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: