The North Bend Eagle


Lincoln Highway football
Playing on the highway: Tom Eason, left, and friends play football in front of his family home on Highway 30 in the early to mid 1920s. At the time, the highway was dirt. Eason used to make money here during the rainy season.

Trees have shaded highway through the decades

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 6/19/13

Highway 30 has a long history. It was first an Indian trail, and later fur traders followed its route. In the 1840s it became known as the Mormon Trail. After that it was a trail for those seeking gold in California or Colorado before it became a transcontinental highway.

In the early 1900s, roads were graded by teams of mules and this worked just fine for the horse and carriage days. But when Ford started mass producing the automobile in 1903, making it possible for many to afford a car, it became obvious that these dirt roads were not sufficient. As noted in the “1911 Good Road Tour,” road improvement was now a need. Because roads were built by townships, it was necessary for the common man to get behind the movement.

In 1913 the Lincoln Highway was established, linking 3,389 miles from New York City to San Francisco. At that time the highway was made of dirt trails, gravel and concrete roads. The highway was south of the railroad tracks until four miles east of North Bend where it crossed over to run north of the tracks.

Early cars were open with very little protection from the elements. Thus the core of the story - cottonwood trees often lined the sides of the road. The state tree of Nebraska grew readily in the ditches beside the roads, and they were allowed to do so to provide protection from the elements, whether it be blowing snow or blistering sun.

Cottonwoods were voluntary trees, trees that come from seed rather than suckers that come from the roots of an existing tree, that got their start when ditches were dug to build roads with a peak to facilitate drainage. The moist ditches were perfect for the cottony covered seeds of the cottonwood tree to keep their roots wet.

Claire Eason said a nickname of the cottonwood tree is the “borrow pit” tree as they grew in pits (ditches) where dirt was borrowed to build a road.
The Eason family has lived along Highway 30 since the 1870s, giving them a long joint history.

Mike Eason remembers his dad, Tom Eason, telling stories about making money while in school at NBHS in the late ‘20s pulling people out when they got stuck in the muddy road. He remembers his grandmother, Bertie Eason, tell of cooking for travelers who started their journey in the morning when the road was frozen and got stuck when it warmed up and the road thawed into mud. They would have to wait to take off early the next morning when the roads were frozen again.

When Tom Eason returned from World War II, he planted maple trees along the highway like ones he had admired in France. There is still a stand of maple trees going north along the road on the east edge of the 4-mile curve.

“Every time they would widen the road, they would tear out the trees,” Eason said. Such was the fate of most of the maple and cottonwood trees along the highway.

Cottonwoods were a staple of the early pioneers traveling along the Platte River. They would often collect little trees or the seeds from the Platte River edge and plant them on their claims. Claire Eason grew up in Grand Island and remembers traveling to Omaha in the 1940s and ‘50s and seeing cottonwood trees at every farmhouse along the road.

Mike Eason remembers that the cottonwoods on the north side of the road near his home were removed in the mid-1960s, but some cottonwood trees remain on the south side of the road. He has cleaned out the shrubs and scrub trees to make a nice stand of cottonwoods about a mile east of North Bend.

In 1930, North Bend held an “out of the mud” jubilee to celebrate the completion of 23 miles of pavement on Highway 30 from Ames, passing through North Bend, and on to Schuyler. Previously the road had been graded dirt while most of the highway was gravel.

Dean McVicker of Iowa shared a photo of the last load of cement being poured to complete the highway east of North Bend. It was dated Aug. 13, 1920, and trees were there, noting the progress.

With air conditioned cars, the trees along the highway are not as vital as they were at one time. But pause and take a moment to acknowledge that the trees along Highway 30, the Lincoln Highway, have history on their side... if only they could talk.

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