandparents, Jack and Grace Moreland, were there to pick us up. We rode with them back to Merriman in their Buick car. I was quite young and just barely remember the experience, but do know that Mom provided me the opportunity so I could always say I did it.
The old Sheridan Hotel and Lounge was a meeting place. If Dad was doing ranch business, he'd leave Mom and us kids off downtown and would pick us up there later. Sometimes those waits in the hotel lobby seemed rather long, but at least it was warm in there and out of the weather. When I got old enough to accompany Dad, we’d pick up Mom and my younger sisters at the lobby. Sometimes we’d eat in the adjoining restaurant.
Other places to dine included the Bus Lunch on Main Street, Otto and Mickey’s, the White Rose Café, and the Salad Bowl. Our family probably patronized the Salad Bowl the most. Hamburgers were 25 cents and pop was a dime. Dad seemed to know lots of people, and there was usually someone to visit with when we dined out. Gordon’s hometown author, Will Spindler, and his wife Lulu lived just north of the Pace Theater. They often had supper at the Salad Bowl, and I recall several visits with them at that café.
Here is a little story that concerns the Salad Bowl restaurant. Tom Cobb tells about when his dad, Jack Cobb, had cattle wintered with a rancher northwest of Gordon about five or six miles. They were trailing the cattle back to their ranch on the Niobrara River, and their route was to go straight east for several miles before going south. No provisions had been made for the noon meal, so Jack told his son Tom to lope his horse into Gordon and get a sack full of hamburgers to bring back to the hungry riders. Tom willing did this errand, and was happy to be able to impress some of his high school acquaintances as he rode up to the Salad Bowl Café and Drive-In. He dismounted, hobbled his horse, and sauntered to the serving window to order the hamburgers. He visited with his friends while the food was being prepared, then paid the bill, grabbed the sack full of hamburgers, and mounted his steed to make a grand exit. The horse made an awkward lurch, and only then did it occur to Tom that he’d forgotten to unhobble his horse. The friends he was trying to impress suddenly were even more impressed.
Gordon always hosted a great Sheridan County Fair and Rodeo at the end of August. One particular year, Dad must have been busy first thing on Saturday morning so agreed to meet us in Gordon later. Mom took my sisters and me to the morning parade. The route for the parade was to go north up Main Street, so the street was roped off and observers were standing along the rope between the Saults Drug Store and the Sheridan Hotel. It was a hot muggy day with no breeze. Mom, Sandra, Sybil and I were all standing right next to the rope. All of a sudden, I proclaimed, “Mom, I can’t see.” She replied, “Oh you can too. You have the best spot on the street.” I said, “No, Mom, I can’t see!” It was then she realized that I was dizzy from too hot of a day and too many people. She maneuvered me through the crowd, and sat me down in the shade next to the drug store. Finally the cool shade allowed to me to once again get my bearings.
For many years, the Gordon Chamber of Commerce hosted an annual Town and Country Day. There was a supper which featured pancakes, eggs, and sausage. After supper there was usually entertainment of some kind, and three families were honored. One would be a town merchant, one a farm family, and one a ranch family. It seems like this celebration was usually held in the spring of each year, about the time calving was winding down and brandings were just beginning.
One year when I was about 11 or 12 years old, it had been a long winter with no opportunity to get to town. My boots had gone haywire, and I needed a new pair. On the Saturday night of the Town and Country celebration, we arrived in town hoping to find a store open so I could acquire a new pair of boots. All the stores seemed to be closed, and I felt pretty out of luck, knowing we were busy on the ranch and it would be quite some time before there would be opportunity again to shop for boots. At the supper, we ran into Charlie Saub, proprietor of Saub’s Department Store. Charlie was always friendly and accommodating. Dad said, “Charlie, if you’d like to make a young boy happy, I’ll bet you could sell him a new pair of boots yet tonight.” “Sure, sure,” said Charlie, and he obligingly opened his store. Needless to say, I found a pair of boots that I liked, and Mr. Saub gained a life-long customer.
