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Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Emergance of Dunrovin' Station

Like all stories, this story must have a beginning.  However this tale starts much further back than most blogs.  Oh sure, I've had other blogs in the past.  There was one about WWII Combat Engineers (which I still have the notes for anyone doing research), one about my art and watercolors, and one about quilting.  None of them are live in the blogosphere any longer.

I have decided to have a catch-all blog.  It will encompass all adventures that are Dunrovin Station in West Oak, Nebraska.  What is Dunrovin Station you might ask?  Good question.

Let's open the antique pocket watch and wind it backwards over 147 years to 1868. I love this quote from the Lincoln, Nebraska journal (1880s) "The greatest debt this country of magnificent distances, marvelous natural wonders, and home of freedom, can ever contract will not be so much with the millionaire monopolist, or its gazetted elite as will with the noble, self-denying men and women, who have launched out into they trackless wilds beyond the frontier.  Men may speak of Columbus, and sneer at his discovery, call him a restless, shiftless rover without resource and executive ability, and cynically speak of the "accidental stumble" against the West India Islands by that world-renowned navigator, but such tongues should be silent before the grand army of pioneers who went out from their  Eastern homes, and pushed beyond the confines of civilization in order to develop and open up to the world the boundless resources of this glorious country...(sic)"

The story of the station begins with a Civil War veteran named Volney A. Markel, born in Canada and raised in Findlay, Ohio.  After serving with the 21st Ohio Volunteers in the Civil War, he traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska- a mere village at the time only having 28 houses, and one hotel, which doubled as the center of the village and the newspaper building.   Allowed to purchase property, not only by the National Homesteading Act, but by his good standing discharge from the Union Army after the war, he surveyed lands north of Lincoln, Nebraska and chose 120 acres of prime high land, with a stream, access to a nearby small village and less than two miles to a church and school.  In 1871, he married Phoebe Ann Sutton of Iowa.

He filed his Homestead paperwork, plopped down his $14 and set out to make the mandatory improvements on the property.  He built a sod home, and then later a cabin.  They broke ground, through native grasses that grew over 6 feet tall, and that had never seen a plow.  Oxen strained against the tack.  Blades and backs broke under the endless toil.  There were few trees, save for a few cottonwoods along the stream, which cut deeply through the property.  The soft wet wood was good for neither fuel or building until well seasoned.  Crops were sparse the first year, and were hit and miss in the heavy rocky clay.  Then there was the weather.

Nebraska is notorious for its weather.  Settlers from the East came west along similar latitudes expecting similar weather as their old homes.  They couldn't have been more wrong.  Being on the edge of the expansive, flat prairielands means endless, relentless winds from Canada have nothing to slow them down.  Without trees as windbreaks, the incessant winds were know to drive settlers insane.  Even on a calm day, the winds through the high prairie grasses call out, barely above a whisper, like the voices of the ghosts of the prairie.

The summers on the prairie are sweltering.  Moisture and heat from the Gulf of Mexico surge northward and settle in the middle of the country.  Transpiration from crops and grasses increase the humidity. Temperatures can easily go over 100' and dew points in the lower 70s are common.  Imagine working in a field all day and having to lock yourself into a 10x10 soddy or cabin, where the only window is made of greased paper or leather, and cooking is done by fire, and the door must be closed at night due to wild animals and yes, still disagreements with local native tribes.  The days before daily baths, before shampoos and deodorants, and the age of layered clothing.  It makes you wish for Fall doesn't it?

Fall is my favorite season.  Warm, sunny days and cool evenings and the promise of harvest.  It is also locust season.   Billions upon billions of the monsters hatch out, eating everything in sight.  There are stories recorded of the great locust plague of 1874 where families raced home after Sunday services fearing the approaching storm clouds on the horizon.  Beating them home by mere minutes, the locusts ate everything; the clothes off the line, the line, the livestock tack (save the buckles), lace used as window screening before glass, and of course, the harvest.  So the plagues of Fall have you wishing for the first freeze of winter.

