Saturday, September 30, 2023


Big surprises in a small Midwest town

A recent work camping job took us to western Nebraska for a few weeks. The small town of Imperial, Nebraska, proudly stands just over twenty miles from the Colorado border. We were expecting summer heat. (We got it!) Plus, we counted on long workdays. (We had those, too.) What we couldn’t have guessed was that there could be so many big surprises in such a small Midwest town.

Mayberry revisited?

After traveling for over an hour off the Interstate highway, we finally arrived. At least twenty-seven huge, white grain elevator bins greeted us. A line of semi-trucks filled with newly harvested wheat slowly parted to let us pass through and continue our way into town. Several farm truckers waved, nodded, and smiled as we passed by.

U.S. flags were displayed outside many businesses along the two blocks of Main Street’s business district. Children rode their bicycles on side streets. Hand-painted window murals announced that the county fair was coming soon. Unattended cars idled at the curb while drivers dashed into the store to get bread and milk. Green, manicured lawns, beautiful flower gardens, and older but well-kept homes filled the streets past Main. It was like stepping back in time.


  • No two houses in town looked alike. Most homes sported carefully manicured lawns with backyard vegetable or flower gardens. There were craftsman-style, Colonial, and Victorian-inspired homes. I also saw bungalows and four-square houses and delighted in their uniqueness—quite a change from the contractor-built, look-alike homes found in today’s subdivisions.
  • Two grocery stores. Both locally owned grocery stores offered the basics along with a good selection of fruits and vegetables. I learned to shop early in the day because both stores closed at 6:30 p.m. and were not open on Sundays. (On Sundays, the town’s eight churches stood ready to warmly welcome visitors.)
  • One movie theater. I was surprised that a small town would have a theater! Turns out, the movie theater is run by Imperial volunteers and is open only on the weekends (Friday through Sunday). First-run movies are shown on the big screen and tickets are just $5 each! An additional $5 will net you popcorn and a soda! Quite a deal.
  • Hospital. This small Midwest town of just 2,000 people hosts a 15-bed, critical care regional hospital, with emergency, inpatient, and outpatient care.
  • Fairgrounds. Another good surprise was that the county fairground offered 30- and 50-amp electrical and water hookups with an onsite dump station. Sites were well kept, quiet, and surprisingly cost only $35 per night.
  • People. Perhaps the best surprise of all were the people of Imperial. We were warmly welcomed, and folks immediately helped us feel like a valued part of their little community. Friendly? To a fault. Helpful? They seemed to know what we needed before we asked. Loving? You bet! The hard-working folks of Imperial and its surrounding grain and cattle farms genuinely cared for us. They are proud of their small town and, after our much-too-short stay there, I’m proud of Imperial, too!

Imperial, Nebraska – a Midwest treasure

Communities like this Nebraska town are a precious American treasure. They stand as a testament to days gone by when determination, hard work, and faith encouraged and sustained its people. Imperial still clings to these important values and continues to thrive.

Tempted to stay

Too soon, another work camping job called us away from the small Midwest town with the big surprises. I could have stayed much longer. It felt good to step back into the past, even if just for a short while.

Get sidetracked!

As RVers, my husband and I often cling too tightly to our travel itinerary. We seldom allow ourselves to become sidetracked off the predetermined, direct route between home and our reserved campsite. We also often tend to visit the big places, wrongly thinking that bigger is best.

I hope my small-town surprises encourage you to investigate some tiny Midwest towns for yourself. And if you do, I hope you’ll step back in time and discover some big surprises like I did!

Do you know of a small Midwest community like Imperial, Nebraska? Let us know about it in the comments below.



Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.


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Eric Danner
1 month ago

Anthony Kansas! Wonderful small town and you can camp at Anthony City Lake for $15/night. Beautiful park with plenty of shade and quiet.

1 month ago

Yep my wife and I live 60 miles to the east of Imperial called McCook. Most of the small towns in Nebraska have a story to tell.

