Family and friends,
It’s with a sigh of relief I have finally finished writing the posts about our recently completed trip to Hawaii but also some trepidation now knowing just how far behind I am in wiring about this current trip which began almost six weeks ago! Oh well, one step at a time is the best I can do and I just hope you have at least half as much fun reading this post about some very unusual places in Nebraska as we did seeing them and I just did recounting them!
All the best to you and your loved ones,
Even though Steven and I had only been home in Denver several weeks from our three-week jaunt to Hawaii, we were getting itchy feet and ready to ‘hit the road’ again for our longest road trip in about 40 years. For about the last 15 years, we’ve driven to the Panhandle in Florida every summer to stay in a state park located right on the most beautiful stretch of beach. Returning there and also being beach bums in Gulf Shores, Alabama for a while, was also our plan this summer but we decided to take just a bit of a detour!
If you know your American geography at all, the Panhandle is southeast of Denver but we decided to make a real trip out of it by going northeast to Chicago to visit our daughter’s family, then on to Canada to visit school friends in Toronto, then onto my hometown of Ottawa where my four brothers and kindergarten friends still live, then play tourist in lovely Quebec City, visit my father’s hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick, reconnect with dear friends from my Ottawa days who had since moved to the beautiful South Shore of Nova Scotia, and then tour Canada’s island province of Newfoundland for two-plus weeks. All that is just about half our road trip – stay tuned for the next half much later as home won’t beckon us until mid-August!
As we made our way east across Colordao we detoured off the interstate to see in the distance a Pony Express station where horseback riders delivered mail from the settled Midwest to the new state of California.
I’d watched a couple of days earlier a segment on the local TV newscast about how a smart-aleck had placed a ‘C’ in front of the eastern Colorado Ovid town sign to spell Covid. Even though we drove to all four entrances of the very small town, we still couldn’t find it, darn it!
Further east in Colorado was Julesburg the last big town in eastern Colorado.
Taking the back roads, we crossed over into the state of Nebraska, wherethe first major city and our first stop was Ogallala.
This Standard Oil station, built in 1922, was considered one of the best-preserved gas stations still standing in the state. After being renovated in 2002-2003, it is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Hugh,” the friendly hometown mechanic, was described as embodying the spirit of the Lincoln Highway in Keith County. In a simpler time years ago, a gas station attendant would pump gas, check the oil and send drivers on their way with a friendly smile.
Ogallala’s Old West town:
Being big fans of roadside attractions, Steven and I made sure to stop at Ogallala’s UFO water tower which I understand iss illuminated at night with UFO landing lights. Even at a distance, we could still see little green aliens peeking out of the spaceship windows!
The big claim to fame for tiny Paxton, Nebraska was Ole’s Big Game Sanctuary where more than 200 big game trophies were located in a restaurant cum bar. Even though Steven only bought a pop, we were still made to feel welcome to walk around and gaze at the stuffed animals killed on five continents.
The collection seemed like a throwback to the 1950s when showcasing stuffed animals wasn’t considered as politically incorrect as today.
After getting gas for under $4 a gallon, we wondered whether that would be the last time all trip we’d buy gas that ‘cheaply.’ Steven and I have driven from Denver east cross country at least a few dozen times in the last 40 years but had never traveled off the interstate for any distance. Starting this trip, we had no plan to do it any differently but sort of stumbled on the Lincoln Highway and decided to give it a whirl. Dedicated in 1913, it was the first transcontinental road for cars in the United States, beginning in New York City’s Times Square before winding its way over 3,000 miles to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.
The mural by an old-time gas station in Sutherland, Nebraska marked the Lincoln Highway’s centennial in 2013.
If you ever also happen to be driving the Lincoln Highway on approach to North Platte, I suggest you might want to hold your nose for as many miles as possible because of the ‘aroma’ from the Olson Feedyards!
Five miles outside of the city was the Fort Cody Trading Post named for Iowa-born ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody who earned his moniker after hunting buffalo to feed workers on the Kansas-Pacific Railway in 1867. Cody won international acclaim in 1872 after organizing a buffalo hunt for the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia.
He made the city his home beginning in 1878 and started the world’s first organized rodeo in 1882. After Cody died in 1917, he was buried just a few miles from our home atop Lookout Mountain near Denver in Colorado.
I was flabbergasted at how large the city’s 20th-century Veterans’ Memorial in Iron Horse Park was as it seemed hugely bigger than many states’ memorials were.
The tomb of the unknown soldier honored those heroes from the Revolutionary War onwards who have died in service of their country.
Steven and I have seen countless WW II memorials but certainly never one depicting a Canteen Lady. The statue honored the six million members of the armed forces who were served at the North Platte canteen from Christmas of 1941 until April 1, 1946.
As we proceeded further east across Nebraska, towering grain silos were a common sight in every small town.
Before this original Pony Express station was erected in 1860 on the Oregon Trail in present-day Gothenburg, Nebraska, it had been used as a fur trading post and ranch house. In 1954, the station was relocated to the city’s Ehmen Park and dedicated to all pioneers who had passed this way “to win and hold the West.”
We learned that three men already in the freighting and drayage business were the founders of the Pony Express. Instead of the customary stagecoaches, they put together the Pony Express for the primary purpose of delivering military messages from Union leaders at the beginning of the Civil War to get messages to their troops without going through Confederate territory and risk being intercepted. The Express was a direct route for mounted riders to deliver mail in just ten days between St, Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, a plan many thought would be impossible.
