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Out of the Morgue
Dragging it out in 1957
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This week in 1957, it was almost time for school to start, and teachers were returning in advance for orientation. This stand-alone photo appeared in the Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1957 edition of the Great Bend Daily Tribune. Explaining his farm to 140 Barton County elementary rural school teachers, soil conservation district supervisors and SCS workers is Robert Essmiller, (face to camera) standing against the backdrop of his big cattle barn. He lives four miles west of Great Bend on 10th Street. Essmiller explained that conservation practices have helped him get better harvests from his fields. - photo by Tribune file photo

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

This week in 1957, US Sen. James Thurmond (Dem., S.C.) began a 24-hour filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. His long-winded but futile marathon of talk drug on for 24 hours and 19 minutes. On Aug. 28, the House passed the bill, and on Aug. 29, the Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly with a 60-15 vote. It would be the first civil rights bill to pass Congress in more than 80 years.
The Friday, Aug. 30 edition of the Great Bend Daily Tribune carried the Associated Press story, the headline in red ink, ‘Rights’ Bill is on way to Eisenhower’s Desk.
“The bill provides broad new federal enforcement powers in the field of voting rights, although it does not contain some of the far-ranging provisions originally asked by Eisenhower.
“Nevertheless, its passage is an outstanding victory for Eisenhower and for members of both parties who have struggled for years to win action on civil rights. The political repercussions are certain to be felt for a long time. The key feature of the bill is a provision giving the Justice Department authority to seek federal court injunctions to enforce the right of every citizen to vote, regardless of race or color.”
The act called for the formation of a six-member bipartisan commission to study civil rights problems and enforce the act. But, with Congress recessing, Eisenhower had two choices. Either form an interim commission to get things started right away, or wait until January when Congress returned. Either way, it was expected that Southern Senators who opposed the bill would likely scrutinize all nominations and block them as a delaying tactic.
According to Wikipedia, Thurmond still had a long career ahead of him after the filibuster. He continued to serve until 2003, and holds the record of the only member of Congress to reach the age of 100 while still serving in office. He served exclusively in the Senate.

Championship drag racers arrive
Closer to home, the American Hot Rod Association was gearing up for the second championship race event in as many years, starting Friday, Aug. 31 and lasting four days. That morning, the “world’s fastest dragster” from San Diego, Calif., would make its first trial run. Saturday night, Sept. 1, an auto show was planned from 7-9:30 p.m. in downtown Great Bend.
“Entrants in the drags will bring their vehicles to town for display on Lakin Ave. between Main and Williams. The show has proved popular in past years, as residents have the opportunity to inspect cars and talk with the owners. Many of the custom-built hot-rods are immaculately kept and beautifully upholstered.
“The public will do the judging this year for trophies,” AHRA Secretary Earl McDonald explained.
Cars were both driven or towed to the event from several other states including Texas, Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and California, and the number of early registrations was up from the previous two years. One man from Texas was featured on the front page of the Thursday, Aug. 29 Tribune. He advertised the race on the side of his car, and in doing so advertised Great Bend, as he towed his own dragster behind him all the way.
So, everyone around here has probably heard reference to the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) in conjunction with the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association (SRCA) Dragstrip west of town. So what was the AHRA?
We found the answer thanks to the assistance of Karen Neuforth, researcher at the Barton County Historical Society Museum.
After the NHRA held its national championship race in Great Bend in 1955, the community wrongly assumed it would become a regular event. Not so. In 1956, Wally Parks, the president of the NHRA, announced that Great Bend was out of the running for the national race that year. He cited two reasons. Local organizers, he felt, were trying to control too much about the race, and because the sport was gaining in popularity, he wanted to take it to a larger venue like Kansas City.
Days after his announcement, Nelson Pointer, the president of the National Championship Drags Inc. chapter of Great Bend, travelled to Pittsburgh, Penn., and signed a contract with the American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) to hold its first national championship in Great Bend. The contract also locked Great Bend in for five years.
In the end, the AHRA was around for 28 years, throwing in the towel following its AHRA World Finals in Eunice, La., in 1984. The NHRA continued to grow, and in 2015 was the largest motorsports sanctioning body. That year, it brought the NHRA Championship back to Great Bend.
For more than 60 years, car shows have been part of the summertime culture of Great Bend. If you want to steep yourself in the tradition, a great opportunity is coming up Saturday. The Barton County Historical Society Museum and Village will be the sight of the Rolling Sculpture car show from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. It’s open to the public, but keep in mind these cars are somebody’s baby, so children are welcome but need to be supervised and there will be no bicycles or pets allowed on the grounds that day. Cars, including some dragsters, from all eras of the automobile will be on display.
And for those who want a little more action, the SRCA Dragstrip west of the city still has four NHRA points races on the schedule, and on Sept. 9, the Pontiac Uprising and car show returns to Great Bend. Check out the schedule of events on the website for more information.