By Patricia Jones
What can you do at Dobby’s Fall September 18 and 19? There are 27 buildings in the Frontier Town, and several will have people who will share stories or demonstrate skills for you. Throughout the town you will see specialized equipment, like hog oilers or the cistern. Volunteers are around to answer your questions. Dobby’s has several antique wagons, including a stagecoach, Conestoga wagon, water wagon, fuel wagon, and chuckwagon. A few antique cars will be brought in for the Fall Festival.
Stop in the church to sign the guest book. Maybe you’ll hear music or see kids making crafts. There is a church service with Darrel Keith at 10:00 on Sunday morning. View all the creepy equipment in the dentist, doctor, and optometrist office – which is also the local barbershop. Have Steph take your photo at Josiephine’s. Imagine a 5¢ hamburger at Rex’s. Look at the variety of coffins in the funeral parlor.
Along the west side, Justin might demonstrate some leatherworking skills for you. Look at the equipment used to publish Iron Man Magazine. Talk about how different real jail cells were from those in TV westerns. Imagine all the things a town relied on the blacksmith to do for them. Stop and have a sarsaparilla and play a game of cards in the saloon. If you were male with your head taller than the top of the bar, you could have bought liquor, and maybe even visited the brothel upstairs.
Across the square along the boardwalk you can visit the bank. See scales to weigh your gold if you don’t feel comfortable using the paper money banks printed themselves. The shelves on the south wall hold years’ worth of patent books. In the fabric shop Anita can teach you how to sew on a treadle machine. Treat your sweet tooth to some homemade candy in the Kandy Snap.
Head over to the north to pet the ponies in the livery stable. Try your hand at Cowboy Fast Draw – maybe you could have been a gunslinger! The school was used in Box Butte County for many decades. Imagine sitting in the wooden desks, writing on a slate or with a pen you dipped in an inkwell.
When you head to the northeast part of the town, you will pass antique farm equipment and a chuckwagon used on an area ranch. There are two homes back here. Colleen can teach you how to use a spinning wheel at the bale house. Houses like this were built in the Sandhills where there were no trees or sod to cut for building walls. She might tell you the story of Robert Anderson, the man who built the cabin. Born a slave, Anderson was Nebraska’s first black homesteader. Success on a tree claim near Hemingford led to him becoming the largest African-American landowner in the state.
In the area behind the main house you’ll find the buildings that made up Dobby’s original town. The Grand Lake Post Office reminds us that this community used to have a different name before the railroad changed it to Alliance. Visit Dorothy’s Fine Fashions to see what well-dressed ladies might have worn. The still house was actually used by moonshiners during Prohibition, with the cupola on top to watch out for the sheriff. The General Store is modeled after the grocery owned by Dobby’s father in downtown Alliance. The gas station was the first in Chadron, and Bruce can show you how the gravity gas pumps work.
Bruce might even treat you to some ice cream! He has put together a 20-quart ice cream machine powered by a 1937 International LA Engine. The rebuilt unit was at the base of his grandfather’s windmill and used with a pump jack to pump water when there was no wind.
You might have your ice cream put on a dessert from Dutch Oven Jones! The food booth will be selling pulled pork sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes, and loaded hot dogs. Sit and eat at a table in the center, where you can enjoy area musicians performing on the house back deck. Other vendors in this area will be selling baked goods, honey, cotton candy, popcorn, and arts and crafts.
On Saturday be sure to visit with Cody Assmann, creator of Frontierlife.net. Frontier Life is a website dedicated to teaching an accurate history of the American West. Assmann has written and will be selling several books for young readers (probably middle school) about the pre-Civil War West. Each book is written to include questions, activities, primary sources, and video extensions to help readers better understand life on the frontier.
In front of the house Friends of Dobby’s are holding a garage sale, so stop by and see if you can find some treasures. At 2:00 each afternoon War Bonnett Transportation will be giving bike taxi rides.
Dobby Lee wanted to save a vanishing piece of history before it was lost. He and his family saved buildings from a bygone era and built or remodeled others, using methods available 100 years ago. Dobby’s goal was both preservation and education. Remember that Dobby’s is a non-profit with no paid staff. The town relies on volunteers and on donations for maintaining the buildings and paying the utilities, so please be generous when you see donation barrels or cans.
Check the Facebook page for Dobby’s Frontier Town to find a schedule of activities for the weekend, beginning at 10:00 each day. See hands-on what life was like in a small frontier town nestled in the gently rolling grasslands of the Nebraska Sandhills. Dobby’s Frontier Town is located at 320 East 25th Street/Nance Road, Alliance, Nebraska.