Monday, June 12, 2017

Nebraska Homesteads


We were looking for a way to vacation this summer that could include our dog, Rocky.  Both our families had family ties in Nebraska, so we decided on an RV trip back to Nebraska to look for old homesteads and some other sight seeing.
Our first stop just 60 miles east of Denver was at the Wiggins reststop.  Just after we pulled up, these two old cars pulled in next to us, each pulling a small camping trailer.  The two men and a lady driving the cars belonged to an old car club and had been traveling around Nebraska camping out.  Top speed - 55 mph. 
Our first night we spent camped next to the North Platte River in North Platte at the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area.  Connie and Rocky were enjoying a walk along the banks of the river.  
North Platte is the location of Bailey Yard, the largest railroad classification yard in the world.  They recently built the Golden Spike observation tower which allows visitors to see the scope of the operation.  On old Union Pacific dining car sits outside the towers.

Here I am taking in the view from the towers.  Bailey Yard is truly a huge operation with several classification yards and a huge diesel servicing and repair facility. 

One of the exhibits inside the Golden Spike Tower is a display explaining the World War II canteen that  serviced the hundred of troop trains that passed through North Platte.  

The campground at North Platte was alive with birds.  I think what we have here is a  second summer male orchard oriole.  
There were tons of yellow warblers in the campground. 
Connie is reading an interpretive sign about the annual migration of the sandhill cranes through Nebraska.  Something like half a million cranes visit the area each spring and fall.  My cousin lives just north of the river here and says for several weeks in late Feb. and March there will be thousands in the fields around their house.  

Driving along approaching Anselmo in the eastern Sandhills, we noticed this odd tower sticking up out of the trees in the  small town.  What on earth?  Here stood this large church, the Cathedral of the Sandhills.  We didn't try the doors, but were told by a lady in the next town that it had once been a thriving church when the small towns of the area were more densely populated.  

Sign for the Cathedral of the Sandhills. 

The Platte River flows right by Mahoney State Park.  You can climb a tower for the view. 
This gigantic flag flies out front of the main lodge at Mahoney State Park where we camped.  It was truly huge.  You could hear  it flapping some distance away.  The lodge sits on a bluff just above the Platte River and you could see the flags for several miles out on I-80.  

This is our camp at Mahoney State Park along the Platte River about 30 miles west of Omaha.  We kept Rocky on a rope most of the time in obeisance of park rules, but we let him off for a few minutes to play frisbee.  He loves frisbee and has become quite a good frisbee dog.

Here I am outside Omaha Union Station, now the Durham Museum.

As a boy I stood on this viaduct over the train platforms and watched  the streamliners of the Union Pacifc, Missouri Pacific, Rock Island, and the Burlington. 
This is the grand, art deco main waiting room in Omaha Union Station.  I spent many a summer evening and early morning waiting for trains there.  The ticket booth for the Museum in the middle of the picture wasn't there in the old days.  Where it stands now, was about where we would meet a redcap to engage for watching our bags and later helping us to an early boarding of our train. 
When I visited Omaha Union Station in the 50s and 60s the arrival departure board  listed considerably fewer trains than the one of display here depicting 1937 schedules. 

The Burlington Station was across the train platforms from Union Station.  There used to be a pedestrian bridge across the tracks and platforms connecting the two depots.  You boarded trains by doing down escalators and stairs from that bridge.  
I sat on this very bench as a young boy.  Today, they have these sculptures depicting travelers of the past.  When you approach them they strike up a conversation.  The sailor was asking me why I had interrupted their conversation. 

Another of the sculptures depicts a redcap helping a lady and her children down to the trains, just like a redcap helped us many years ago.

The museum has several old passenger cars on display on what used to be track one down on the platforms.  Here I am boarding one of them.  

Connie is sitting in one of the sections in one of the streamlined sleepers from the 1950s.  

This is the lounge section in one of the cars.  I remember as a kid going thru the lounge car a few times.  There would be this cloud of cigarette smoke inversion about mid way up the car.  The volunteer in the car said when they first moved this car into the museum the lamp shades were so stained with smoke, it was like the lights weren't even turned on.  