Yvonne Streeter
1 month ago

I grew up in Imperial, and its neighbor Wauneta. Imperial remains a vital and active town. There’s hidden treasures everywhere in the Midwest, especially in its people; thanks for highlighting that.

1 month ago

I live in one of those small midwest Nebraska towns. I raised my kids in what is considered a village. Small towns where you never have to feel unsafe to walk after dark, accidentally leave your keys in the car and it’s still there come morning and if you own a side by side or golf cart you can use that for around town travel. Most small towns have their own little celebrations along wuth parades, flea market along with BBQ and beer garden.

Will McNally
1 month ago

Loved this story. I grew up in Benkelman, south of Imperial, most of my Mom’s family was from Imperial. I spent my summers with my Aunt and cousins, back and forth between Imperial and Enders lake. A lot of memories flashed back as you recited your tail. Thanks for the memories.

Jerry X Shea
1 month ago

North Loup Nebraska and their annual Popcorn Festival evey August. Just like Imperial, you go back in time. Instead of a ‘Hot Rod” car show, its Vintage Tractors. Free popcorn on every corner and of course the Festival Parade with the Queen sitting on a bail of hay. It just dosen’t get any more “down home.” We had one of our best times. The local park has RV hook-ups.

Steve H
1 month ago

Just down US 6 from Imperial is McCook, NE. Has an interesting history because it is one of the few oil boomtowns in NE. So much money was made that one resident had Frank Lloyd Wright design his prairie-style home. But it is not a house museum today as are so many of his buildings, it is still a private residence. McCook still has its brick streets, a downtown library, a beautful, tree-shaded city park, a free RV camping area, and the county fairgrounds has RV hookups.

Gary Broughton
1 month ago

When we first retired, some 27 years ago, we ran for about a week then decided to slow down and spend at least 2 nights wherever we stopped. Every little town has a ma & pa diner, little museum, grocery store, barber/salon that needs your business.
We rv’d for 25 years before but always knew our time restrictions and where we were headed.
Now was the time to enjoy the view.

Mikal H
1 month ago

We have visited Western Nebraska 3 times in ten years. This year a week in Scottsbluff and a week in Chadron. One of the things we notice is that, in general, the young people are so much more helpful and courteous. We attended a parade in Chadron and children gathering the thrown candy were WILLINGLY sharing with those that didn’t gather as much. When the National Anthem played even the smallest of children were at attention with hands over hearts & hats removed! It brought a tear to this old man’s eyes to see an America as it should be. Peace, hard work, lawfulness, patriotism, community, independence, respect.

P.S. $25 and $30 a night 50 Amp FHU respectively.

Amber Hughes
1 month ago

Saint Francis KS!

Ted Hopkins
1 month ago

Years ago, I spent 6 months in Auburn, NE on a field service job. It is in the southeast corner just 12 miles from Missouri. When I first entered town, I couldn’t understand why every vehicle I passed, the driver gave me a wave. Turns out that is normal small town NE. I really enjoyed my time there.

1 month ago

We have experienced many of the same things in the Midwest. Thanks for the memories.

Joe Allen
1 month ago

We found such a place in Thomaston CT. Lots of American flags, some of the nicest people and well kept homes that were proud to stand the. test of time. Some homes dated back to 1783 and older. The food is expensive there with taxes, etc., but all in all, I was very surprised at the small community hospitality. I was a volunteer for the COE recreation area there and have really enjoyed my time.

John S
1 month ago

You need to get out more and keep away from the coasts. People in ‘fly over’ country are that way because people from the East and West coasts do just that, fly over, and don’t affect the naturally pleasant nature of the Mid West. Of course, lots of generalizations here…

Joe Allen
1 month ago
Reply to  John S

So true! Small town USA is hard to beat!

Calvin Wing
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Allen


Jane Benkendorf
1 month ago
Reply to  John S

That’s what my sister calls Lincoln where she lives as a “flyover” and hopes it continues to stay that way as our nice NE! on their way to the west and east coast rat race….

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