‘Hell of a deal’ connects Nebraska town with Vermillion

'Hell of a deal' connects Nebraska town with Vermillion
At first glance, Newcastle's 271 residents don't appear to have benefited much from the nearly five-year-old, $22 million bridge that connects their town to a world more modern than theirs.

Newcastle is a town with no ATM. There are no cellphone towers or even a signal unless you go over the hill overlooking the Missouri River, about five miles out of town, said Len Marron, owner of the town's only gas station.

Businesses on Main Street show signs of neglect. On one corner, a store looked abandoned from the outside, but the door was unlocked. There was no one inside. Visitors were able to walk freely around a large showroom filled wall to wall with old junk: farm parts, a dollhouse, exercise equipment, decades-old posters.


At 10:30 a.m., two of Main Street's three bars are open. At Lyle's Bar, two regulars are wasting away the morning, getting wasted.

At the other end of the block, several drivers fill up at one of two vintage pumpsat Marron's Convenience and Service, the town hub.

All appearances aside, Newcastle residents say the bridge has improved life for the town.

"The bridge is a hell of a deal," said Joe McArdle, wearing a red Eskimo Joe's T-shirt while working on a pump outside of Marron's. Without citing his source, he said 77 percent of the townspeople shop in Vermillion across the river in South Dakota. "It's been a really big asset."

Newcastle residents now drive 13 miles to Vermillion for work, shopping and other needs as opposed to the 33-mile trip they once made to South Sioux City, NE, or the 40 miles to Yankton, where another bridge crosses the Missouri River.

The half-mile bridge opened in November 2001. Of the $22 million cost, the federal government funded half of the project while South Dakota and Nebraska split the remainder.

"It should have been done 30 years ago," McCardle said, referring not only to the bridge, but also to his college years. McCardle, 53, said he would have attended The University of South Dakota in Vermillion instead of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, 180 miles away, if the bridge existed in the 1970s.

Others interviewed in the town echoed McArdle's praise of the bridge.

"I've been waiting for that bridge for 40 years, and now I'm too old to go to college," said Doris Hinz, a Newcastle resident.

Three graduates of the Newcastle Public School attended USD in 2005, said Robin Mohr, a Newcastle resident and high school sports coach. Mohr said he knows of one 2006 graduate planning to attend this fall.

High school athletes may be the students benefitting the most from the bridge, Brett Beyeler, 19, said. The Newcastle Raiders never played the Vermillion Tanagers until the bridge was built, he said. Mohr added that the bridge enables the school's track team to run at USD's DakotaDome.

Many people in Newcastle feared the bridge would ferry bad influences across the river from the larger town of Vermillion, but it hasn't happened, Mohr said. "The kids seem to stay the same," he said. "Still small town kids."

"It's typical small-town U.S.A.," said Doug Kneifl, owner of the Castle Bar across the street from Lyle's Bar.

People know each other on a first name basis in towns this small, said JoEllen Sorenson, a loan officer at the local branch of the Bank of Dixon County, the only bank in town. "Here, you're not a number but a person," she said.

The bank sponsors high school athletes competing for state titles, Sorenson said.

"We try to give back to the community by sponsoring them," she said.

Local bars work together for the community by selling "pull tab" gambling tickets to raise approximately $10,000 a year for the local fire department, Kneifl said.

Many people cross the bridge for services in Vermillion but business has not increased or changed in Newcastle, said Mary Addison, owner of Hair by Mary. "Newcastle doesn't really have anything for anybody," Addison said.

Farmers in the Newcastle area have benefited from the convenience of the bridge, said Bob Burchan of Obert, NE. He never did business in Vermillion until the bridge was built, he said, but he now travels there three to four times a week to sell cattle and horses. "It saves a lot of time," Burchan said.

Kneifl's bar clientele has increased since the bridge's construction, he said. USD students travel to Newcastle to drink Flat Tire, a beer not sold on the South Dakota side of the bridge, he said.

Keith Trusty, repairing a roof, said there is not as much traffic through Newcastle as people thought when the bridge was built. "It's the easier way to get to Vermillion," he said.

Denny Lamprecht, a customer at Lyle's Bar, said young people in Newcastle travel to Vermillion in hope of finding dates.

"They got a lot of good-looking broads over there," he said.

AIJI students Chad Avery, James Culbertson, Megan Gordon, Tesina Jackson and Rachelle Todea contributed to this report.

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