Businesses Suffer After Floods Wipe Out Nebraska Bridge

Ron Gadeken of Ron’s Ag & Auto Repair in Stanton, Nebraska, often goes out to farms to repair equipment.

That includes south of Stanton, where the Elkhorn River flows.

The raging Elkhorn River wiped out part of the Highway 57 bridge on March 14. It remains out and is expected to be until at least November, the Norfolk Daily News reported.

“From here (in Stanton), it’s 25 miles to get to the edge of the bridge where normally it takes one minute,” Gadeken said. “So it takes at least 35 minutes — if not more — because you’re taking gravel roads to Pilger and coming back around.”

About 40 feet of the approach on the bridge’s south side was wiped out, making the bridge unusable. It also adds about that many minutes to Stanton residents’ trips south of town.

Gadeken’s repair business includes such things as fixing bearings, charging air conditioners, welding and putting hydraulic hoses on equipment.

“It’s impacted our hydraulic hoses a lot because they (customers) are going 9 miles somewhere else instead of 39 miles to get to me,” he said.

Gadeken, who has three employees, also repairs trucks and cars, but about 65% of the business is agricultural related.

Farmers also were affected by the flood. In addition to some farmland near the river being taken by the river changing course, other far land is too wet to plant.

Many farmers lost livestock, including Don Kilchemann, who lost 72 Angus-Simmental cows near the river.

The cows were about to have calves or recently calved. Of the 108 cows that were out near the river, 36 of them survived the flood.

“The river just overflowed,” he said, noting that he still has sand on the ground.

Kilchemann lives on the north side of the river, so at least he doesn’t have to drive around to another town to get to Stanton.

“We have a lot of fences torn out,” Kilchemann said. “It’s going to be a long time before it gets back to normal. There’s probably about a mile and a half (of fence) that got torn out.”

Pat Larson and her son, Tim, operate the Stanton True Value, one of the businesses on Main Street.

“We’re basically brand new,” she said. “We’re coming up on our one-year anniversary of having the store. Business is good, and the community is supportive.”

Pat Larson said since the bridge went out, they have lost customers, but it is hard to figure out the exact numbers. Tim, who manages the store, agreed.

“There’s a lot of customers we haven’t seen in a long time because of the bridge,” he said.

The Larsons said they understand that when customers have to travel to Norfolk to get to Stanton, they will be tempted now to purchase their items there rather than continue the drive into Stanton.

It is just a difficult situation, but they hope a newly formed community group known as the Stanton Business Coalition can help. The group is on social media and hopes to work with other media to promote the community.

“We need to get people to think about us and remember that we are still here,” Tim Larson said, “and hopefully get them to still come to us.”

Tim Larson also has his own business, TeeCo Water Services, which is about 3 miles south of Stanton. That business has been greatly impacted by the bridge out, especially for customers in Stanton.

“Everybody that works for me lives in Stanton,” he said. “They have to go through Pilger now. It turned a five-minute trip into a half-hour trip just one way to get out there.”

The restaurants and bars also have been affected. To get to Elkhorn Acres golf course south of town requires going over the bridge — or now going around to Pilger or Norfolk to cross the river.

The golf season will be getting into full swing later.

When people get finished golfing, they often would make the short drive into town for food or drinks.

“With the drive around, I doubt we’ll be seeing much of that,” said Brandi Easley, who owns and operates the Wolf’s Den.

Casey’s convenience store is located along the highway. With less traffic going through town and many customers from the south no longer coming to town, business has been hurt.

“With our customer count and daily sales, you can definitely see it,” said John Prochaska, an assistant manager of Casey’s in Stanton.

There are customers from Leigh, for example, who used to come in for breakfast but no longer do, he said.

Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said safety continues to be an issue, but luckily there have been only a few rescue calls and one accident where they were in need of assistance. Clarkson Fire & Rescue assisted with those calls, he said.

“Knock on wood, but we have been lucky,” Unger said. “We have made a real effort to put deputies on the south side of the river. The county board did authorize overtime way back when and we have used that sporadically to put people over there at different times. More than anything, we have been lucky.”

The longer the community goes without the bridge, the greater the chance it is bound to have an issue where emergency response time is of the essence, the sheriff said.