However, they organized 80 riders, 184 stations, and 400 horses in just two months. Riders rode from one station to the next, and switched horses until they handed off the mail to the next rider 90 miles away. One of the Pony Express’ biggest achievements was in 1861 when Abraham Lincoln was elected President and the news was carried from Fort Kearney, Nebraska to Placerville, California in just five days. Unfortunately, working for the Pony Express was dangerous with unpredictable weather, several station keepers being killed after being targeted by Confederate attacks and easy raids by Native American raids, and at least one rider freezing to death when he got lost during a blizzard.
The organizers had hoped to win an exclusive government mail contract but that didn’t happen. That financial loss and new telegraph lines providing faster means of communication was the undoing of the fast-moving mail service. It only lasted 18 months until October 1861.
I could even leave postcards for our granddaughters in the saddle bag and the present-day mail carrier would pick them up and send them on their way to Max and Clara in San Francisco and Chicago respectively!
Across from the park and Pony Expression station was the Gothenburg Historical Museum which had cute quilting designs on one side. Swede Olof Bergstrom, working in the American frontier on the Union Pacific Railroad in late 1882, convinced his fellow countrymen to emigrate to the US and build a new town where Gothenburg now stands. In less than three years, the town was incorporated with 300 Swedes and Germans settling into the area. Though named after Goteborg, Sweden, railroad officials gave it the German spelling.
In 1892, Gothenburg became the first city in western Nebraska to have electricity after the construction of the first man-made lake designed to generate electricity brought many factories and industries.
Even signs on the telephone poles honored the town’s history as the Pony Express Capital of Nebraska!
We did a double-take when we initially thought these were bald eagles in the tree. Nope, just wood carvings!
En route to another place we wanted to see in Gothenburg, we passed Lake Helen Recreation Area, the man-made lake I mentioned earlier.
Several miles away in the countryside north of Gothenburg was the Swedish Crosses Cemetery. These unique grave markers were an enduring symbol of one of the many Swedish settlements in the area where three children in one family were buried near the family farm. The children’s grandfather, the first blacksmith in Gothenburg, crafted the distinctive iron crosses in a traditional Swedish style. On each cross was the child’s name, the dates of birth and death, and a Swedish inscription that translates to ‘Here rests.”
I cannot begin to imagine the heartbreak suffered by the parents burying their three children, none of whom reached the age of two.
Our last stop in Gothenburg was the Sod House Museum which was dedicated to the history of the sod homes used during pioneer days. When Nebraska’s lack of trees caused hardship for settlers, they resorted to building their homes with sod. The one-room buildings only contained basic survival necessities and were made to withstand the harsh elements. Though the museum was closed, we were able to wander around the site.
There wasn’t anything much to see of the dilapidated sod house as even walking around it was pretty dangerous.
But a life-size bison made of 4.5 miles of barbed wire and a Native American hunting on horseback made of 3 miles of barbed wire made the wander across the field well worth it!
Also on site was what was billed as the largest handmade plow in the world!
Granted we only spent a couple of hours scouting out the sights in Gothenburg, but we were both extremely impressed by the city’s overall ambiance, its parks, and historic homes.
If our youngest had been with us, he would have liked to have stopped at the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles in Lexington as it was home to approximately 100 vehicles dating from WW II. Many of the helicopters, tanks, jeeps, and ambulances from every branch of service were fully restored and operational. We arrived too late to do anything but peer through the fence and wonder what we might have missed.
Perhaps the next time we’re driving I-80 across Nebraska we’ll have enough time to view the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument that spans more than 300 feet across the interstate near Kearney. Known simply as The Archway, it tells the story of the people who followed the river road from the Oregon Trail era to the present to help build America.
Steven said he was happy to get off the interstate to break up the trip with these slices of Americana even though it made for a longer day of driving than if we’d stuck to the interstate.
Next post: Some of Iowa’s oddball attractions as we head east!
Posted on June 21st, 2022, after arriving after dinner in St. John’s, the capital of Canada’s easternmost province of Newfoundland. Though the province may look small on the map, we’ve already managed to clock more than two thousand miles since taking the ferry over to the southwest side of this stunning province exactly two weeks ago. I imagine we’ll have driven more than seven thousand miles, too, since leaving Denver on May 11th by the time we take the ferry back to the mainland in a few more days!
4 thoughts on “5/11/22: Denver-Nebraska’s Lincoln Highway’s Americana”
Given that we are currently on our first ever American road trip, it’s fascinating to read this. You are certainly passing through some interesting little places.
We enjoy getting off the beaten track and discover what I would call the ‘real’ America as otherwise everything from the interstates looks almost identical. While on your own road trip you might want to look at roadside America. com to see if there are any places of interest on your route as we often like. Happy travels!
This is everything I’d look for in a US road trip! I love all the quirky Americana stuff and Gothenburg in particular seems to have a lot to offer 🙂 The Lincoln Highway seems like an interesting alternative to Rte 66 for a cross-country trip?
Thought you would also like these quirky sights, Sarah! I was extremely taken with Gothenburg from just the hour or so we wandered around it. The Lincoln Highway certainly doesn’t get the attention Route 66 does which is a shame from what we saw. On our way back to Denver in another six weeks or so, we hope to travel the back roads along Highway 36 as a friend of ours has written a book on the subject. I hope we’ll like that byway as much as he does!