A recent exploration of a long-undisturbed file cabinet offered a fascinating trip into what a 1960s cartoon called the “Way-Back Machine.”
It turned up a yellowed copy of The Telegraph’s Family Weekend magazine of Jan. 24, 1969, about two years into our late “old editor” Keith Blackledge’s 25-year tenure.
This product, built around the next week’s television listings, featured a look at what had happened in North Platte during 1968 and what 1969 and later years might bring.
“1968 — a very good year,” proclaimed the main article’s headline, building on its writer’s reference to Frank Sinatra’s rendering of the wistful 1961 tune “It Was A Very Good Year.”
Given that year’s two assassinations, multiple riots and general chaos, the headline makes no sense — nationally speaking.
But it did apply quite well to North Platte. Consider some of 1968’s local highlights:
» The year featured both the North Platte debut of Nebraskaland Days, started in Lincoln three years earlier, and Bailey Yard’s completion and dedication in basically its modern form.
» It saw the opening of the “Mid-Plains Voc-Tech” portion of today’s North Platte Community College in the old downtown Carnegie Library (today’s North Platte Area Children’s Museum).
A brand-new “Voc-Tech” facility, now the North Campus, would open a few years later.
» Meanwhile, North Platte Junior College was operating in the 1913 post office building that houses today’s Prairie Arts Center. The North Platte school board, then still in charge of it, bought the land in 1968 that became today’s NPCC “McDonald-Belton” South Campus.
» Wonder when Cody Park got its handsome retired Union Pacific steam engine? It was in October 1968, when U.P. Challenger No. 3977 made its painfully slow but sure trek from the mainline to the park, led by volunteers moving it one piece of portable track at a time.
» With the approaches to the brand-new Interstate 80 interchange mostly done, South Jeffers and Dewey streets (U.S. Highway 83) took on their new joint identity as “the ones.”
» Ground was broken for 11-story Buffalo Bill Manor, still North Platte’s tallest building.
» Finally, the city’s new federally funded Urban Renewal Authority became operational. During the next decade, it would tear down three downtown city blocks for Parkade Plaza and install the Dewey sidewalk roofs removed in 2018 to launch downtown’s current transformation into the Canteen District.
(By the way, The Telegraph finished a complete remodeling and installed its first-ever “offset” press in 1968. But that was in our old location next to the Fox Theatre. Our current building wasn’t finished until 1981.)
That Family Weekend issue also offered several examples of “what goes around, comes around”:
» The City Council adopted a new “Housing Maintenance and Occupancy Ordinance,” giving the city “the authority to order owners of dwellings which do not meet minimum standards to have the dwellings repaired” or pay the bill when the city did it itself.
Fifty-two years later, a different City Council rewrote that ordinance again. Then and now, the goal was to rehabilitate or remove “dilapidated, vacant houses,” which accounted for 4% of city homes in a 1966 study.
» A citizens committee was organized in October 1968 “to seek improved recreation facilities in the city,” preferably a YMCA.
A half-century later, similar groups are discussing whether to renovate or replace the North Platte Recreation Center that the city opened in the mid-1970s. And, yes, some hope to lure a YMCA.
» Though I-80 had been open to North Platte just two years, local leaders were looking toward an “east access” interchange.
Lincoln County commissioners reluctantly concluded in 1968 they couldn’t afford to match available federal funds to build it then. Today’s Newberry Access interchange would wait another two decades. Now some are talking about a “west access” interchange.
» And speaking of the County Board, some local residents wanted it expanded from three commissioners to five. Voters said “no” in November 1968, exactly 50 years before a new generation said “yes.”
» Family Weekend’s cover story noted disagreements on how large North Platte’s then-19,000 population might grow. Some hoped for 35,000 by 1990. As history shows, 25,000 was a more reasonable estimate.
All of which proves something President Harry S. Truman liked to say: “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”