June, 1983

The excuse for this trip was to ride up to Courtland, Nebraska to see if I could find the old home site of Dr. John Meserve, my great-great grandfather, who lived here with his family (1873 - 1884) before moving everybody west (again) to Oregon.  As it happened, things didn't go exactly as planned (which is what makes any trip more interesting).


It is fitting that Homestead National Monument is quite close to Courtland. The Homestead Act of 1862 was a tremendously significant event for the country, but especially for the plains states. The site of this park is the very first land parcel claimed under that act.

I spent a couple of hours (or less) at the park, and then rode out over dirt roads trying to find where the original Meserve homestead was. I was using directions written by Grandpa that turned out to be pretty good, considering the sources that he had to go by. Based on the location of an identified school as well as a couple of other unmistakable landmarks, I was sure that I had found the right place.

Of course, this farmhouse is too recent, but I thought I might be able to find some older out-buildings that could have been original. 

The sun was going down, and I thought it'd be perfect to spend the night at the old place. The house had been abandoned for several years, and nobody lived here, anymore. I'd have all evening to explore the buildings.

Clearly, this house is too recent to have any significance, but it was worth poking around in, anyway.

Looks like a thunderstorm brewing out there. It didn't come any closer.

How old is the well?

This old building had clearly once been a house, but had for many years been used as a storage shed. But, was it old enough?

After doing this cursory walk around the property, I returned to the motorcycle to set up my tent. That's when I smelled gasoline. It didn't take long to find out what had happened. The early (so-called) loop-frame Moto Guzzi had a generator (and not an alternator) that was mounted between the cylinders, and driven by a v-belt off the front of the engine--very much like the setup on a 1960's car. The generator had come loose from its mount and had knocked a small hole in the gas tank, letting gasoline drip on the hot engine.

It might have been foolish, but I figured that I wasn't going to be able to do anything with it way out here, so I quickly repacked my stuff, and rode on into Courtland--all the time ready to bail off the thing if it burst into flames. Like I said, it might have been foolish...

I parked the bike in an empty lot at the edge of town, removed the gas tank, and put up my tent. I'd deal with the problem the next day. The next day was Sunday...

If you can imagine the difficulty of repairing a motorcycle gas tank on a Sunday in a small town in Nebraska you can appreciate the problem.  Eventually, I did find a man who was able to flame-solder a repair (we rinsed the tank for a good half-hour with running water from a garden hose). Much later in the day, I carried the tank back to the rest of my motorcycle (I had no intention of riding it any further, until it was fixed) and put things back together. I also made dead certain than my generator was mounted solid, and put a sheet of rubber to protect the tank in case something came loose, again.

[note to loop-frame Guzzi owners: I had mounted the generator upside-down on the cross frame member since the original mounting threads in the engine block had been stripped. That's why the generator was mounted high enough to be able to touch the tank when it came loose.]

Before I shot back to Wichita, I walked over to the Courtland cemetery to take pictures of any Meserves. All of these are relatives, but none directly.


It's perhaps worth noting that when I returned to the home site several years later, there was nothing to see but a pile of old lumber. All the buildings had been torn down. Nothing is forever...


last edit: 2/25/2007