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thedrifter
07-12-07, 09:08 PM
Vets share stories as county marks 150 years
By Katie Nieland - The Grand Island Independent via The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Jul 12, 2007 17:51:37 EDT

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — When Pete Rickert lived on Fifth and Pine streets, there weren’t many cars rumbling past. But there were cattle drives, Gypsies and circus cowboys.

Rickert, 88, was born in 1919 and has lived in the area all his life.

Besides an 11-month, four-day spell in the Army as a wire communication specialist during World War II, he’s been in Hall County awhile.

With the 150th anniversary of Hall County, Rickert reflected on how the area used to be. His maternal grandfather was a Pony Express rider near Kearney.

“Once, outlaws stopped him and made him strip and tied him up in zero-degree weather,” Rickert said. “He escaped, got to the nearest town and jumped in a barrel until he got some clothes.”

As a boy living near the Platte River, Rickert said he would use pitchforks from the farm to navigate the sand bars.

“I stuck the pitchfork into my foot; it was under the sand,” he said.

At one time, Grand Island had five movie theaters, Rickert said. In the beginning, people wouldn’t go to movies much because it wasn’t the proper thing to do.

“By the time I was 9, though, everyone was going to the movies,” he said.

When the circus came to town, Rickert said he would watch the group set up and see Tom Mix, a cowboy actor in the silent movies, who had a pony act in the circus. When the Gypsies came to town, though, Rickert said he wasn’t allowed any where near them.

“They would camp in the park,” he said. “I never got near them, but I know the Gypsy boys taught my pony to buck.”

When the cattle drive came to town though, there were so many animals that the herders drove them down Rickert’s street, instead of the smaller main streets.

“It didn’t happen too often, but it was sure loud,” he said.

Rickert’s father manufactured cigars with about 25 other cigar makers in the 1920s. Some of the tools they used are now on display at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer.

The Army drafted Rickert in 1943, and he spent time working with communication wires in the South Pacific during World War II.

“I never got too close to the battle,” he said.

After getting out of the army because of eye-health issues, he hitchhiked from the coast to Wyoming and took a bus to Nebraska. He never married, but took several jobs, including one at a filling station and most recently for Grand Island City Parks and Recreation.

Nancy Klimek, recreation director at the Grand Island Veterans Home, where Rickert lives, said many of the residents have their own stories about Hall County. She said she regrets that they all haven’t been written down.

“Undoubtedly, there are thousands of stories like Pete’s of people who grew up in a different era,” she said.

Now, Rickert lives at the veterans home and said Grand Island has changed so much, he’d get lost if he went uptown.

“The families are all spread out now. It worries me a little,” he said. “I liked the old days when Grand Island was smaller.”

Ellie