Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nebraska: Who Knew?

An overriding theme of this blog, and what we’ve learned in our travels, is that every place in this country, and Canada too, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant from afar, has something interesting to offer to the traveler. I’ve been to Nebraska before: once on a business trip to Lincoln, and passing through on our almost cross-country RV trip in 1970. Both times my impression was corn, corn, and more corn. And not much else.

We arrived in a small town near Grand Island, NE a couple of days ago planning to make this a quick one-nighter, and be on our way. BTW, ever since passing through in 1970 we’ve wondered where the island was. We’re looking for a big island, but a big island in the Platte River didn’t seem to make sense. So we asked a waitress in a local restaurant and learned that many years ago a branch of the Platte detoured around a chunk of land that was several miles long. So the early settlers called the area Grand Island. The island is gone due to shifting sands and damn dams, but the name stuck.

Anyway, we’ve extended our stay here for two more nights. Yes, there is corn, a lot of corn, but there is also a fascinating history.DSC_0319

Our first clue that there might be something to see here came to us as we approached what looked like a giant foot bridge over I-80. As it turned out, it is sort of a foot bridge, but it’s also a unique museum. It was built over I-80 to symbolize the transportation hub this area was and is, beginning in the mid-1800s. This valley along the Platte River was a place where three of the wagon train trails to the west, as well as the Pony Express, converged.DSC_0310 Hundreds of wagons filled with Mormons, gold seekers, and just plain folks looking for a better life (“go west young man”) passed this spot in the 19th century.

The Great Platte River Road Archway commemorates the heroism and hardships of those pioneers without whom we might not have California as a state. Hmm. Maybe they should have stayed home. But then again, they also settled in Oregon and Washington, so they did some good.

But I digress. The Archway has some historical artifacts, but it is primarily a series of dioramas showing the pioneer’s progress. It wasn’t at all like that old TV show Wagon Train. DSC_0296

Horses and oxen pulled those Conestoga wagons through mud and snow, over mountains, and through rocky passes. One of the people in this diorama is just trying to help.


This diorama depicts a famous incident during which a group of Mormons pulling human-drawn carts on the way to Salt Lake City got hit with an early snow storm. Since they were late to arrive, Brigham Young became concerned and sent a couple of young men to find them. Although some were lost, most of the travelers were rescued.

Another attraction in this area of Nebraska is Pioneer Village, which sounds like it would be a recreation of, well, a pioneer village. But it turned out to be so much more. DSC_0321

Yes, there are buildings depicting the progress of the settlers in the area, but there are 28 building on 20 acres housing an incredible collection of artifacts depicting every aspect of human endeavor, much of it in chronological order. It is a collection worthy of the Smithsonian or other great museums depicting American history. DSC_0338

There’s a lot of agricultural implements including a dozen or so steam tractors. There are model rooms depicting the way people lived from the early 1800's through the mid-1900s.


There’s a huge collection of antique automobiles and trucks. The gizmo in this photo is a convertible Ford that converts to a tractor. Note the back wheels. There are antique airplanes, a huge carriage collection, tools, firearms, equipment from an old TV studio, pretty much everything a developing America used during its development. We only spent two hours in this place. Two full days would have been needed to see all of the collections.

And lest I forget to mention it, they have a steam-driven carrousel.

DSC_0329 Tomorrow we’re heading to Iowa and the Iowa State Fair. I don’t know if Sara Palin will still be there, but if she is I’d like to have a word with her.


Post a Comment

<< Home