For any of you reading this that grew up watching Little House on the Prairie, there was an episode where Miss Beetle sent the children home for Christmas break early as the first flakes of snow began to fall.  The children were then caught in a blizzard, which so quickly set upon them, that they froze to death before making it home.  This episode is actually based on a real event.  It is called the Schoolhouse or Children's blizzard, January 12th, 1888.  It started as an unusually warm mid winter day, so warm in fact that some children wore nothing but their school dresses and no shoes to school that morning.  By the afternoon in South Dakota and Nebraska, the winds picked up and the temperature dropped to below zero.  Winds howled over 70 mph.  Snow blew with such a ferocity, that the visibility was below three feet.  That coupled with a landscape that had few landmarks to start with, was a recipe for disaster.  Children froze to death where they fell trying to get home.  Livestock died in the field and the out buildings.  Buildings collapsed in the wind and under the weight of the snow.  Snow drifted over 30 feet in places.  It makes you wish for Spring.

Anyone in the United States knows this is part of tornado alley.    Days in the Spring bounce back and forth between soul lifting warmth one day, and bone breaking cold the next: pouring down rain one minute, and freezing rain and snow the next.  Then there are the storms of spring.  Severe weather regularly cut large swaths across the grasslands, hail as large of grapefruit and hens eggs are the norm.

So, are you ready to move here yet?  Well Volney and Phoebe did just fine.  In fact they raised a  large family of 8 children here and ended up with a fine timber stick home with glass windows, several out building and 120 acres of crops and livestock.  He eventually sold the land and moved closer to Lincoln, where he planted a fine orchard of apple trees, and then later into Lincoln itself, when he became the first person to hold the office of Assessor.  So this property, the one we call Dunrovin Station, has changed hands a few times over the almost century and a half  it has been in play, but it is always good to know where you come from, so you can see where you are going.

So where IS this going?

Eleven months ago, my dear, sweet, patient husband, Doc, and I were bit with the "settle down" bug.  After years of moving every two to three years for over twenty years, we decided enough was enough.  We decided it was silly to continue to pay rent and fill the pockets of someone else, when we could be living in a home we love, in a place we love, all while putting money towards our own place.  Well, it all happened so quickly.  We found THE house on a Thursday, and secured a loan from the bank.  We toured the home on a Friday, and were in contract by that Sunday night.  We plopped down quite a bit more than the original $14.  When it's right, you just know.  We're done roving.....dunrovin' get it?!

We've been in the house since October 1st.  "Well why on Earth have you taken so LONG to start the blog?", you ask.  Well I have been insanely busy, details of which I will entertain in later posts.  We moved this time all on our own, no moving companies, no friends, and me with a broken toe and bone in my foot.  It only took me two weeks to totally unpack and decorated, but it has been a long 8 months of the non-stop projects and improvements that come with a new property.  I'd like to think that Volney and Phoebe still walk the fields, hand in hand and smile and what we've done with the place.

This blog will be full of all the craziness; the chickens (The Oodalally Egg House), the garden, the orchard, homeschooling (K-12 International Academy), ham radio (N0RZT, KK4GGZ, and WX4KST), country living, weather (Madis station 3452, cocorahs NE-LA-22), work, projects, cooking/baking/canning, and links to all things fun and amusing.  We'll both be posting as the mood or project strikes.  We hope you'll stop by the blog and see what we're up to.

Welcome to the Adventure (and Misadventures)!


  1. I am looking forward to updates Caryl..

  2. Caryl, loving your blog - spent all day reading ALL of it. I am a former Nebraska girl (age 1 to 14 yrs), but we lived in the city, Omaha. But we had many relatives that lived on farms in the country and we visited them when I was growing up. I'm signing up for future blog updates.

    You have a wonderful gift of words and inspiring photography skills. Keep up the good work - this is a joy to read and reminds me that there is so much that is right with this country and lots of wonderful hardworking people. Thanks for sharing it with us city folk!