Florence, Nebraska

Day 184

     Like others, the Mormons left to go West. But their vision was different. They were in no rush to get to their destination. More than likely Brigham Young did not know his ultimate destination at this time. But he did know that others would be following their path (literally) that he would be taking.

     Between 1839 and 1846 the Latter-day Saints gathered on the banks of the Mississippi to built a city they called Nauvoo, Ill. They were immigrating here from all over the world. The rapid growth of the city and the distinctive religious beliefs of its inhabitants disturbed other settlers. These differences eventually erupted in conflict, inciting the murder of the Mormon’s founder, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum and forcing the Saints to leave the city.


     During their trek west, they stopped here in what is now Florence, Nebraska to weather out the winter. They ended up staying 2 years. During that time they built homes and planted croups not only for themselves but also for those that would be following.

     After the Mormons arrived in Utah in 1847, they continued to improve the trail leading into the Great Basin. They built bridges, set up ferries across rivers, and wrote a detailed emigrant’s guide so that those who followed would have an easier time along the trail. 

     To encourage other Mormon emigrants, they set up the Perpetual Emigration Fund that provided money to buy wagons and oxen for those wishing to make the trip West. After 20 years 80,000 Latter-day Saint pioneers had settled in Utah.     

     Today a museum sits where they wintered camped to tell their story. When we entered the free museum we were greeted by a church member who gave us a personal tour of the museum. Although he did not try to convert us, the opportunity was there.

Bet You Didn’t Know:

     Brigham Young wanted to leave a detailed trail for others to follow. The Mormons at first tied a rag to a wagon wheel. 360 turns of the wheel equaled a mile. 


     They then developed this cog system. Each turn of the wheel moved a peg in a cog, which moved a numbered gear. With precision they could now say go 5 miles, and it was five miles. 


Kregel Windmill Co., Nebraska City, Nebraska

Day 181


     Windmills have been used for irrigation pumping and for milling since the 7th century. In the early days of the United States, the development of the “water-pumping windmill” was the major factor that allowed farming and ranching vast areas that were otherwise devoid of readily accessible water. The multi-bladed wind turbine atop a lattice tower made of wood or steel was, for many years, a fixture of the landscape of rural America.


     You remember seeing these in those old western movies. 


     Built in 1902, this is the last intact windmill factory in the United States. Cousins Louis and George Kregel began windmill production in 1879 in the town of Nebraska City, where we are staying. They moved the factory across the street, to this site, when they went from wood to steel windmills. They produced Eli-brand windmills until the second world war. Due to materials rationing the factory discontinued production. After the war, George’s son, Arthur, took over the business and focused on water well and pump services. The factory was in use for those services until Arthur’s death in 1991.  Thereafter, concerned community members turned this into a museum to preserve the factory.


     They left the factory as it was when the last man left the premises in 1941, when they ceased the actual production of windmills:


     This is a drill bit sharpening machine


     Ah! When electricity wiring was simple.


Nebraska City, Nebraska

Day 180


     The Missouri River is the longest river in North America. Beginning in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, the Missouri flows east and south for 2,341 miles before entering the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri.

     The Missouri was long believed to be part of the Northwest Passage – a water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific – but when Lewis and Clark became the first to travel the river’s entire length, they confirmed the mythical pathway to be no more than a legend.


     Nebraska City, where we are camped, is part of the Missouri River Basin. Lewis and Clark came this way from St. Louis, where their expedition began. There is a Lewis and Clark interpretive center located here. 


     On May 14, 1804 the expedition left St. Louis, the Missouri River flows down from Montana, which means they are going up river the entire journey. They returned September 23, 1806, 2 years and 4 months later. 

     Around this area, this is what the ground looked like. And they wore moccasin type shoes.(ouch):


     This Indian was explaining how to make knives, spear heads, and arrows from rocks. He made a crude knife that sliced through a piece of leather (buffalo hide) like butter. 


     Barbara thought she saw a bear behind the Sphinx. I think she was mistaken.


Technical Stuff

Grand Island, NE to Nebraska City, NE  143 miles

4 hours 19 minutes

10.6 MPG 

Diesel: $2.30

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. 

Frontier Town, Nebraska

Day 172


     Kenneth “Dobby” Lee wanted to recreate the Alliance town he grew up in. It is a hands on approach. That is you can touch everything, including an original ledger book of 1880. In contrast, when we were in the Wind Cave, the ranger told us not to touch the walls of the caves as it would destroy it’s delicate balance. REALLY? The Caves have been there for 400 million years, and my touch will destroy it?


     After Dobby died, his son and the town of Alliance kept up Dobby’s Frontier Town.

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     Back in those days, there was little wood for the settlers to built their homes. Improvising, they used bails of hay which they then covered with stucco made from the limestone in the area. day-172-frontier-ne6774_fotor day-172-frontier-ne6771_fotor

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Carhenge, Nebraska

Day 171

     Jim Reinders, a man with obviously too much time on his hands, decided he wanted to build a replica of Stonehenge in his home town of Alliance. Since he did not have granite slaps in Alliance he decided to use cars. 

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He also made other stuff from cars:


     87,000 people visit this site each year. But I don’t see how they would know, since no one counted us when we came. 




Alliance, Nebraska

Day 170


     Traveling South, we chose a campground in Alliance, Nebraska because it was a comfortable 150 miles away. 

     It was a good day to catch up on some minor repairs, maintenance and other household chores. What, you think traveling around the Country in a RV is all fun and games? There is work to be done, just like in your home. So, while Barbara does that, I’ll take a nap.

     That night we heard what sounded like a huge garage door slamming shut. Over and over all night long. Although it did not effect our sleep, nothing does. The next morning we asked the camp host. She informed us that next door was the train depot, with 56 tracks, where the trains are assembled to journey around the country. 

     Barbara had trouble with cell phone reception, and tried this new fangled device:


     Alliance came into existence when the railroad arrived on January 27, 1888. The railroad actually determined the site of the town and sold plots of land to those arriving to establish a life in the newest railroad town. The 56 track train depot was build then. By the summer of 1888 there were more than 100 buildings under construction, and by 1890, nearly 1,000 people lived here. 

     The trains brought to Alliance not only people, but supplies and goods. The last passenger train left Alliance in November, 1967. Now the chief transport of the trains is coal. All night long we could hear the banging of the cars being coupled together. Traveling down the road we saw one of the trains, the tracks parallel the road, Barbara counted 119 coal cars, with two engines in the front and two in the back. 

     A note in history: The Adolph Coors Beverage and Manufacturing Co. built the Alliance Hotel in 1916. When Temperance Unions pushed Coors out, he moved to Golden Colorado.

     In 1964, Alliance also had the distinction of having the first touchtone phone in the nation. 

     We have visited a lot of museums in the previous 169 days of travels. However, the museum in Alliance described best the plight, motivation, and determination of the people who settled the West in the 1800’s. They were lured out West by the Homestead Act, passed by Congress on April 24, 1820, which gave 160 acres of land to any head of family (white that is) that would stay and farm the land for 5 years. 

     The Nevada firefighter’s convention  of 1911 in Alliance shows they all wear hats, coats, and ties.


     The town also had a unique fountain:

Technical Stuff:

Custer SD to Alliance NE 149.1 miles

3 hours 9 minutes

11.4 MPG