Trains humping and other fun things we saw on our trip through central Nebraska

Trains humping and other fun things we saw on our trip through central Nebraska

Day 1 of our Nebraska trip with Steve’s parents began with a stop at The Village Pie Maker in Eustis, Nebraska. After learning the secret to making the best pie ever, we headed north to Cozad where we crossed the 100th Meridian.

The 100th Meridian in Cozad, Nebraska.

The 100th Meridian in Cozad, Nebraska.

Having been on Interstate 80 a thousand times, we opted for the more scenic Highway 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway, as we headed west. Just a few miles down the road, we stopped at Gothenburg, which is home to two Pony Express Stations. We stopped at the Sam Macchette station which is located in Ehmen Park. The station was originally used as a fur trading post/ranch housing along the Oregon Trail before it was used as a Pony Express station in 1860-61.

Pony Express station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.

Pony Express station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.

It was moved to Ehmen Park in 1931 and has been open to the public since 1954. Admission is free. We loved looking around and reading all about the Pony Express and seeing items like the ones that were used by riders who delivered mail.

Inside the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.

Inside the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.

There were also books and other items for sale, along with some great postcards (we love those) and special Pony Express stamps.

Lots of great postcards at the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska

Lots of great postcards at the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska

Of course, we purchased a few postcards, wrote them out, and mailed them from a saddlebag on the door.

Mail bag at the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.

Mail bag at the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska.

After a short visit there, we got back in the van and drove further west to North Platte, where I’d lived right after college when I got my first job as a newspaper reporter at The North Platte Telegraph.

My first job after college was as a reporter for The North Platte Telegraph newspaper.

My first job after college was as a reporter for The North Platte Telegraph newspaper.

I hadn’t been there in years, so we made a quick stop for me to go inside and reminisce with some of the staff there about what newspaper life was like before digital cameras and pagination. (I can still remember the smell of the hot wax we used to paste up the pages.)

Our next stop was one of our favorite Nebraska attractions — the Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center overlooking Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard. Steve and I had been there before and we were excited to take Steve’s mom and dad there, as well.

Union Pacific Railroad's Bailey Yard.

Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard.

We took the elevator to the open-air observation deck at the Golden Spike Tower and walked out into the fresh air to see and hear the hundreds of trains below in the world’s largest railroad classification yard. The massive yard covers more than 2,850 acres and is eight miles long. It handles 12,000 railroad cars every day and services 9,000 locomotives every month.

The beautiful view of the prairie from the top of the Golden Spike Tower at Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska.

The beautiful view of the prairie from the top of the Golden Spike Tower at Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska.

One of the things we love most about visiting Bailey Yard is that there is typically a retired railroad employee who is on site to answer questions and tell you about his experiences on the rail road. Check out this video below of the trains “humping” at Bailey Yard.

We spent more than an hour watching the trains and learning about the railroad before perusing the gift shop and purchasing (of course) a couple postcards.

The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.

The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.

The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.

The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.

The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.

The gift shop at the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.

We checked into our hotel before dinner. Most of the time when we’re in North Platte, we stay at the Hampton Inn near the interstate. It is seriously one of the very best Hilton properties we’ve ever seen. The staff is super friendly and helpful, the rooms are extra clean, and you will not meet nicer ladies than the ones who work in the breakfast area there.

At the recommendation of the hotel desk clerk, we decided to try a new restaurant for dinner and were not disappointed! Mallory’s offered several options for seating, inside the Irish pub bar, outside on a patio, or inside in a coffee shop space. We all enjoyed our dinners and adult beverages there.

Mallory's in North Platte, Nebraska.

Mallory’s in North Platte, Nebraska.

After supper, we relaxed with a nice drive through a local favorite, Cody Park, where we took time to watch the geese, peacocks and other wildlife. The park also has an iconic carousel, lion’s mouth water fountain (do you remember one from your childhood?), and an ice cream stand that serves up special treats.

The carousel at Cody Park in North Platte, Nebraska.

The carousel at Cody Park in North Platte, Nebraska.

Ice cream stand in Cody Park in North Platte, Nebraska.

Ice cream stand in Cody Park in North Platte, Nebraska.

Knowing that there was lots more to see and do in North Platte, we called it day, and planning to continue our exploration of this western railroad town in the morning.


