The North Bend Eagle


 


Morse Bluff Township Board member Drew Walker presents Keith Racek with a model road maintainer to commemmorate his 46 years on the board.

Racek reflects on 46 years on township board

by Nathan Arneal
Published 3/18/15

When your job has been to take care of gravel roads for almost half a century, there are things you learn about gravel roads.

Keith Racek has been watching over the 18 miles of gravel roads and four miles of dirt roads in Morse Bluff Township for the past 46 years as the chairman of the township board. For about half that time, he was also the one manning the road grader, pushing gravel and snow to keep the roads smooth and passable.

So he knows a thing or two about gravel roads and townships.

For example, townships are supposed to be 36 square miles, measuring six miles on each side. Except Morse Bluff Township is only about three miles south to north, Racek pointed out. The other half of the original township lies north of the Platte River and is now known as Cotterell South. The original surveyors didn’t let rivers get in their way, but eventually the township was broken into two halves on either side of the river.

Helping honor Racek, second from left, were township board member Drew Walker, current road maintainer Matt Shaw and board member Jeff Hines.

Sections in a township are numbered 1 to 36, starting in the northeast corner. The northeast corner of Morse Bluff Township is No. 24, because the original section No. 1 is now part of Cotterell South.

Racek, 79, shared stories like that and many others last Wednesday with current Morse Bluff Township board members Jeff Hines and Drew Walker, as well as Racek’s road maintainer replacement Matt Shaw. The crew gathered at the Legion Hall to present Racek with a miniature road grader mounted on a plaque recognizing his 46 years of service to the board.

Hines, now the longest-tenured member of the board, replaced Racek as chairman after Racek retired at the end of last year. Hines is serving his second term on the board. Hines said an invaluable amount of institutional memory was lost with Racek’s departure, but that doesn’t mean Racek will be totally out of the loop.

“I’ve got Keith’s cell number programmed in,” Hines said.

Racek joined the Township Board as a replacement for Amiel Keller, who retired from farming and moved to Fremont in 1967. Shortly thereafter, Racek was elected to his own term as leader of the board, a position then known as Justice of the Peace and later changed to Chairman of the Board.

Racek followed up with 11 straight terms on the board, whether he really wanted to or not.

“Hell, one time I didn’t even file (for reelection),” Racek said.
Didn’t matter. He kept on serving.

At one point — Racek doesn’t remember exactly when, only that it was “more than 20 years ago” — the township’s road maintainer resigned. Worried that the board wouldn’t find a replacement in time, Racek said he’d do the job himself.

There were late nights pushing snow. There were white-outs where he could hardly tell where he’d been or where he was going. In the mid-90’s he started carrying a bag phone so his wife Gilly could contact him in case of an emergency.

At least that was the plan.

“He took it out there with him, but at 3 o’clock in the morning, I still didn’t know where he was,” Gilly Racek said. “I didn’t know if he was in a ditch or what. So I’d call, call, call. When he finally got home he says, ‘Well I didn’t turn it on. I didn’t need it.’”

Of course, everybody is an expert on how the roads should be graded or when the snow should be plowed. People were eager to give Racek advice on how he should do his job, at least in the early years.

“The first time somebody would give me some (trouble), I’d say, ‘Where do you want it parked?’” Racek said. “I would have delivered (the road grader) and walked home. That’s what you learn, in one ear and out the other. I think once people in general knew what I was like, they left me alone.”

For many years, his dog Tuffy rode shotgun in the maintainer, napping most of the time but always perking up when they passed a farm with a dog.

Racek finally retired from the road grading gig last July when Shaw took over. Racek made his final rounds aboard the sixth road grader the township owned during his time on the board before handing the keys over to Shaw. His instructions on operating the grader were brief.

“I’ll never forget how he taught me to run it,” Shaw said. “He says, ‘There’s a lot of levers in there. They all do something different. Try them all.’”

In his early days on the board, it met monthly. As the township settled into a rhythm, meetings became more sparse, occurring on an “as needed” basis.
In last November’s election, Walker and Tonja Frank joined Hines on the three-person board.

Racek said he doubts anyone else will have the opportunity to serve on a township board as long as he has.

“Going down the road, there isn’t going to be such a thing as a township board,” he said. “There’s only about 20-some counties that still have this system.”

To be exact, only 26 counties in Nebraska use the township system.

With his decades of service on the board in the rearview mirror, Racek said he enjoyed the experience for the most part. It was a study in cooperation as the board kept the road grader working, bought gravel and dealt with safety issues.

“I served with good guys on the board. I can’t complain,” Racek said. “All three of us had to agree on something before we made a big purchase. It wasn’t just two guys deciding. That was a policy from the time I got on.”

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