Westward Ho - Again travel blog

NE Sandhills & coal train

Bailey Yard - "hump"

Bailey Classification Yard

Leg powered scroll saw

Vet's tilt-table

Jail Rock & Courthouse Rock

Chimney rock


View from top of Scottsbluff

Pioneer & his gear

Pretty NE campsite

Sunset from camper

Sunrise & reflection from camper

Who would have known how fascinating Nebraska is? We've sped through it on 2 previous trips, but this time we're going slowly through the central region - along the same route taken by the buffalo (really bison), Indians, pioneers, Mormons, gold seekers, railroad, Pony Express and now Route 80 - all pushing westward. We've stayed off Rte. 80, seeing the country by back roads. The "Sandhills" cover much of the top half of NE and are the largest grass covered sandhills in the Western Hemisphere. Plus there is a large aquifer under 83% of NE - so the sandhills look like the Jersey Shore, but are covered with prairie grass, green grass, and grazing Angus cows - and there is no ocean on the other side of the dunes.

Our country's accelerated westward expansion began with Lincoln's Homestead Act of 1862. It promised you up to 160 acres of undeveloped Federal land outside the original 13 colonies if you filed an application, improved the land and filed for a deed. Just like so many of our "government programs" - it was a great idea but ripe for fraud. 200 years hasn't changed much!!!

I'm fascinated by trains and love model trains layouts. But I've now seen the ultimate - the Bailey Classification Switching Yard in No. Platte, NE - the largest in the world. It is 8 miles long, 2.5 miles wide with 174 tracks. Trains come in on one or two tracks from east or west, get checkout out and each car gets diverted to the track of its final destination train. There's an 8 story tower where you can see much of the yard and some volunteers (mostly retired RR guys) answer questions and explain what's happening. It was so cool to see the incoming trains split apart at the "hump" where each car then travels down into the "bowl" by gravity and continues on to the proper track at just the right speed to automatically couple with another car in its "final destination train".

Hardly an hour goes by that you don't see or hear a train in NE. Most of them seem to be "unit trains" with 138 cars of coal coming from Wyoming - pulled by 2 locomotives and one or two locos at the end for holding back. Cabooses are a thing of the past because most train engineers now do one 8 hour shift one way and back the next day. No need for overnight sleeping on the train. Grand Island (on eastern side of NE) is famous for the most trains per day - 165 come through the small town. That's a lot of whistling.

We've run into a couple of rainy days and low temps. Spent one day at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island - a recreated pioneer village with a mercantile, bank, haberdashery, blacksmith, tin shop, veterinarian, woodworkers shop etc. I got to create a wooden hanger on the 1890s scroll saw, powered by my own leg power (it is tiring !!). Was also interested in the examining table in the vet shop - tilt it upright, strap on the cow, then tip it over flat. How else can you lift a cow???

Famous landmarks in western NE are some rock formations that pioneers often mentioned in their westward journey diaries. Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock rise 400 feet above the valley. Chimney Rock was originally called "elk penis" by the Indians, but the prim and proper Anglo-Americans changed it to Chimney Rock. All were landmarks that gave the pioneers hope and encouragement - they were one-third of the way west. Scottsbluff is the only formation you can hike up - a nice 1.6 mile walk for a 360 degree view of the valley on top.

Many pioneers were so fearful of Indian savagery that they outfitted themselves as the man in the pic above. He had so many weapons strapped to his body that he'd probably trip over his gear before he could defend himself - a Hall Carbine rifle, 2 pepper boxes (pistols), a Bowie knife, and a Colt .44 caliber Walker Revolver. Interestingly - more emigrants killed one another by accident than were killed by natives. Despite what we see in the movies, attacks on circled wagon trains rarely happened.

Lastly, take a look at a recent campsite in NE - sunset out one side of the RV, sunrise out the opposite.

Off to Wyoming.

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