Economic Check-Up in Broken Bow The coffee klatch that meets every morning at the Arrow Hotel in Broken Bow provides no shortage of opinions about the war in Iraq. Across the train tracks at Evans Feed Store, co-owner Mike Evans and store manager Trent Ish share their thoughts on the subject, and talk about how ranchers and farmers are coping in today's economic climate.
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Economic Check-Up in Broken Bow

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Economic Check-Up in Broken Bow

Economic Check-Up in Broken Bow

Economic Check-Up in Broken Bow

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The coffee klatch that meets every morning at the Arrow Hotel in Broken Bow provides no shortage of opinions about the war in Iraq. Across the train tracks at Evans Feed Store, co-owner Mike Evans and store manager Trent Ish share their thoughts on the subject, and talk about how ranchers and farmers are coping in today's economic climate.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. Patriotism and football are probably the two strongest unifying forces in Nebraska. American flags and University of Nebraska Cornhusker banners cover a large percentage of wall space in stores, restaurants and homes throughout the state. The Republican Party ranks close behind. President Bush carried the state with 66% of the vote in 2000. He won reelection in 2004 with 73% of the vote. The governor is a Republican. All three of the state's representatives in the U.S. House are Republicans, as is the state's senior U.S. Senator. The junior Senator, Ben Nelson, is a Democrat, but as one resident of the town of Broken Bow told us on a visit last week, he votes Republican a lot. For a Democrat, a lot of people will say he's one of the best Republicans we've got. Nelson is up for reelection this year and he's expected to win.

Unidentified Woman: Good morning, gentleman.

Unidentified Man: Good morning.

HANSEN: You don't have to be a card carrying Republican to join the retired men who meet for coffee every morning at the Arrow Hotel in Broken Bow. Shared party affiliation is taken for granted, as are other shared life experiences.

Mr. NEIL WOOD (Retired Rancher): If you look around the table here, about everybody sitting here has been in the service in World War II.

HANSEN: Neil Wood is a retired rancher.

Mr. WOOD: We're not too crazy about going to war again. I'm not, and I don't think anybody else in here is.

HANSEN: Support for the troops in Iraq among these veterans is absolute. That support tempers all questions about the war. But with the American death toll rising, so is ambivalence.

Mr. RAY BROWN (Broken Bow Resident): I'm Ray Brown. I'm never in favor of war, but if somebody hadn't done something about Hitler, why, this whole world would be different than it is right now. There's no question about that. So I think when something crops up like North Korea and Iran and all, I think something should be done about it. And the United Nations, all they're doing is just talking about it.

HANSEN: And right now you're in support of what the United States is doing right now?

Mr. BROWN: I am 100 percent in support of the president of the United States and what it's doing.

Mr. DICK STONE (Broken Bow Resident): I'm Dick Stone. I don't know what they've accomplished. Guard our own home fronts, I mean that's to me - I don't know, I don't know what they've accomplished by going over there.

HANSEN: But the reasons for going in, do you think they were justified?

Mr. STONE: I have no idea what the reasons were to go over there. To try to stop that dictator, I guess. Now they got rid of him, they got another one now, so it's just a continuation of what's been going on all the time.

(Soundbite of train)

HANSEN: A few blocks away, coal trains whistle through town day and night carrying their loads south from strip mines in Wyoming and Montana. But the steady flow of coal and commerce does not stop in Broken Bow, where small stores in the center of town may be showing some improved signs of economic life, but making ends meet on the land gets harder every year. Trent Ish welcomed us back to Evans Feed Store and introduced us to his brother-in-law, Mike Evans, the store's co-owner. Trent works at the store and manages his grandmother's ranch.

Mr. TRENT ISH (Evans Feed Store): Like right now the price of cattle - cattle are high, a lot higher than what they have been in the past. But if you take the price of cattle with your expenses, the high price of fuel, taxes - if you take your calf check at the end of the year that you sell minus your expenses, that calf price does look high but those expenses are outrageous right now, especially like the price of fuel over the summer. I have a pivot that I water my ground with and I was figuring up my fuel the other day and it was just outrageous on what it costs to water the ground to, you know, for hay and everything for your cattle. It was around 5,000 more than I usually spend more every year.

HANSEN: $5,000 more?

Mr. ISH: Yep. Just on fuel.

HANSEN: Mike, are you hearing a lot of that too?

Mr. MIKE EVANS (Co-owner, Evans Feed Store): Oh yeah. The price of steel, lumber, concrete, health insurance, everything - I've been buying and selling in this location since 1989, and I have never seen in a shorter period of time prices on everything across the board go up at the way that they're going up right now.

HANSEN: Let me ask you a little bit about, you know, the folks that come in here to buy things from you. And do they come in, they talk about politics, they talk about elections?

Mr. EVANS: These people that Trent and I see and all of us everyday are coming in from the country, and a lot of them have just been on the tractor for the last couple of days or doing chores or this or that, and they're ready to talk. And they have opinions on everything - politics, taxes or course, insurance - I mean they bring the whole gamut.

HANSEN: They talk about the war?

Mr. EVANS: Yeah.

HANSEN: What do they say?

Mr. EVANS: Most the people around here are Republican, you know. It's a Republican state, it's pretty conservative. But I wouldn't say - I mean they're very patriotic people around here. You don't want to speak anything against the troops at all because they're our heroes, you know. But sometimes it's hard not to question a little bit what are we going to get out of this? That's what I hear.

HANSEN: Has the questioning become a little bit more vocal, say, over the last two years?

Mr. EVANS: I think when the price of oil went up like it did and they're closing schools in Nebraska and building schools in Iraq, you can't help but wonder a little bit what in the world we're doing sometimes. You know, we have a lot of needs out here that aren't getting met. It seems to me that I'm not sure this country has the money to take care of the whole world.

HANSEN: Thank you both...

Mr. EVANS: Thank you.

HANSEN: ...once again for your time.

Mr. ISH: You bet. Thank you.

HANSEN: The story of our visit to Broken Bow was written by Stu Sidell(ph) and produced by Ned Wharten(ph). Our sound engineer was Rob Byers. To see photos of the City Café and Evans Feed Store in the town of Broken Bow, please go to our Web site, npr.org.

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