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'Home on the range'

The last homesteader’s tractor has finally arrived at its new home in Beatrice.

The 1945 Allis Chalmers Model C tractor was presented at Homestead National Monument of America during an unveiling ceremony on Monday afternoon.

Lt. Gov Mike Foley, United States Sen. Deb Fischer and Dr. C.T. Frerichs were on site to help commemorate the event and welcome the newest artifact in Homestead’s collection of more than a million. The Homestead Harmonizers also performed “Home on the Range” to celebrate the new addition.

“It is very fitting that the last tractor used by a homesteader would be displayed at the site of the first claim filed under the Homestead Act of 1862,” Fischer said. “This tractor represents how forward-looking the leaders who came before us were. I hope that seeing it on display reminds all of us that we, too, can continue that legacy of the Homestead Act by working to build a stronger community for tomorrow.”

The tractor had belonged to Vietnam veteran Ken Deardorff when he staked his claim in the Alaskan wilderness in 1974. Deardorff received the last patent to be issued under the Homestead Act of 1862 and settled on 80 acres of land located about 200 miles from Anchorage. Deardorff used his tractor to create a clearing and grow his crops, and it quickly became a lifeline for him. His tractor was the most important tool he had.

After 10 years at his Alaskan homestead, Deardorff moved away, leaving the tractor on the bank of the Stony River for the last 30 years. When officials from Homestead learned about the tractor, they were determined to bring it to Beatrice.

“This tractor represents the end of our nation’s epic homestead movement,” said Homestead Superintendent Mark Engler.

Last year, the Friends of Homestead started an online fundraising campaign to bring the tractor to Nebraska. Originally hoping to raise $44,000, the Friends of Homestead were falling short until Dr. C.T. Frerichs, a retired Beatrice family physician, read about the tractor in the newspaper.

Frerichs paid to transport the tractor to Nebraska and covered the cost of the conservation work needed to prepare the tractor for display. He made all of the donations in memory of his wife, Julia F. (Meadows) Frerichs.

“He thought that that would be a special memory for his wife, now deceased, and we agree,” said Diane Vicars, president of the Friends of Homestead. “We thank you, Dr. Frerichs, because that really did set in motion where we are today. It’s been a long journey. Little did we know it was going to take a helicopter and a boat and a truck to get it here. But it is here.”

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Santa Claus lights up Beatrice

On Sunday night, more than 30,000 holiday lights surrounding the Gage County Courthouse in Beatrice were lit when Santa Claus himself flipped a giant switch during the annual courthouse lighting ceremony.

The 125-year-old building was lit with giant snowflakes as the Homestead Harmonizers treated the crowd to renditions of holiday favorites like “Silent Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Up on the Housetop.”

Even though Thanksgiving was still a few days away, the crowd sang along with the Homestead Harmonizers as they performed “Christmas Don’t be Late.”

For the past 30 years, event organizer J.T. Thornburg has been making sure the courthouse is ready to make Christmas as jolly as possible for the people of Beatrice.

It takes about $4,000 a year to keep the project going, which requires the use of a crane to get lights all the way up to the top of the courthouse.

But the lights and singing were a precursor to the annual visitor who makes a special trip from the North Pole.

In a bright red, velvet suit trimmed in white, Santa Claus made his appearance with a chorus of sleigh bells and let out a loud “Ho, ho, ho,” as he came down the courthouse stairs.

The audience counted down from 10 with Santa before he flipped the switch and brought the lights up as the Harmonizers sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Overall, Sunday’s lighting event went really smooth, Thornburg said, though they’ve had some Santa problems in the past.

One year, Thornburg said, the county board had put new locks on the courthouse doors and forgot to tell Santa Claus. The doors locked up on him, and he was trapped inside.

“We couldn't get Santa Claus out of the courthouse,” Thornburg said, laughing.

Then there was the time that proved Santa just isn’t Santa without the red. After arriving, Santa realized he’d forgotten his trademark suit and had to make due with street attire, Thornburg said.

