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Nebraska...Our Towns

BUSHNELL -- KIMBALL COUNTY

Bushnell, the last town in Nebraska on U.S. Highway 30, is just nine miles from Wyoming and only 15 miles from Colorado on the south. It is as old as the railroad and named for the Union Pacific Railroad director Cornelius Scranton Bushnell.

The first depot in 1880 was a box car on the south side of the mainline. An "Eclipse" windmill with a 20 foot diameter wooden wheel, provided water for the locomotives. When there wasn't enough wind, a gas engine was used to keep the tower full. The only trees in the area were those planted near the tower and watered by the railroad employees.

James Newell, named postmaster in 1886, also built the first building about 1887 as a general merchandise store. Almost immediately the town was asked to change its name because it sounded too much like Rushville, so they chose "Orkney," a name that had been used for the eastern part of the village.

Soon the town's fortune diminished, and in 1893 it was reported the station had been abandoned and its agent removed to Omaha. However it is noted that in 1895 the post office went back to the name "Bushnell," and, although discontinued for a time, it was established permanently in 1903.

A disastrous train wreck in 1916 left two dead and many injured. An eastbound freight struck an engine at the west switch just as the "Los Angeles Limited" came through and plowed into the wreckage. The engine and several cars went down the embankment.

A petition carrying the signatures of "36 taxable residents," was filed with the board of commissioners in 1916 asking that Bushnell be organized as an incorporated village. The ordinances were formally recorded in 1918.

In 1919 Emery Howe had a franchised electric plant. Operating on "No pay, no current" house power for washing or ironing was available from nine till noon. There was none for commercial purposes. Twenty four hour service became available in 1920.

The Bushnell Telephone Company was organized in 1914 as a partnership and later as a corporation with the switchboard in George Hammond's residence where his wife, Maude operated it. In the late 1950s it was sold to Panhandle Telephone Company and dial phones were installed.

A man called "Shockey" built a number of four-room, square houses in the west part of town. They still carry his name and were so well built they are still occupied, some having been remodeled and enlarged.

In its heyday Bushnell had a full range of business; banks, general merchandise and specialty stores, a drug store with a nifty fountain, a grain elevator, cream station, pool hall, cafes, and the Reed Hotel. This building currently houses the Rebekahs and Senior Citizen Center. On Tuesday the seniors have a carry-in dinner. No one goes home hungry!

The Presbyterians built the first church in 1914. Other churches include Catholic and a Mission church that evolved into the present West Union Parish of the Methodist Church.

By the turn of the century the population of Bushnell precinct was 137. By 1920, 757; and now it is posted on the highway as 190. The Kimball County Bank serving Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska and the post office are the only businesses in town. Most young people have moved where they can find work. Recently a number of vacant homes have been purchased, primarily by retired people.

Baseball games, contests, and races for cars, horses, and people, were held on Bushnell Festival Days in the early twenties. "Bushnell Days" is still celebrated on the last Saturday of August with activities for all ages, a barbecue at the fire hall, and a dance.

Times changed. Students are transported to Kimball schools by bus. The four elevators are used for storage. Since the depot closed in 1971, a mobile unit based in Kimball serves the town.

Interstate 80 and other well kept roads provide easy access east and west. Its a ten minute drive to Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, and 20 minutes to Kimball. The telephone, television, satellite discs, gatherings of the community on special days, and the church, keep the town together.

By Salma Hammond, Box 8, Bushnell, NE 69128