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  • Ken Ilgunas

Day 85: "The Governor"

While Rick Hammond may have never been officially elected to political office, he’s known to some as “The Governor.”

Rick and his daughter met me at a large statewide meeting (which I will be writing about in a forthcoming post) in Albion, Nebraska a few days ago. Eager to help out, they offered me their place south of Central City, and, perhaps, a horse to ride on.

Rick, a proud veteran of the Peace Corp (and “a liberal in a red state,” as he put it) had gone on a consulting trip to Russia years ago, where he’d share information about raising cattle. Either because of a miscommunication, or because the Russian company who hired him wanted to exaggerate its importance, they introduced Rick to people as the “ex-Governor of Nebraska.”

“I’m just a farmer,” Rick would say, bewildered. His guests would always laugh, enchanted with his modesty. He traveled the country with a gang of bodyguards. Toasts of vodka were given to their illustrious guest. Russian dancers sought Rick to have their picture taken with him.

Rick felt guilty about the misunderstanding, and he demanded that his translator stop introducing him as the Governor.

At the end of his trip, at an important meeting with a large group of men, someone asked, “How did you become the governor of Nebraska?” He was being watched by a room full of admiring men–honored to be in the presence of a great American leader. He looked at his translator, and then to the crowd, and said–with a stately firmness–“Hard work and honesty.”


After I left Central City, I crossed a bridge over the Platte River and began heading east to meet up with the Pipeline, which goes through some of Rick’s property. His daughter saw me in her truck, and asked if I wanted to toss my pack in the bed of her truck. I said sure, and she said Rick would be bringing a pair of horses down the road.

Sure enough, the Governor arrived, and gave me my first-ever horse to ride. (While I’d determined to do the trip on foot, I figured I could make an exception with this other non-oil-powered means of transport.) He took me to his place, where he taught me about cattle, bees, windmills and a hundred other things about running a ranch. I helped him put up his Christmas tree.

Onward to Kansas.


Cindy Myers, an RN and an anti-Keystone activist, who met me about a week ago in Atkinson, NE. She told me about the hearing in Albion, where she’d bring me cookies and a jug of Ogallala water.

I stayed at a Lutheran church in Atkinson, and some very sweet high school-age townspeople left me letters, poetry, and Oreo balls.

I stayed in the kid’s room at a Methodist Church in Fullerton, NE.

Dean, another kind Nebraskan, made some calls so I’d have a place to stay in Central City.

The governor.

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