I went to grade school and the first two years of high school in Merriman, but the last Merriman graduating class was in 1968 when I was a sophomore. The next year, most of the Merriman high-schoolers rode a bus to Gordon each day during the school year. I attended my last two years in Gordon, and graduated from there with the class of 1970. On one occasion, Dad let me drive his 1968 Ford LTD to school because I had an FFA meeting that evening. It was a pretty sporty two-door hardtop car, turquoise in color, and I proudly drove it up Main Street. Just after crossing the railroad tracks, the car screeched to an abrupt halt. I got out to see what the problem was, and discovered that the tie-rod had broken. I was glad that it happened there, instead of a few minutes and a few miles before, when the highway speed was 65 or 70 miles per hour. As other kids drove by in their functioning vehicles, I felt quite chagrined. In fact, I probably felt quite a bit like Tom Cobb did when he tried riding away on his still-hobbled horse. Walking down Main Street, I stopped at Saub’s Department Store and asked Charlie Saub if he knew where I could find a mechanic. He directed me to the auto repair business of Norman Evans, just east of the Sheridan Hotel. Norman towed the disabled car to his shop, and had it ready to roll by the time school was out. I was late for class that day, but all turned out well.
On one of the morning school bus rides from Merriman to Gordon, when we topped the six mile hill, a plume of black smoke was rising over the top of Gordon. We feared the worst, and sure enough, the Pace Theater was on fire. Traffic was being routed around the burning building. Before too much time had elapsed, the Pace Theater was nothing but a pile of hot ashes. This was a sad day for all of us, as we had seen many movies there through the years.
One Sunday after attending the morning services at the Merriman Methodist Church, several families were invited to the home of Decklyn and Louese Nelson, who were managing the ranch owned by Emil Fuchser. We all enjoyed a hurried dinner, and rushed in to Gordon’s Pace Theater to watch the Sunday matinee of the 1962 movie How the West Was Won. It featured an all-star cast including Henry Fonda, James Stewart, and John Wayne, and was a great film. During one segment of the action-packed drama, a terrific train wreck occurred over a several minute time period. We were all mesmerized watching the destruction. My dad’s brother, Stan Moreland, spoke aloud, “That reminds me of some of my haying experiences.” Of course we all laughed.
Casey Tibbs produced a classic movie entitled “Born to Buck.” It was shown at the Pace Theater shortly after it was released in 1966. Mom, Dad, my three sisters, and I all were eager to see the show. We blundered into the dark theater and found empty seats in the second row from the back. After we sat down and got situated, and our eyes got adjusted to the light, we realized that Jim and Esther Buckles were sitting right behind us in the back row. Dad and Jim exchanged pleasantries, and Jim stated that he and Esther hadn’t been to a movie for twenty years, but they couldn’t pass up seeing this one about Casey Tibbs’ bucking horses. It was a great movie, and Jim and Esther and all of our family were delighted that we had made the effort to see the show.
The best movie I ever saw in my life was in the old Pace Theater. It was entitled Never Look Back, and was produced by Gordon Eastman in 1973. It was mostly filmed around the Teton Mountains and Jackson Hole. It featured pack trips and airplane stunt flying, and besides showing wonderful scenery, it also had a great plot. Somehow this movie has been lost through the years, and there seems to be no way of getting a copy. Believe me, I have tried.
Watching the Pace Theater burn down was a sad day in our lives, as many movie memories took place there.
The town of Gordon holds lots more memories. The Willow Tree Festival is always a good time, as is the Sheridan County Fair and Rodeo. These are events that we try to never miss.
Many of my relatives are buried in the Gordon cemetery, including my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and my sister Sandra, who was three years younger than me. I am thinking the Gordon Cemetery is a wonderful final resting place before soaring into the Great Beyond. What was good enough for my ancestors is good enough for me. The town of Gordon, Nebraska will always have a soft spot in my heart.