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COBWEB CORNERS: Old-time cafes getting harder to find

By Mel McFarland

        I have done quite a few stories about food and places I enjoy eating. I need to share this with you, while I compliment a new business just down the street from the paper.
       I have traveled the great plains Canada to Texas, and have this image of a typical plains town of the 1940s or early 1950s. This was before the interstate highways. As a kid, my parents traveled across the country several times on summer trips. Without super highways, it took a long time to get from Colorado to east of the Mississippi!
       Think about a two-lane road. Generally on one side is the railroad track, and it serves grain elevators and maybe even a bulk oil dealer or two. Perhaps there are some buildings, like gas stations, feed stores, maybe a "dime store." There might be several rows of streets with big trees lining them where a few people live. Maybe a school, even more than one, if it is a county seat! The main street has a cafe or two. These open about the time the sun comes up, and outside sit pickups, a big truck or two, and maybe a tractor or two.
       It might have a big sign that just says EAT or FOOD, but most have windows so you can see inside to the counter. Lined up at the counter are several sun-tanned gents, wearing faded coveralls with caps with various company names on them. Perhaps the cook has the radio on with the latest farm reports. KOA and KLZ radio in Denver used to broadcast seemingly endless reports on the latest hog, cattle, wheat and corn prices in Omaha and Chicago, and these could be heard all across Kansas and Nebraska.
       A few of our local cafes have this sort of atmosphere. You have heard about them in my columns.
       Imagine being in one of those old "country" cafes. As the customers drink their coffee, they solve the problems of the outside world and their own area. The counter has only the essentials: napkins, salt, pepper and sugar. The world of spice, such as tabasco, has not arrived yet. Do not forget the menu in its cellophane folder with stitched edges, hand-lettered, typed and, in prosperous places, printed pages. The tables have waxy covers of red and white. The customers, and the staff, belong in a Norman Rockwell painting or magazine cover.
       As an artist I have painted variations of this scene several times, but I do not think the places still can be found. Then I make a trip and come home knowing, yes they do, but they are harder and harder to find! I even have my favorite painting of such a spot hanging in my living room.

(Posted 10/22/14; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since early 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.
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