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Nebraska County Countdown: 79 - Hayes County, A Flying Metal Rod And The Hot, Hot Sun

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What I remember about Hayes County.

Hayes County Nebraska Courthouse
Nebraska Courthouses are all about functionality, it appears.

Hayes County has only one real town, and that is the county seat, Hayes Center. Hamlet is listed as another town, but I’m not sure it exists anymore. Palisade is partially in the county as well. Is it real? I don’t know.

Hayes Center is the only town I remember. I grew up next door in Frontier County. We played basketball and ran track against Hayes Center when I was in high school at Medicine Valley in Curtis. We used to ride the bus to Hayes Center over a dirt road. There was only one paved road into Hayes Center at the time. We’d joke that the only people who lived there were those who drove into town but were too stupid to figure out how to drive back out again.

That’s what you do when you’re from the middle of nowhere – you find an even more middle of nowhere to make fun of.

Note that in the story I am about to tell you that the names have been changed as I have no wish to be sued.

I helped build a feedlot near Hayes Center during one of the summers in the early 80s. I was paid $3.35 per hour to be out in the hot sun all day doing manual labor. We dug fence post holes by hand, placed the posts, then went back and put up the crossbars for the fences. The posts were treated with creosote, and the heat was enough that fumes would come out of the wood and burn your nose and mouth. It appeared as if everyone were permanently sunburned because of the red lines around our nostrils and mouth.

We did not use wire fencing. The cross bars were mainly pine tree branches that were nailed up between the fence posts in threes. All day long we held up what were primarily small trees against each fence post. One guy would drill a hole through the pine branch and through the fence post. He would then pull the drill out and pound a spike through the hole. We would then start on the next crossbar.

There were no trees to provide shade because it was open land. The dirt wasn’t much dirt at all but more of the type of sand you’d find in the sand hills which is comparable to that of which you’d see in a desert. A gentle breeze might bring respite from the heat, but if the wind blew, we would be blistered by hot sand.

Several of my friends worked there as well. Every day we would drive from Curtis to Hayes Center. Every morning we’d drag ourselves out of bed and go back to the job. In the evening we might stop and have a beer before we drove back to Curtis, and most of the time none of us would remember the hour-long trip. We called it “hyperspacing.” It wasn’t because we had drunk a lot of alcohol, it was because we were so damn dehydrated that our bodies were a mess.

Nobody thought about dehydration. Nobody said, “Hey, you guys should make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.” It wasn’t a thing. And if it would’ve been a thing, we probably would’ve thought anyone who needed a lot of water was some kind of sissy boy because that’s how things were; these were the days in which everyone walked five miles to school uphill both ways.

Then, because we were young and stupid, after supper, we would go out and party some more.

There were a set of twins we worked with who were genuinely crazy people. They might have been brothers, I don’t remember. They were Polish. Hence, they were the “Pollock twins.” They were great guys, but they weren’t the smartest pair.

They told us a story about how they both got arrested for trying to steal a pig. It was the middle of the night, and “Bill” climbed into a farmer’s pigpen and began stabbing a fully grown hog. Hogs don’t like being stabbed all that much, so the animal started squealing. Loudly. At that point, Bill panicked and somehow ended up with a bleeding, squealing, dying hog lying on top of him. That’s how the farmer discovered them - with brother “Tim” trying to pull a now-dead hog off of blood-covered Bill.

I believe it was the Pollock twins who came up with the idea of a metal rod launcher. They welded a tube to a metal pad. They put a small hole at the bottom of the tube. They would take some black powder because it’s Western Nebraska, and someone always had an explosive of some type, and they’d pack the bottom of the tube with the powder. They’d take one of the spikes we used for mounting the fence cross bars, ram it into the tube, and touch the powder off with a welding rod.

Kaboom, one of those spikes would launch a hundred feet in the air. Or 300 feet. It could have flown 1,000 feet in the air. All I know is that the cliche’, “What goes up must come down,” occurred to no one until that metal rod was flying out of site. Everyone stared at the sky for a few seconds, then took off running.

It was a lousy summer to make any money, but as far as I recall, no one got injured, which is probably some small miracle given the amount of dipshittery involved throughout. I went back to the University of Nebraska that fall and given I’d spent the summer carrying large tree branches around, looked like I could pick up a car.

That’s what I remember about Hayes County.

Hayes County was named for Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president of the United States. I knew nothing, really, about Hayes until it came time to do this article, but apparently, his election was one of the most contentious in American history (yes, I do understand the significance of saying that NOW).

Get this, about the election of 1876:

Tilden won the popular vote and led in the electoral college, but 19 votes from three Republican-controlled states (Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina) remained disputed. Oregon’s count was also challenged. Allegations of widespread voter fraud forced Congress to set up a special electoral commission to determine the winner, composed of fifteen congressmen and Supreme Court justices. The commission finally announced their decision only two days before the inauguration. The vote was 8-7 along party lines to award the disputed electoral college votes to Hayes, making him the winner.

It’s like nothing really changed over the years. Figure that.

The county borders were defined in 1877 and the county named after the president. The county wasn’t “organized” until 1884, which apparently means everyone was either too drunk to get together and build a courthouse, or they were having a helluva time just surviving and didn’t get around to it for a while.

The 2010 census tallied 967 people in Hayes County.

Husker “79” Things:

Rich Glover wore #79 - Glover won the Outland and Lombardi trophies in 1972. He was an All-American in 1972, and he played on the 1970 and 1971 National Championship teams. He had 22 tackles in the famed 1971 “Game of the Century” against Oklahoma, and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1972, which is even more amazing considering his teammate, Johnny Rodgers, won it.

Michael Decker was wearing #79. He’s now done with the game.

Scott Frost won 79 games at Oregon while he was there. His record was 79-14 in seven seasons. The Ducks twice played for the national championship and won four conference titles in that time span. WoohooooO!

The 1979 Cornhuskers team started the season 10-0, then lost to Oklahoma 17-14 in Norman. You can watch the entire friggin’ game, complete with Keith Jackson announcing. Damn you Billy Sims.

They then lost the Cotton Bowl to Houston 17-14. Once again, that damned Tom Osborne had let us all down. Couldn’t win the big one!!!!!