The Polk Progress was a Nebraska treasure that ceased publication in late 1989 after 82 years as a weekly newspaper. From 1955 until its last issue, the editor and publisher was the late Norris Alfred. In its last few months, the Progress had 900 subscribers in 45 states. Alfred was a remarkable Nebraskan with an uncanny eye for connecting the present with the future. Prairie Fire has collaborated with the Alfred family, the University of Nebraska School of Journalism and the Nebraska State Historical Society to locate and archive many of Norris's writings. We are capitalizing on our good fortune to present many of the Norris Alfred writings to our readership. We believe that his observations are as fresh and relevant to today's world as they were when originally written.
June 12, 1969
The Nebraska State Department of Roads has issued a news release explaining the mysterious green and white mileage markers erected on all rural state highways in Nebraska. On the highways which cross the state from border to border, the number indicates the mileage from the state line to the motorist’s present position. Depending on the direction of the highway, the number tells the mileage from the southern border or from the western state line. If the highway does not cross state lines, the number indicates the mileage from the origin of the highway, also from west or south.
According to the Department of Roads, the mileage markers make up a “log reference system.” The primary purpose of the system is to provide easy identification of rural accident locations. Also, these signs can be used by motorists wanting to describe the location of their car for service or repair. Under a highway safety project grant, funds for the program costing about $69,000 were awarded by the National Highway Safety Bureau of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Between mileage markers 11 and 12 on State Highway 66 is located most of Polk, Neb., where many accidents have occurred, some of which involved automobiles. Randy Widga was between 11 and 12 mileage markers when he reported to us, at the popcorn stand Sunday evening, that a dog had bit him on the hand. Another boy, also at the ball park, reported that two bloody wounds on the side of his face were due to a piece of broken cement being thrown at him. We asked if the boy who did the throwing was mad at him. He sed, “No, he’s just retarded.” This seemed to be adequate reason for forgiveness. Later the same boy returned to the stand with a dime. What did he want for the dime? He sed, “Anything.” “Whaddaya mean anything?” asks Dean Myers, who was helping in the stand. The boy sed, “I don’t care. Just anything.” Dean gathered an assortment of penny candies, and the boy seemed perfectly content with the choice.
We don’t recall any other accidents happening between mileage markers 11 and 12, although there are several persons walking and driving between the markers who were once described by their parents as accidents.
We have always considered exactness as an indication of thorough knowledge. To be able to describe exactly where we are, or were, and maybe will be, is to forestall error, and perhaps add to the number of our days. This ability to describe and predict where we are exactly, without mileage markers, is of great survival value to astronauts. Predictions were not exact, as to just where the last three astronauts were in relation to the moon, while orbiting it. An error of as much as 15,000 feet in altitude would show up in calculations predicting where the space capsule should be in relation to the moon’s surface.
Readers can readily understand what a 15,000 foot error would do to an astronaut’s life expectancy when landing on the moon. They would land 15,000 feet sooner than planned, and the result of such a miscalculation would be a short obituary—They died abruptly.
We do retain some nostalgia for the inexactness of the wilderness. But the day may come when even the trees of the forest will be numbered from west to east and south to north. Today, the post office department knows the village of Polk is exactly at 68654; the telephone company has it at 765; and the Department of Roads locates it between mileage markers 11 and 12 on Highway 66
We have Polk centered within a wide horizon, from which point we have a visual realization of space: needing no mileage markers to determine we are the center of 360 degrees of skyline.