Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Road to Roscoe photographs


Road to Roscoe comments:

 John Janovy, Jr.

In addition to my exposure to serious photographers via the Monday Morning Critique sessions of the Chagrin Valley Camera Club, I’ve had contacts with some professional photographers, a couple of such contacts involving two census-designated places: Roscoe, Nebraska (pop. 99), Keystone, Nebraska (pop. 31), and the road between them. The University of Nebraska’s Cedar Point Biological Station, where I taught and did research for 35 years in the summers, and spent 13 years as Director, is 8 miles north of Ogallala. When you go out the CPBS back gate, you end up on the road between Roscoe and Keystone. Because my major research site was in the South Platte River about a mile east of Roscoe, and I also used that river as a regular collection site for classes, my students and I were on that road a lot, especially driving south from the place where the canal road (named Cedar Point Road on Google Earth) meets the Roscoe-Keystone road. So, because the trip down that road seemed to acquire some emotional baggage as my research and teaching program developed over the years, I started taking a lot of pictures from one site on that road, and also of the buildings in Roscoe.

Eventually, the Road to Roscoe pictures turned into graduation presents for my grad students, a small watercolor painting in our downstairs living area, the covers of two books (Dinkle’s Life: A Spiritual Biography and A Century of Parasitology: Discoveries, Ideas and Lessons Learned by Scientists who Published in The Journal of Parasitology, 1914-2014), and at least one Facebook post. The thoughts and conversations while on that road turned into a chapter, entitled “The Road to Roscoe,” in another book: Dunwoody Pond: Reflections on the High Plains Wetlands and the Cultivation of Naturalists. The Road to Roscoe photographs were all taken from a safe turnout located 41o 10’ 26.27” N  101o 35’ 44.25” W, looking south.

I’m not sure why I posted one of those Road to Roscoe photos on Facebook a few years ago, but I did. I suspect it had to do with Throwback Thursday and something about the memories of being on that road going somewhere that was very important at the time, namely, the South Platte River. Eventually, as FB is inclined to do, I was reminded that I’d posted that photo on October 8, 2015, with the comment: “The Road to Roscoe. I've taken at least several hundred photos of this scene, with different lenses, different film, different cameras (including digital), and painted it in watercolor a time or two. ‘The Road to Roscoe’ is also the title of a chapter in DUNWOODY POND: REFLECTIONS ON THE HIGH PLAINS WETLANDS AND THE CULTIVATION OF NATURALISTS." So when FB reminded me that I’d posted that photo seven years ago, naturally, I re-posted, which caught the eye of one of my FB friends, Jim Doty, a professional photographer who lives in Iowa ( He happened to be traveling to Colorado was curious about that photo, so I sent him the coordinates and he stopped and took photos from the same place, both going to Colorado and coming back home. If you search for his posts on FB you can find his photo taken from the same spot in October of 2022.

The other photographer, John Spence (, has been a personal friend in Lincoln for many years, probably going back to 1978 when Keith County Journal was published, with considerable local publicity, and he was interested in doing some video work, using my material. We’ve since acquired some of his art, both photographs and sculptures. One day, maybe in the late 1970s or early 80s, he walked into my University of Nebraska-Lincoln office with a stack of 8 x 10 prints, laid them on my desk, and asked if I’d be interested in writing something to accompany them. He had in mind a coffee table volume with his photographs and my essays. Naturally I jumped on the chance, took the prints home, and showed them to Karen. She sat in her living room chair and started turning them over, one by one; pretty soon she said “these make me sad.” I knew exactly why they made her sad, and so that sentence became the first one in this set of essays, originally entitled The Land Where No One Falls. The chapter entitled “The Road to Roscoe” was written in response to John Spence’s photographs of the Platte River and its bridges; his pictures connected with my years of being in that river.

The coffee table book was rejected numerous times and never saw the light of day. However, a couple of my original essays have been published, one of them the opening essay in Pieces of the Plains: Memories and Predictions from the Heart of America, and the other, that Road to Roscoe chapter in Dunwoody Pond. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and we experienced the equivalent of house arrest, I started on a project to clean out boxes of old manuscript, scanning several hundred pages of stuff generated on a real typewriter or via dot-matrix printer. Among those pages were the unpublished pieces from the Spence Project. I’m now going back through those essays and will eventually publish them in some form. I remember approaching this project by trying to put myself in John’s shoes while he was taking the photographs, and using the subject matter to construct some stories. One product of the pandemic is my recommendation that we go back and read things we wrote years and years ago; you might end up thinking that you’ve met a stranger!

Over the years I’ve thought about putting together a publication entitled “The Roscoe Album” with photos that I’ve taken of the place, its buildings, the railroad tracks, and the South Platte River as seen from the old bridge connecting Roscoe to I-80. The ones taken in black and white film have not scanned particularly well as negatives, so that will require some work if I use those. But I have lots of digital images, so may work on those. None of those pictures are great art, but they are of a place that I’ve stopped at many times over the years. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, here’s a link to a freight train going west through Roscoe. 

John Janovy, Jr.

October 23, 2022



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