Next up: What we found at Fort Cody Trading Post, our look inside Scout’s Rest Ranch, and what we learned about the North Platte Canteen. 

Leaving I-80 for a better view

Leaving I-80 for a better view

In case you didn’t know, I’m usually a get-there-as-quickly-as-we-can kinda guy. So when Ann told me that she and Meghan preferred to avoid the interstate on trips around Nebraska, I felt a little queasy. The thought of trailing long lines of cars and putting along behind slow moving tractors with no chance to pass made my palms sweat and my heart race.  As long as I was driving, we’d be interstate people, I thought.

When we headed out on our annual Nebraska trip this summer, our first planned stop was in Hastings, Nebraska, about  77 miles straight west of Crete. We started out on and stuck to Highway 6 merely because using the interstate would have taken us 28 miles out of our way.

We made it a whole 7 miles down the highway before we had to stop to get something out of the back of the car.

We made it a whole 7 miles down the highway before we had to stop to get something out of the back of the car.

From Hastings we headed north to Grand Island where we spent the first night. After a visit to the Stuhr Museum the next morning, we set our sights on Kearney and North Platte. Of course, I looked for the quickest way to the interstate, but Ann had another idea: “Let’s take Highway 30.”

I’ve got to tell you — I died a little inside when she said those words. Then, trusting my wife, I  took a deep breath and reassured myself that we didn’t really have to be there by a certain time. I turned the steering wheel and somewhat reluctantly headed down Highway 30. Little did I know at that time that I was not only heading to North Platte, but also into a new appreciation for a different pace of travel.

First, let me say that my fears of long lines of cars were unfounded. It turns out, those stretches of cars were actually on I-80 and not the highway. We had the road to ourselves. Sure we had to slow down every 10-15 miles for a little town, but it was fun to actually see the towns, parks, and attractions that had always just been names on interstate turnoff signs before. Like this stop at the dam at Lake McConaughy.

Meghan had a great idea for a funny photo at the dam at Lake McConaughy.

Meghan had a great idea for a funny photo at the dam at Lake McConaughy.

Steve took it one step further (and perhaps, a little too far).

Steve took it one step further (and perhaps, a little too far).

Gradually, I became more comfortable with the idea of staying off the interstate and away from the rat race of that 4-lane nightmare. At some point, we noticed that signs that said we were on the Lincoln Highway, and not knowing much about that, we Googled it. It turns out we were on the very first road across America that runs from Times Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Who knew? With that tidbit of knowledge in my mind, I was set on staying on this highway as long as we could.

There are lots of interesting things to see and do along the way and each small Nebraska town gave us glimpse of something you just can’t see from the interstate. Sure, you can cross the 100th meridian on I-80, but you won’t know it. Driving down the Lincoln Highway, Cozad, Nebraska, reminds you of the crossing with a large, lighted sign and a street named Meridian.

The 100th Meridian is nicely marked in Cozad, Nebraska, which even has a street named Meridian.

The 100th Meridian is nicely marked in Cozad, Nebraska, which even has a street named Meridian.

Yes, you can stop at a rest area on the interstate for a picnic lunch with all the other weary travelers. You’ll hear cars and trucks zoom past as you eat. Along the Lincoln Highway, we stopped in the small town of Shelton, looked for a park using our GPS, and savored our lunch as we listened to kids playing and birds chirping. Remembering Ann had a cousin in Shelton, we sent a quick text and she and her daughter were at the park for a visit in a just a few minutes.

It was great to say hello to our cousin, Rachel, as we stopped for a picnic lunch at a local park.

It was great to say hello to our cousin, Rachel, as we stopped for a picnic lunch at a local park.

I learned this summer that getting off of the interstate and slowing down makes the trip itself be the destination. You don’t just enjoy where you’re going but taking your time you can also enjoy getting there. That 1,100-mile trip changed me and my outlook on road trips. There came one point where the highway was closed for construction, and the detour took us back to the interstate for 13 miles. It was awful. I couldn’t wait to return to the back roads and a slower pace so I could enjoy the moment.

From now on, if time permits, we will travel away from the interstate  — there is simply too much to see off the beaten path.

Have you ever taken a trip on a scenic highway? Let us know about it in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.