Fort Kearny, Nebraska

Day 179

     Built in 1848, Fort Kearny was the first fort built to protect travelers on the Oregon Trail. Later, it served as a home station for Pony Express riders, as well as sheltering crews building the Union Pacific Railroad. I expected to see a detailed history of these events. This is what I saw:



     Fort Kearny was discontinued as a military post in 1871. The buildings were torn down and the land was opened for homesteading. Nothing remains except a grease spot on the ground. 

     So let me tell you what I learned over the last couple of weeks that led me to want to see Fort Kearny:

     The growth of overland emigration to Oregon from 1842 to 1848 resulted in the establishment of military posts across the West to protect the travelers. The first post established was Fort Kearny. 

     At Fort Kearny all the trails radiating from the Missouri River towns converged to form the main line of the Platte Valley Route. The newborn Fort Kearny faced an onslaught of traffic during the 1849 California gold rush (you remember the 49’ers). Actually, it’s busiest year was that year, a year after it was built. During the months of May and June, 25,000 people passed by.

     Despite its lack of fortifications, Fort Kearny served as way station, sentinel post, supply depot, and message center for the 49’ers and pioneers bound for the west. The Fort was a vital communications link between the settled East and the golden West. It was a participant in all of the day’s major forms of frontier communications: Overland Stage, US mail, Pony Express, and the telegraph. One of it’s final duties was the protection of workers building the Union Pacific Railroad.

     The Union Pacific Railroad reached Fort Kearny in August, 1866. Its coming marked the end of an era for the fort, as well as for the territory. Nebraska became a state in 1867. The transcontinental railroad, which crisscrossed the new state, made Fort Kearny obsolete. The Overland trail ceased to be used with the advent of the railroad (why take a 6 month journey in a covered wagon, when you can ride the train for $50.00 and get there in a week?) 


Archway Monument, Nebraska

Day 178

     Archway Monument is a tribute to the road over which it transcends. Now called Route 80, it was originally an Indian trail, which became the Oregon trail, which became the Lincoln Highway and now Route 80.


     Between 1841 and 1866 following the ancient trail that the Indians had shown to the fur trappers in the early 1800’s, 350,000 men, women and children hoping to find a better life on the other side of the American continent traveled this route.  


    The route followed the Platte and North Platte Rivers. It ultimately led to a valley where covered wagons could easily cross the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. It was one of the largest voluntary mass migrations ever.



   Five days after the celebration at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, on May 10, 1869, where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met to form the first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific Railroad began regular train service to the West. Almost immediately, the covered wagon migration across the Great Platte River slowed to a trickle.

     Trains were economical and fast. Emigrants lined up to buy one-way, cross-country tickets that cost only $50.00 each, and the trip only took a week. By the 1880s, the Union Pacific was carrying nearly one million people west each year–three times as many as those who had come across the continent in 25 years of covered wagon travel. 


     In 1912, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Car Fisher proposed creating the country’s first coast-to-coast highway. A year later the 3,389 mile long Lincoln Highway was laid out. It followed the Great Platte River Road (Oregon and California Trail) through the heart of the nation. 

     Interstate 80, America’s first transcontinental interstate, traces its way along the Great Platte River Road and the old Lincoln Highway. It goes from New York to San Francisco (I always thought route 40 was the first continental highway – I will have to research that).


Bet you didn’t know:

     During the 1840’s, Johann Sutter was a rich and powerful man. He established his own colony consisting of 2 forts, an army of workers on nearly 50,000 acres in the valley in what would become Sacramento. In 1848 gold was discovered on his property which began the California Gold Rush.

     Gold seekers swarmed onto his land in uncontrollable numbers and took over. They killed his cattle, stole his horses, and dug up his farm fields in their frantic search for gold. When it was over, Sutter was stripped of everything (although if you read what type of guy he was, you have no sympathy).


     I just booked our camping site for the 2017 Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We will be there October 2 to 15, 2017. Our RV will be set up on the field of the fairgrounds where the balloons will be taking off and landing. We invite our family and close friends to join us. We will pick you up at the airport so you can stay with us any time during the two weeks. If you are interested, give me a call. 


Grand Island, Nebraska

Day 177

      Went to the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. Not much going on since it is the end of the season. There were two things of interest:

     First is Henry Fonda’s birth house. He was born in Grand Island in 1905.


     The second is they built a pioneer town. This is what I expected Deadwood Gulch to look like. 

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     We saw wild turkeys do their mating dance in the middle of the road.



     See you later.


Technical Stuff

North Platte, NE to Grand Island, NE 148 miles

2 hours 54 minutes

12.2 MPG

Diesel: $2.22

Hell On Wheels, Nebraska

Day 176

     December 3, 1886 the first train entered what was known as “Hell on Wheels,” a mobile town that followed the construction of the railroad. It wintered in North Platte, Nebraska that year. 

