The Schlitz beer can was all Warren Plummer needed to get his bearings.

When his friend picked up the clue, rusty from all those years under water, the 81-year-old Plummer was pretty sure that was where the pool hall used to be. He knew the church had been over there. The lumberyard there, and the school there.

In the 62 years since Plummer left Lemoyne -- chased off by a mammoth state water project that deep-sixed his home town -- he has been able to go back only twice. Both were when drought dwindled the vast lake to minimal levels.

Lemoyne turned from burg to lake bed when the Platte River, which runs east-west across the lower half of Nebraska, was dammed. The water that filled up behind the dam in the early 1940s is today's Lake McConaughy, or "Big Mac," the state's largest lake.

When full, the lake measures 22 miles long, four miles wide and 142 feet deep. This month, it was 75 percent empty but a little fuller than at a record low in mid-September. By next summer, water and power officials predict it will be more than 90 percent empty -- comparatively speaking, a puddle. The only other time the water level was low enough to see Lemoyne, which sat just west of Nebraska's Sandhills, was in 1956.

Plummer was 18 when he and his fellow townspeople were told by the state to pack their things. Only a handful went willingly. People in the towns of Keystone, Martin, Belmar and Ruthton were also told to head for higher ground.

"Nobody wanted to leave," Plummer recalled.

Before all was said and done, 25 ranchers and townspeople sued over their relocation, according to a history of the lake titled "Lake McConaughy: A Geographic Portrait" by Robert Richter.

A few of the old places survived. Gus Samuelson's general store, started in 1926, moved to the new Lemoyne about a mile away. So did the church, where Plummer's mother taught Sunday school for 20 years.

But the Lemoyne Hotel and Melville's Lumber Co. buildings were broken down and sold off in pieces. The Lemoyne School, once attended by as many as 50 children, was moved but eventually closed as families moved away, according to the book.

Plummer has become a tour guide of sorts, driving about 20 miles from his home in Ogallala to show friends and family around his old stamping grounds.

There is not a blade of grass or a speck of dirt to be found. There is just sand, the kind good for making castles, enveloping concrete foundations from another century.

Old Lemoyne has become somewhat of an antiquer's paradise. Lucky visitors have run across mattresses, barrettes, teacups, railroad ties and elixir bottles, some still full. Beer cans, too.

Park Superintendent Mitch Gerstenkorn said he fielded about 15 calls a day this summer from people asking where they can find the buried city.

Steve Jehorek of nearby Brule came with his daughter and son-in-law to get a history lesson from Plummer.

The three hunched over newly emerged pieces of a past life and hoped to take a bit of it back with them.

"I'm afraid I'd be here till dark," Jehorek said about his search for trinkets.

Plummer just laughed, saying he was not sure why anyone would want the "junk" everybody left behind.

In the sand-strewn landscape, souvenir seekers occasionally find treasure -- including elixir bottles with contents intact. "Nobody wanted to leave," recalls Warren Plummer, 81, who was born in Lemoyne. The town was flooded in the early 1940s to make way for a lake.The skeletal remains of the tiny town are visible as drought has reduced Lake McConaughy to minimal levels.