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Hard work seems to be a way of life in Nebraska

MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, NEB. -- Five days until USC sends an entire state into mourning, and it’s corn to the right, corn to the left and Baghdad Bob over yonder.

Later I will become very intimate with Bob, grabbing one of those four things hanging from underneath Bob’s rather large backside to begin the milking process. And Gary Matthews thinks he’s got it tough when I start pressing him to give it up.

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IT SOUNDED like a good idea at the time, getting away from the Choking Dogs and arriving here early to see what it’s like to be sentenced to a life in Nebraska, beginning with an overnight visit to Bob and Linda Wuebben’s farm in Fordyce.

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They think life is just swell here, the pair of Corn Cobs married for 34 years, their last vacation being the three days they went to the Black Hills for their honeymoon -- while every other day, year after year -- milking cows and feeding the calves at dawn. And then doing it again just before supper.

Beckham plays 90 minutes in England, travels first class back to L.A. to play another soccer match, and everyone worries the guy is going to be plumb-tuckered out.

Out here it’s hard work every day, really hard work when you consider the fact husband and wife are spending 365 days, every morning, noon, and night together, “and as long as she helps with the milking,” Bob says, “I can’t complain.”

Linda, a freelance writer in her spare time, hops on a four-wheeler twice a day to ride across the prairie and drive the cows home for milking. I can’t get the wife to get in her new car and fetch Starbucks.

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“It’s like my dad used to say, ‘You’ll never go to hell if you put in a hard day’s work,’ ” says Linda, and right away I’m thinking, where does that leave Bill Dwyre, who writes only two columns a week?

When Linda is done, she’s just starting -- preparing oversized baby bottles for the calves. Flies are everywhere, which she ignores. One fly gets into my house, and I have a daughter who will turn over the furniture and break dishes to hunt it down.

It’s commonplace here to be covered in them, and yet inside their wonderful home is a picture of a father, son and cow walking down the road, the youngster saying, “Aincha glad we’re farmers, dad?”

Bob loves it, all right. Says he’s not tied down, because he chose to do this. “You are your own boss,” he says. Bob is crazy, maybe from the flies buzzing around his head every day. He hasn’t had a day off in 34 years -- from work or wife.

Fluctuating prices and government regulations, though, are adding to the long hours and beginning to take a toll. “The harder you work,” he says, “the better off you are -- well, that’s not true, if you’re speaking financially.”

Right now 25 of their 30 cows are giving milk, and they don’t care how badly Nebraska is going to get beat. A machine does most of the milking -- four cows at a time, the huge beasts surrendering 1,600 pounds of milk every two days, which is then picked up by a semi -- $20 for every 100 pounds.

There’s corn and soybeans to harvest, silage to be cut, feed to be ground, and when not swatting flies, a cow has to be shot and butchered, which by the way, makes a great Christmas present.

“Each one of the kids gets a half a critter,” Bob says, and for the record, “there’s only one pet we had to do,” and while it was tough on the kids, “it just accidentally disappeared overnight.”

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I guess I’ll be sleeping tonight with one eye open.

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LINDA SUGGESTS we stop by the Fordyce Mall. It’s a gas station with a bar. A Huskers clock is on the wall, so the place is decorated as far as the locals are concerned.

There’s no stoplight here. Population, 180. Bob drives down Main Street, which is a block long -- pointing out the new ATM in town. Talk about excitement.

No time or reason to go to Saturday’s game -- the outcome pretty much a foregone conclusion.

But Linda and Bob will be watching after their daily routine, which also includes an afternoon break for hot apple pie and an episode of “MASH.” A date, if you will, every single day of their lives -- for husband and wife. It’s another world out here, all right.

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FOUR DAYS until USC sends an entire state into mourning, and after a quick stop in Plainview, the Klown Kapital of Nebraska, and 153 more miles, it’s time to join two more Corn Cobs in Burwell.

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Max and Debbie Emerton seem to be a cheery pair even though they live between mile markers 51 and 50 -- in the middle of a cornfield.

Friends and neighbors have advised Debbie they aren’t happy she has chosen to invite the trash-talking sportswriter to town. Obviously they must think Bill Plaschke is coming.

Funny, though, whether it’s the old codger in Elgin, or folks out in the backwoods, no one seems to like Bill Callahan either, or whoever the Nebraska athletic director is these days. You don’t think Mike Garrett has a brother who is working in Nebraska, do you?

Debbie is cooking dinner in a can in the front yard. They call it “cream can” here, a Nebraska delicacy, and those two words have probably never appeared in a sentence before.

She stuffs corn, cabbage, onions, Polish sausage, carrots and beer into an old cream can, and everyone drinks beer while waiting for dinner to cook. No one seems in a hurry to eat.

Family friend, Bill Klimek, is explaining why folks here aren’t as crazy about their Huskers as some might suggest, while also telling about the time he dreamed he was catching the pass that hadn’t been caught in the ’84 Orange Bowl, falling out of bed, cutting open his head and leaving a scar.

Yeah, folks here aren’t over the top about their Huskers, or how great it is to live 15 miles from their nearest neighbor, which come to think of it -- sounds pretty good.

Someone suggests doing some “blue rock,” but Max thinks it’s probably not a good idea to have irritated Huskers fans arrive with shotguns to shoot clay targets or anything else they might have in mind.

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TOMORROW: HORSEBACK riding, Johnny Carson and tanking. Relax, Kobe, this has nothing to do with you.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.


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