Town Story: Eustis
In the heart of Nebraskan heartland, small town Eustis offers up the best and the 'wurst' of the good life.
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BACK IN EUSTIS, everyone recognizes Brockmeier’s truck. Some stop to shoot the breeze. Everybody waves. “It’s the people here that make Eustis the great place it is to raise a family, work and live,” Brockmeier said.
When the Monroe Shock facility closed in nearby Cozad, the lost jobs reverberated through Eustis. “It hurt,” Brockmeier said. “But our people found other jobs and our houses are full.”
He mentions how a Eustis church was able to install new windows when local ladies sold eggs and pooled their profits, and how having the church day care center has helped attract new residents. He also points out that when he speaks of the community of Eustis, he also is referring to the surrounding region and the many area farmers and others who shop here, send their kids to school here and are involved with local organizations.
When Brockmeier sold the bank, he kept the insurance company part of the business where his wife, Judy, works part-time while Don, in between photography assignments, is preparing for next year’s Wurst Tag Festival, surveying his circuit of bluebird and wood duck boxes or giving tours of his hometown of 69 years to prospective new residents, businesspeople and the occasional magazine writer.
As staunch supporters of Eustis, the Brockmeiers felt it was important to have a presence downtown, so they built their office building across the street from the body shop on a lot on Main Street left vacant when the B&D Appliance Store was destroyed in a 1988 blaze.
Black smoke rolling over Main Street caught Don’s attention while we were on our tour of Eustis, and we were soon on the scene.
In a back alley, a man decked out in knee-high black socks, knee-length blazing-red shorts and a black T-shirt seemed like the obvious suspect.There might be a fine line between a pyromaniac arsonist and a barbecued meat expert, and, apparently for the latter, there’s no dress code.
Clark Laier’s fashion sense might be questionable, but one thing is for sure: He knows how to dress a prime rib before the meat goes into his pride-and-joy smoker, which is where Laier stokes this fire.
Laier and his wife, Dianne, purchased a portable smoker in 2003. Like a phoenix rising, they soon had a successful catering business emerge from the smoky mesquite flames.
When the 1918 Eustis Pool Hall came up for sale, enthusiastic Eustis residents urged the Laiers to open a restaurant. All week long, his business, Lucky Chuck’s, is famous for its barbecued cre-ations. However, the highly sought after pies of the pizza variety are only available on Sundays.
Lucky Chuck’s opened in 2009 and the decor includes exposed brick walls, recycled barn siding that is nearly a century old and stamped tin ceilings. There is no pool table in the former billiards parlor, but there is a strange statue of a three-legged dog.
“People have started calling Clark, ‘Lucky Chuck,’ ” Dianne said. “He answers to it, now. But the restaurant is actually named after the dog. You can imagine the stir that was created when I started telling people that Lucky Chuck was dead. I had to explain, ‘No, not Clark, the dog.’ ”
When a cloud of aromatic smoke rolls from the cooker as Laier opens its smoker door, he remembers his canine friend and restaurant namesake, Charlie.
“He was a lucky dog, but in an unlucky way,” Laier said. “He was run over twice, almost drowned once, got lost in Omaha and went to the pound, ate poison, and lost a leg in a combine accident.
“We lost him in July,” said an emotional Laier. “He was 14 ½ years old. We were lucky to have him.”
The lab/heeler cross is immortalized through the custom-made statue that Laier says is a nice likeness. For time immortal, Lucky Chuck faithfully watches over Lucky Chuck’s, from his favorite spot across from the original, hand-carved wooden bar.
With the aroma of barbecuing beef in our noses and hunger pangs in our bellies, the sod house across from the Eustis-Farnam High School is our destination for a summer sausage picnic as school buses arrive for Eustis-Farnam High School’s track and field match-up against Gosper County rival, Elwood.
This grassy spot reflects the spirit and the history of Eustis through its first 127 years, from the pioneering settlers who eked a living from the harsh but beautiful prairie, to the residents of today building on that heritage to rear families and businesses. Today, things are cooking in Eustis and the fire is hotter than ever.
Now, where’s that apple pie?
Eustis Photographer at Home Worldwide
HOME IS WHERE the heart is. Don Brockmeier’s heart is in photography.
While growing up in Eustis, he often pursued game. Although pictures were occasionally taken after the hunt, it wasn’t until years later that photography became important to him.
“I went to the 1984 Olympics and bought a camera with a zoom lens,” Brockmeier said. “I started carrying it on hunting trips. Turns out that I enjoy shooting wildlife with a camera more than with a gun.”
Brockmeier has photographed lions, cape buffalo and black rhinos in Africa; Alaskan grizzly bears and whales; polar bears in Canada; tigers in India; musk oxen in the Arctic Circle, and exotic birds in Costa Rica.
For Brockmeier, action can happen at any moment.
“Once in Alaska, my guide left to move the boat. The tide was going out and we didn’t want to be left high and dry. While he was gone, a grizzly came so close that all I could see in my view finder was his eye and part of his ear,” Brockmeier recalls. “He looked at me and decided that the fish were better tasting than my tough old hide.”
Despite already encountering lions, and tigers and bears, (we’re not going there) one of his most memorable wildlife encounters happened near home.
“I was checking bluebird boxes and found a large snake coiled up inside one. We live in rattlesnake country down here, but it was just a big old bullsnake. He posed for a picture on his way out,” Brockmeier said.
Other posers include Brockmeier’s eight grandchildren and wife of 49 years, Judy. He photographs school sports for area newspapers, and readers of Nebraska Life have enjoyed Brockmeier’s images, too.
With more travels planned, Brockmeier’s collection of hair-raising experiences and amazing images will continue to grow.
Even if he’s a dozen time zones from Eustis, he’ll still be home.
(This story originally appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)