Crossing Nebraska on the interstate we found a lovely city park and campground in Cozad. It was near enough to the Union Pacific main line to see up to 100 trains per day. Cozad was also historically significant as it sits on the 100th Meridian of longitude, the first goal of the Transcontinental Railroad which initiated the first payments to the Union Pacific from the Federal Government.
Up to 100 trains per day
North Platte Nebraska is home to the largest classification railroad yard in the world, Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard. We visited that yard and its observation tower several years ago but this time we found a small museum and depot display at Cody Park. The display includes the Challenger steam locomotive #3977, a breakthrough articulated 4-6-6-4 built in 1943 that could pull heavy freight trains at up to 60 MPH. The locomotive is huge 122 feet long and weighs 314 tons. The display also includes #6922 diesel-electric locomotive Centennial, the largest and most powerful diesel locomotive ever built. These were built by General Motors Electro Motive Division and featured 2 – 3300 hp diesel engines. The museum also had a historic depot from nearby Hershey NE, a Pacific Fruit Express reefer car, Railway Post Office car and a caboose.
UP’s Mighty Challenger
UP’s Giant Centennial Diesel
This is Union Pacific country
All in all a worthwhile stop on our way from Michigan to Colorado.
1930s entrance to the National Historic Site
From 1833 to 1849 Bent’s Old Fort was a trading post on the frontier between the United States and Mexico. It was the only major settlement on the Sante Fe trail. Trappers, buffalo hunters, Indians, Spaniards, freighters, soldiers and settlers stopped at this site on the Arkansas River. At any time one could hear seven languages spoken and there was peace. Trade here influenced economies around the world. William Bent known to the Cheyenne as “Little White Man” had an excellent reputation among the plains Indians due to his respect for the culture and fairness in trading.
This is one of those third or fourth level National Park Service sites that we just love finding. We always learn something of history or nature that we were ignorant of previously. Here we learned of a bright side to human relations during the United States Westward Expansion.
Rare comforts in the West
Defensive walls and bastions never had to be used due to threats
Saw a baby rattlesnake whose venom is far deadlier than an adult (he was released into the wild outside the fort)
Our journey across the plains took us the length of Iowa. Endless farmfields of newly planted or awaiting corn. The area had recently had a tremendous amount of rain and rivers and creeks were full, many farms still muddy. The rolling countryside reminded us of large ocean swells going on forever.
Council Bluffs – Still a big railroad town
Council Bluffs had been on our list for a while as the home of the Union Pacific Museum and a huge collection of Transcontinental Railroad history. It was here that President Lincoln chose the site where the railroad would begin. The Union Pacific began building West while the Central Pacific built East from Sacramento California. The Union Pacific Museum is housed in a Carnegie Library building in downtown Council Bluffs. The museum is supported by donations and the staff are friendly. The museum tells the story of the UP throughout its history. There are great displays of the Transcontinental Railroad as well as UP Streamliners, the Challenger Passenger train and even AMTRAK. There are displays utilizing all kinds of media including historic steriopticons, in character video, multi screen video and diesel cab simulator.
Originally a Carnegie library – Now the Union Pacific Museum
Another prime attraction in Council Bluffs is the Grenville M. Dodge Mansion. Built in 1869, the home of the Union Pacific’s Chief Engineer for the Transcontinental project. Dodge had been a very succesful Union General in the Civil War and his military talents helped him to great success executing the railroad. The home was built at the astronomical cost of $35,000 and had electric and gas lighting and indoor plumbing. The home has been beautifully restored by the city and volunteers gave us a marvelous tour. Dodge was a master of railroad design and construction and went on to build railroads in France and Russia. While there we saw huge wild turkeys running wild through town. Our docents told us turkeys and deer are a big problem in the city.
Grenville Dodge Mansion
Re-created home scene
The man in Civil War General uniform
Council Bluffs was also the location of the first meeting between Lewis and Clark and Native Americans under the council tree on their trek west in 1804.
The view today from the council bluff
We enjoyed our stay at the Omaha Elks lodge but we weren’t impressed with drivers in town. Red light running seems to be a pastime there. Crazy!
Blue Water Bridge
Port Huron Michigan sits at the Southern end of Lake Huron where the St. Clair River begins. The Blue Water Bridge connects the city to Sarnia Ontario Canada. We happened to stay here a few days to visit Randy’s aging aunt Evelyn and cousin Linda in nearby Owosso.