“He came out in his work clothes and the kids were just brokenhearted,” he said. “So, I checked today to make darn sure Santa Claus hadn't forgot about it.”

On Sunday, Santa was dressed to the nines in black boots and his cozy red and white suit and hat. After the lighting, he and Mrs. Claus spoke to dozens of children about what they wanted for Christmas.

Each kid got a bag of candy, which included what was most likely their first candy cane of the season, and left knowing that Santa was preparing for Christmas.

“I'm just pleased with the way it went off tonight,” Thornburg said, looking up at the white lights on the courthouse. “Thirty years. Thirty years.”

To watch the Homestead Harmonizers perform and to see Santa throw the switch, head to the Beatrice Daily Sun's Facebook page for a video.

Nebraska gives long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline new life

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska regulators Monday approved a Keystone XL oil pipeline route through the state, breathing new life into the long-delayed $8 billion project, although the chosen pathway is not the one preferred by the pipeline operator and could require more time to study the changes.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission's vote also is likely to face court challenges and may require another federal analysis of the route, if project opponents get their way.

"This decision opens up a whole new bag of issues that we can raise," said Ken Winston, an attorney representing environmental groups that have long opposed the project.

Environmental activists, American Indian tribes and some landowners have fought the project since it was proposed by TransCanada Corp in 2008. It would carry oil from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to meet the existing Keystone pipeline, where it could move as far as the U.S. Gulf Coast. Business groups and some unions support the project as a way to create jobs and reduce the risk of shipping oil by trains that can derail.

President Barack Obama's administration studied the project for years before finally rejecting it in 2015 because of concerns about carbon pollution. President Donald Trump reversed that decision in March.

The route approved 3-2 by the Nebraska commission would be five miles longer than the one TransCanada preferred and would require an additional pumping station. Commissioners who voted for it said the alternative route would affect less rangeland for endangered species. The commission was not allowed to take into account a leak last week of 210,000 gallons from the existing Keystone pipeline onto South Dakota farmland because pipeline safety is a federal responsibility.

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling issued a statement after the ruling saying the company would study "how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project."

TransCanada has said that it would announce in late November or early December whether to proceed with the pipeline — which would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of oil a day — and would take into account the Nebraska decision and whether it has lined up enough long-term contracts to ship oil.

The company submitted three proposed routes to the Nebraska commission. The preferred route would have taken a more direct diagonal north to south path across the state and a third route was rejected because it would have crossed the environmentally-fragile Sandhills area.

Keystone XL would expand the existing Keystone pipeline network that went into service in July 2010. The current pipeline runs through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas and extends east into Missouri and Illinois.

More than 90 percent of Nebraska landowners along TransCanada's preferred route have agreed to let the company bury the pipeline beneath their property, but those who oppose it have managed to thwart the project for years. Approval of the route gives TransCanada the ability to seize the land of holdout landowners through eminent domain. The company has said it will use eminent domain only as a last resort.

The approved route would follow the path the company prefers through four northern Nebraska counties. But instead of turning south as company officials had hoped, it would continue southeast to the path of the original Keystone pipeline. The new Keystone XL would then run parallel to the original Keystone pipeline to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect to an existing pump station.

"We see many benefits to maximizing the co-location of the Keystone XL pipeline with Keystone I," the Commission majority wrote. "It is in the public interest for the pipelines to be in closer proximity to each other, so as to maximize monitoring resources and increase the efficiency of response times."

Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Alliance, a pipeline opposition group, said her coalition still needed to review its options, but added, "We will stand and fight every inch of the way."

The federal government has a say in whether the pipeline is built because it crosses an international border from Canada. Opponents hope the change in the route through Nebraska will require a new review by the U.S. State Department.

A State Department spokeswoman said via email Monday that the agency was aware of the Nebraska commission's vote and was gathering information to decide if the decision would affect the federal permit Trump approved.