by Victor Wanchena
I love small town America. I realize that this fact has a tendency to surface in this column about every other month, but I can’t seem escape the charm, beauty or the fact that there are many hidden treasures buried in the landscape of this great nation.
Which brings me to the focus of this month’s column, Niobrara, Nebraska. You’ll have a tough time finding it on a map, nor do any but a very select few know why this town is so incredibly important to motorcyclists everywhere. Niobrara is a quiet little town nestled on the banks of the Missouri River. There are only a few houses and shops along a rather short main street and if you take the time to explore the county museum sitting quietly off the main drag you’ll discover a true gem or pair of gems for that matter. Tucked among old photos and historic farm implements are a pair of old BMW 60/2s. These rather unassuming bikes were the motorcycles of choice of one Arlene and Danny Liska on their travels around the world.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Liskas and their travels here’s a quick history lesson. In the late fifties Arlene and Danny decide to ride their motorcycle from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina following the Pan-American Highway. As you could imagine this was quite the undertaking given the primitive nature of the roads in Central and South America. Some of the stories of this grand adventure were captured in the book Two Wheels To Adventure (out of print for quite some time) as well as in a collection of newspaper clippings. After they conquered The Americas, the Liskas then traveled across Europe to the southern tip of Africa. They are adventurers of the highest order.
This brings us back to Niobrara, this town was the hometown of the Liskas and is still the home of Arlene. Her outward grandmotherly appearance belies what lies beneath, she was traveling through 60 countries before many of us were out of diapers. The richness and depth of her stories is amazing. I consider myself very fortunate to have met and spent some time with her. Arlene and Danny were motorcycling pioneers in many ways and unfortunately their story lies hidden beneath the surface of years and Nebraska prairie.
All this in a town that many would miss in a blink of an eye. Niobrara is not alone. There is a whole nation of towns out there, many with a history or story important to us as motorcyclists. We must do our part to remember and share these items because stories and people such as these deserve to be remembered.
So this month ride fast and take chances, and visit our small town America.