The Great Plains – Trails of History
Out here in the middle of Nebraska, you really are at the crossroads of America. Many historic trails crossed through here: the Oregon and California Trails, where several hundred thousand pioneers traveled west; the Mormon Trail, marking the trek to Utah; and the Pony Express. And then, there are the trains . . .
We started the day with a visit to the Union Pacific Museum and Depot Display in the center of North Platte. It was great fun to get to climb up on the humongous black Challenger Steam locomotive with its 6’ high wheels, and the more colorful, sleek #6922 bright yellow and blue Union Pacific diesel locomotive. This site was the original location of the famous North Platte WW II Canteen. The women of North Platte operated the Canteen, throughout more than four years of the war, providing up to 5,000 soldiers a day a brief respite and slice of home with fresh coffee, homemade treats and lively conversation. All food, supplies and volunteer time were provided by the local women and residents of Nebraska. It’s no wonder the WW II museum in New Orleans prominently used a train car from North Platte in their entrance hall exhibit!
Sadly, the original depot was torn down in 1972, and the current depot was moved in from nearby Hershey.
These are also the former stomping grounds of Buffalo Bill Cody, and the launching pad of his famous Wild West show. The trains are located in Cody Park. Oddly, the bronze statue of Buffalo Bill is surrounded by Plexiglas, and then encased in a metal cage . . . . Likewise, the park’s duck pond is fenced with a chain-link, barbed wire-topped fence. So you can sit on the benches lining the pond, and feed the ducks from the machine provided – through the fence. Or you can cozy-up to Buffalo Bill’s cage for a photo-op.
With that done, we got back on a rural road and followed a 137 car (+ two engine) coal train eastbound.
Next stop, historic Gothenburg to see the site of the original Pony Express outpost. Moved from nearby private land, the former fur trading post was used as a station for the full 18-month run of the Pony Express from 1860-61. The telegraph put the Pony Express out of business. The Pony Express is so much a part of our American history, I never realized it was so short-lived.
Then, we were back on our own trail through Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri to Kansas City. First stop, dinner at a gas station – the iconic and famous Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que.