Greenway

Keck, Mary (Odenbach). "Greenway." Northwest Blade, Eureka, South Dakota, 12 July 2018, 15.


It could be described as a small town, a hamlet or a village. It is, or was, the place where my family lived. Its only locale now is in my mind where it holds the sounds, the smells and the memories of my childhood.

Located two miles south of the North Dakota border, straddling Campbell County in South Dakota, Greenway, in McPherson County; nestled in the rich Spring Creek Valley, was once a vibrant, thriving community of approximately 50 active, close-knit residents of mostly German descent. The landscape was sage-colored prairie as far as the eye could see and blue sky in every direction. Try finding it on Google and you are directed to an article about Chad Greenway, a former football player. Sadly, it has even been erased from the South Dakota map, as though it never existed. In its heyday, daily business in Greenway revolved around a post office, a grocery store, a cream station, a hardware/ car repair business, a gas station, a Congregational church and an elevator. Many other businesses once graced the landscape, but this is written from my memory as a child growing up there from 1942 to 1960 when I graduated from high school and moved from the area.

My Dad, Ed Odenbach, who grew up in the area, managed the elevator from 1940 to 1968. The elevator served not only the needs of local farmers, but was also the only barber shop for miles around. He, a self-taught barber, charged 25 cents for a haircut. In a time when entrepreneurs evolved through need instead of education, he also perfected welding through trial and error and charged customers 25 cents for this service also. During the busy harvest season, he worked long hours until the last customer had been served, only to arrive home hungry, covered in grain dust and sweat after a long day. My mother, a stay-at-home Mom and a misplaced Norwegian, met the needs of a working husband and three children at a time when ďworking motherĒ was a term far in the future. Each Spring she patiently waited for the song of the meadowlark, the first sign of Spring.

The Milwaukee railroad, which served the community, was directly next to the elevator, where rail cars were parked for loading. Coal was an important commodity for the community and in the early years train cars full of coal would be delivered by rail. This was bituminous coal from Sheridan, WY and/or Roundup, MT. Customers brought trucks or trailers and shoveled the coal directly out of the rail car. Often, the leftover coal was unloaded into coal sheds on the sidetrack until needed. During the busy harvest season, the rail cars were filled with grain. Often during the peak harvest season 30- 40 trucks would line up for grain delivery, which often included Saturday and Sunday since the grain needed to be unloaded in a timely manner. The trucks were weighed and the grain dumped into a pit. After it was cleaned, it was moved to the rail cars. When the rail cars were filled to capacity, the grain was placed directly on the ground and transported by truck. The rail cars were also a haven of adventure for bored children as they climbed to the top or sat inside, dreaming of faraway adventures

A long, red train depot was located directly across the tracks from the elevator. A depot agent and his family lived there for many years. Often throughout the day, the clicking sounds of the telegraph could be heard from the agentís office. Because of its proximity to the railroad tracks, the agentís wife had to glue down knickknacks and other valuables to keep them from vibrating off of their perches. Not many passengers graced the waiting room area but the train was at one time an important shipping point for grain, livestock, cream, the daily mail and other merchandise.

Local patrons took advantage, as much as possible, of the businesses located in Greenway. Fresh fruit and vegetables were often grown in private gardens, but the grocery store usually had most necessities on hand. There were usually a few items for a needed birthday gift, a new baby or even a few pieces of fabric to choose from. You might even find a pair of rubber boots. The popular candy counter, front and center in the store, was a favorite of children. Popular candy at the time was BitO-Honey, candy cigarettes, red hots, Sugar Daddy pops and black licorice pipes. There were benches inside and outside of the building for anyone needing a rest. Farmers brought cream and eggs to be sold at the cream station and a gas station provided fuel for family owned vehicles and farm equipment. The small post office provided daily mail until 1976 when it finally closed for good. To emphasize just how small Greenway was, my sister once received a letter addressed by her first name only in Greenway, SD. The letter was directly delivered to her. As was usually the case, a bar was available for patrons interested in wetting their whistle during the Wednesday and Saturday evenings and all businesses were open. On those nights, the town was alive with activity when families and their children congregated for an evening of fellowship and shopping.

Childhood was mostly freewheeling; where the term helicopter parenting was 50 years in the future. During the school year, my brother, sister and I walked through an alley from our home to a one-room schoolhouse where one teacher taught approximately 12-15 students in grades 1-8 in a room heated by a potbelly stove and the toilets were located outdoors at the back of the school. Water was hauled from the town pump for drinking and janitorial duties were provided by the students. Many friendships forged during those years lasted a lifetime.

Communication was essentially primitive; our household never had a phone until I was out of high school. As youngsters, we would stand outside our home and shout at the top of our lungs, hoping our friends across town would hear and respond. Some homes had party line phones, but we never had one. Since our Dad was at the elevator most of the time, much of our time was spent there creating trouble by climbing on the rail cars and conversing with the occasional hobo passing through. A nearby dilapidated lumberyard served as summertime amusement; its catwalks and stacks of grain an open invitation to children looking for entertainment. We also walked the rails in search of additional excitement, often ending up dipping (not the skinny type) in some local farmerís polluted dugout generally meant for cattle.

All this childish entertainment created hungry children. A delicious summertime snack often consisted of chokecherries picked directly off the trees; eating as many as possible and stuffing pockets full for a future snack. This resulted in permanently stained clothing - a small price to pay for such a mouth-watering treat.

Most of these personal memories are from a childís point of view. As an adult, I fondly recall that neither the elevator nor my Dad were off limits. We were always able to see him whenever we pleased and I donít recall ever being told we werenít welcome. The elevator often served as a gathering spot for local men, mostly farmers, eager to hash over the condition of the country, the newest crop and local gossip. Perhaps the language was sanitized when children were present.

As businesses closed, people moved and others died. Eventually, my Dad was the only resident of Greenway. After my mother died in 1968, he lived there until he died in 1979 at age 69. Today, it is a virtual ghost town; most of the land now plowed up or used for pasture. Only the lonely elevator stands sentinel as a remembrance of times gone by - a prairie cathedral with no purpose. A spotting of grain bins dots the landscape. A well-kept small cemetery surrounded by an iron fence now houses most of the residents who once lived there. The home I grew up in was sold and moved to Aberdeen. The lone trees and the desolate landscape leave me with a deep-boned sadness when I return. It is like a childís wish for the world to return to its perfect self, but beginnings all have endings and when I return I am overwhelmed by nostalgia of a long-ago happy childhood. May Greenway rest in peace in the minds of all who remember it.

Reprinted with permission of The Northwest Blade


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