Turns out Port Huron is a pretty interesting town. There is a beautiful waterfront park which is enjoyed by walkers and fisher people. We visited the Thomas Edison Depot Museum in the historic Fort Gratiot railroad depot built by the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1858. The museum tells the story of the young Thomas Edison who grew up in Port Huron and first worked on the train reporting and hawking newspapers from 1859 to 1863. There are artifacts from the site of the Edison family home that include some of the young wizard’s early tinkering.
Statue of young Thomas Edison
The Thomas Edison Depot Museum
The lakefront also featured a beautiful lighthouse. Fort Gratiot lighthouse is the oldest in Michigan. Built in 1829 it was heightened to 82 feet in the 1860s. It still watches over one of the busiest waterways in the world.
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse
The lightship Huron is also on permanent display along the river. Horon was the last operating lightship in the Great Lakes. It was retired after serving to make a shoal near the entrance to the St. Clair River for over 50 years.
No trip along the Great Lakes waterway system is complete without seeing a huge lakes freighter bearing down.
For a great read and another angle on the Thomas Edison story, read “The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore. It is a historical fiction account of the Current War and the battle between Edison and George Westinghouse over the patent for the lightbulb.
Unlike Robert E. Lee’s campaign, our journey continued North into New York. Our goal was to see our friends, Patrick and Lynn in the western part of the state.
On the way, we found ourselves in Corning – yes, that Corning of glass fame. We took the time for 2 short day tours and were thoroughly impressed. Dianne being a glass artist herself never passes up a glass destination and Corning’s Museum of Glass has to be one of the top sites in the world. We learned the history of Corning and Stueben and glass in the United States. The museum offers many demonstrations of glass blowing, breaking glass, flameworking glass and fiber optical glass. There is a permanent collection of glass art from 3500BC to present as well as temporary displays of glass art on loan from various collections. The architecture of the museum is also stunning including a recently added pure white building reminiscent of 2001, A Space Odessey. The museum offers classes in all forms of glass art from a weekend to multi-week. We would both love to come back and take a class.
After arriving at Patrick and Lynn’s home in Youngstown NY on the Niagara River, we toured the Erie Canal town of Medina. In addition to the canal we visited the Medina Model Railroad Museum housed in the 1905 freight depot of the York Central Railroad. It is a huge 204 ft by 14 ft HO scale layout depicting many scenes of the area. Well done! The museum also owns several pieces of rolling stock and historic locomotives. They offer excursions much of the year.
Erie Canal at Medina NY
19th Century City block of Medina
Medina Model Railroad Museum
New York Central RR
Addendum to our Pennsylvania blog…
Found more memorable images from our time in PA.
18th Century home in East Berlin
Typical commercial building on the square in New Oxford
Beatifully restored train depot
Typical Pennsylvania barn
Impressive Pennsylvania stone house
Civil War era home with bullet holes in brick and a soldier buried n the backyard
Following Robert E. Lee’s route, we traveled North to Gettysburg PA. This may be the most significant National Military Park in the US. The battle there July 1-3, 1863 was seen as the turning point of the Civil War. The park service does a great job interpreting the story for all visitors with a excellant film and the stunning Cyclorama, a huge 360 degree painting 28 feet tall. The driving tour is 24 miles of scenes, monuments and cemetery. So many lives lost. It’s fitting to honor the fallen with this huge park.
A tiny shot of the Cyclorama
Scene of Pickett’s charge
Largest monument – Pennsylvania
Facing Little Round Top
Typical monument shows 796 casualties out of 1040 men
Hershey PA is Chocolate World. The company of the same name turned chocolate as a luxury into a treat for the masses using assembly line production techniques inspired by Henry Ford. Milton Hershey built a company town that provided well for his workers and their families. He left his entire fortune to a trust dedicated to a school for disadvantaged children. To this day the trust provides school and housing for kids that need help. The endowment is healthy and doing good.
Hershey is all about chocolate
Our trip to Pennsylvania was short but we enjoyed the beautiful countryside, the stone houses, the huge barns. The people we met were friendly and helpful. We stayed at the beautiful Gettysburg Farm RV Resort.