Here I am enjoying a smoke in the lounge car.  What is that thing you're smoking, Bill?
While we were down enjoying the old passenger cars I heard the rumble of a train and throb of what sounded like Amtrak engines.  We hurried up the stairs and sure enough, there was a late California Zephyr over at the Amrak station adjacent to the old Burlington station.  
This was the uniform of the redcaps who worked at most large railroad stations across  the United States.    They often would meet the trains down on the platforms where you could employ them to help you with your bags.  They would also store them for you while you waited for your next train.  Upon departure you would meet them at the redcap station where they would have your bags and they would often arrange for you to  board the train early.  We always hire one in Omaha.

This is the former home of Connie's Uncle Bob and Aunt Dot.  Before they moved to town they operated a small dairy farm just north of Lincoln, but we were unable to locate.  We think it was scraped when they widened the highway several years back. 

As a boy I travelled with my mother and later my sister to visit mom's family in North Platte.  Each summer both westbound and eastbound from our home in Memphis, Tenn. we would spend some time in the Omaha Union Station.  I have always wanted to go back there and visit the depot again.  On our westbound journey we would arrive in Omaha about 5PM on the Missouri Pacific "Missouri River Eagle," a very nice train.  We would have dinner in the big dinning room in the eastern half of the station, then we had a five hour wait till our Union Pacific milk train departed about 11PM.  First stop was the information booth that had a marvelous display of railroad timetables.  I'd ask the man for a handful of timetables from various distant railroads.  I could spend hours with those timetables mapping out wide-ranging train journeys.  My mom and sister would go rest in the ladies lounge and I would sit out on the big wooden bench outside the women's room in the big warm depot.  I'd get bored and wander out onto the viaduct outside the depot that went over the dozen or so tracks between Union Station and the Burlington Depot just to the south.  I would stand there for hours and watch the parade of colorful transcontinental and Denver bound trains of the Union Pacific, Burlington, and Rock Island.  Come about 10:30 we would go meet the Redcap whom we had checked our bags with upon arrival in the early afternoon.  This man, I think his name was Mike, was a tall man in the proverbial redcap would meet us with our bags and guide us down onto the tracks to an early boarding onto the Armour yellow and gray coach that would convey us thru the night to meet Grandma and other family in North Platte.  Just like when we boarded the train in Memphis to start our journey it was such a welcome relief to step into the air conditioned comfort of the train escaping the heat and humidity of the Omaha night.

On our eastbound journey, we would arrive in Omaha about 3AM  and wouldn't pull-out again till about 8:30AM.  Again, mom and my sister would go rest on the plush couches in the ladies lounge.  I was again relegated to the hard old great wooden benches.  So, of course, you know where I went - yep, out onto the viaduct to watch the trains.  Come about 8AM we would meet Mike or another Redcap with our bags and board the eastbound Missouri River Eagle for our trip to Kansas City, St. Louis and eventually Memphis.

So, visiting the old depot was visit rich in memories for me.

Other places on our journey included a brief stop in North Platte to visit my cousins who still live there.  We also visited the Golden Spike Tower which allows you to see the immense, world's largest rail yard where my uncle and cousin once worked.  We made a short incursion into the eastern edge of the Nebraska sandhills.  A vast rolling sea of waving, tall grass prairie.  The western portion of the sandhills is more scenic, but the eastern third of the region is also quite beautiful.

Connie's dad's family were German immigrants to Lincoln and Beatrice, so we made visits to both those towns to look for old family homes and farms.  And, while in Beatrice we also visited the Homestead National Monument.  Overall it was a fun road trip.

In Beatrice we were able to locate the house where Connie's dad, Don, was born.  Still standing and occupied but  looking a bit dilapidated.  

We visited the old Beatrice cemetery where Connie was able to locate the graves of several of her ancestors.  

Just west of Beatrice we visited the Homestead National Monument.  It contains very interesting displays describing the homestead act and subsequent movement west.  We learned you can indeed claim a homestead, but today the available sites are all in very remote desert locations.  Guess you could start a lizard ranch or something.  
On the way back across Nebraska we visited the great Arch at Kearney.  It contains  some great interpretive displays explaining the westward movement along the Oregon, Mormon and 49er trails.  

We stopped again in North Platte on the way home to briefly visit the World War II museum out along the South Platte River. 

One of the displays there commemorated the famous World War II canteen at the North Platte depot that sever many a sandwich to the thousands of servicemen who passed through on the troop trains.  My mom was a volunteer at the canteen.  

Plaque explaining the canteen lady statue above.