     Union Pacific Bailey’s Railroad Yard today is the largest hump classification yard in the world. It was named to honor a former Union Pacific president. A hump classification yard is where trains come in from each direction and are deposited on top of a hill to be regrouped to continue it’s travels through out North America. Bailey Yard covers a total expanse of 2,850 acres and is over 8 miles in length and 2 miles wide. The yard has 200 separate tracks. A computer controls the release of each car down a hill that is then guided onto a specific track in the yard to group with other cars going to the same destination. 

     We went to the observation tower to watch with fascination as the trains were assembled. 


     Although it was a hazy day, you can see the cars coming down the hill to be guided onto a specific track.



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     After the train is assembled, it takes off into the sunset. Over 10,000 cars are “humped” by 985 switches forming 155 trains each day.


     From when a train car enters the yard until it is sent on it’s way is no more than 11 hours. Therefore, tomorrow morning, all these cars will be gone. 


     Interesting fact (at least to me): Diesel trains do not run on the diesel, rather they run on electricity. The diesel powers a generator on the train which produces the electricity to power the train.

     Here the engines are loaded with sand, which is spread on the tracks by the train to give the wheels traction: 


North Platte, Nebraska

Day 175


     The modern day rodeo started right here in North Platte, Nebraska, the home of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He was asked to do something special for the July 4, 1882 celebration. He decided to bring in cowboys to show what they actually did on the range: roping, bucking broncos, steer and bull riding, etc. He later developed this further into what was to become his Wild West Show.

     Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show opened in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1883 and continued until July 21, 1913, 30 years. 

     He had this house built for him in 1886 as a place to relax between show tours, and a place to retire. 


He called it Scott’s Rest Ranch



Technical Stuff

Alliance NE to North Platte NE 197.4 miles

3 hours 55 minutes

9.6 MPG

Diesel: $2.33

The Oregon Trail, Mitchell Pass, Nebraska

Day 174


     I wanted to hike the Oregon Trail. I could not do the entire trail as it is 2,000 miles long. I would not be able to get back to my truck. Initially the trail went further south as the settlers had to find a pass through the bluffs. Around 1850 the military built Mitchell Pass through the bluffs that was 8 miles shorter, about a days travel. It was here we decided to hike.  day-174-mitchell-pass6797_fotor


     Can you believe this person put graffiti on the rocksday-174-mitchell-pass6789_fotor

     The pass goes by Scott’s Bluff. We decided to go to the top of the bluff for a view of the pass and prairie. Barbara was not concerned going to the top, as she has Travelers.


     Looking across the Pass we could see a hole in the mountain. I wanted to hike there to see if it was natural or man made. We were told we could not hike there as a rock slide covered part of the trail, and they were not sure if it was still sliding. 


      You can see the hole in the upper right of the picture. The slide, lower left covers part of the trail. 

     Millions of years ago the prairie was at the top of these bluffs. The weather wore the bluffs down, and hence the prairie. The bluffs are not made of the same types of material. The harder rocks withstood the erosion, which is why they are still standing today. Nevertheless, grain by grain they are still eroding. 


     This marker was placed in 1933, at that time the top of the marker was level with the top of the bluff. 


Elk Penis Rock, Bayard Nebraska

 Day 173


     The Oregon trail trek begins at the Missouri River. The first part of the trek is across the great plains. Nothing but 600 miles of flat land and hardships. Finally, the pioneers see Elk Penis Rock in what is now the State of Nebraska. It had great significance because it signaled that they have completed the first 3rd of their journey, but it also signaled another set of hardships, crossing the rockies.

    There were 3 main groups of pioneers in the mid 1800’s looking for a better life. Those looking for riches trekked to California for the gold in them thar hills. Those seeking religious freedom trekked with Bringham Young to Utah. And those looking for wide open land for farming, went to Oregon.

     They all took basically the same route from the Missouri River across the great plains. They tried to stay near water and grassland for their livestock. When they reached  Elk Penis their routes diverged. The reason was that shortly past Elk Penis were the bluffs. The bluffs were created by the flow of the river water they were following. Therefore, there were bluffs on both banks of the river. This prevented the wagons from going through as the muddy river bank would bog the wagons down.


    They needed to find a way around or through the bluffs. The Mormons went north of the river. The others went to the south side. This created 3 routes to the west: Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail. Around the year 1900 200 feet from the top of the rock was cut off by either lighting or erosion and collapsing. Doesn’t that make this a Jewish rock? 

     The indians originally named the rock Elk Penis. The white’s called it Chimney Rock. The indians did not know what a chimney was. 

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     Actually, none of the pioneers are buried in this cemetery. Those that died on the trek, and there were in excess of 20,000 deaths, were buried on the trail itself. The thought was that subsequent wagons and expedition would pack down the trail and prevent wild animals from digging up the deceased.