Varieties of Nebraska Mud

Family in muddy yard in front of sod house

Mud was the curse of pioneer travel and of pre-pavement rural and city life. We’ve told that story elsewhere. This time we want to show you that not all muddy situations are the same. Through a selection of our historical photos, we present this lighthearted slog through some of the varieties of Nebraska mud.


Neighborly mud

Model-T era car towing another car

Getting a driver unstuck near Bancroft, Nebraska, ca. 1910s. Tire chains and a tow chain were standard equipment for rural auto travel. Few roads were even graveled in the early twentieth century. RG3334-1-56


Capitol mud

Muddy 15th Street and state capitol

Mud wasn’t just for backroads. Here’s the old state capitol (on the site of the present capitol) in about 1898. RG2158-12-20


Stoic-but-kinda-forlorn mud

Same as top photo - family in muddy yard in front of soddie

The Elmer Ball family, Woods Park (Custer County), Nebraska, 1886. Photo by Solomon Butcher.

Really? This was the best place for a family photo? But think about it. There’s no electricity, and the thick-walled sod house is crowded and dimly-lit inside. And if you look past the mud, you’ll notice that the family’s clothes are clean, the children have shoes, and the soddie looks square and well-built. The family obviously went to some trouble to show their home and their horse in the photo. RG2608-1069


Hilly mud

muddy street on steep hillside

Omaha began paving downtown streets in 1883, but it took decades to pave the whole city—and the poorest residential neighborhoods were low priorities. This view is to the south from 18th and S Streets on October 29, 1922. The heavily-rutted 18th Street rises from a valley and is crossed by board walkways over the mud. RG2941-7


High-class mud

large house and muddy streets

Before cities were paved, even wealthier residents dealt with muddy streets and precarious wooden crossings. This is Lincoln, circa 1900. RG3474-6895


Patriotic mud

WWI parade, soldiers in muddy street

A World War I parade in Wahoo, 1917 or 1918. Cheer up, fellas—the mud’s going to be a lot deeper in France. RG2963-1-3


Put-away-that-stupid-camera-and-help mud

man and shovel and stuck Model-T era car on muddy rural road

We’re not sure where this is, but the car has a 1920s Nebraska license plate. Scenes like this show why many farmers were early supporters of the “Good Roads Movement.” During a rainy spell, farm-to-market roads could be impassible for days or weeks at a time. RG3021-9-2


Rutted mud

deep water-filled ruts on rural road. Labeled "Kearney Co Showing faulty Drainage Note Mud Hole on culvert"

Even before gravel and pavement, local road crews tried to identify and improve poorly-drained spots like this one in Kearney County, shown circa 1915. But it wasn’t easy, because the state and federal governments still had little involvement in road improvement. RG3474-1681


Race car mud

man sitting atop mud-spattered 1930s-model stock car, circa 1950s

This the best kind of mud, at least as far as dirt-track stock car racers were concerned. But flying mud stuck to cars and impaired visibility, so drivers installed wire mesh screens in place of windshields and radiator grilles. RG5705-6-25

This last photo is part of a large collection of 1950s-60s racing photos by Harold Mauck of Plainview, Nebraska. It’s part of a new exhibit that opens August 25, 2018, at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. In addition to photos, we’re partnering with the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed to bring in objects and even a few cars. Stay tuned to hear more about Start Your Engines: Nebraska Stock Car Racing Photographs by the Harold Mauck Studio. In the meantime, enjoy a few of Mauck’s racing photos.


—David Bristow, Editor

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