Monday, August 29, 2016

Harold Warp Pioneer Village; The Settup

Grand Island Nebraska lies roughly midway between the confluence of the North and South Platte Rivers  and where the Platte River empties into the Missouri just south of Omaha. (Although the Platte River is considered Nebraska's river, both the North and South Rivers actually start in Colorado.)

Stuhr Museum, a lifted publicity photo

Except my interest in Grand Island wasn't geographical, but rather that it's the home of the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie, which includes Railroad Town.

Railroad Town, another lifted publicity photo

Railroad Town may have opened on May 1st of this year (2016) but within the town limits the year is perpetually 1896. Being a living museum, similar to Greenfield Village which I also visited recently, I though it would be interesting to see how the two compare.

I still think it would be an interesting comparison, but unfortunately I wasn't able to visit Railroad Town because, unlike a real Nebraskan town, the Railroad Town limits didn't open until noon, a little more than three hours away, and I just couldn't wait around twiddling my thumbs that long. (One of the downsides to being a morning person, up with the sun, is that it seems like there aren't enough of us to warrant reasonable opening hours!!!)

You see, as a self described railroad nut I was bound and determined to make it to the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte on this trip, but I was still one insane, two ridiculous, or three reasonable days from the shelter of home, and the Fourth of July weekend was looming menacingly there on the horizon.

Now there was a day when insane wouldn't have phased me at all, and it wasn't that long ago that ridiculous was just a normal day's drive, but I'm well into reasonable now, so waiting around for the 'doors' of Railroad Town to open would set me back a day I didn't have. But at the same time just dropping that stop from the itinerary would put me at North Platte way earlier than I needed to be, and I was having too much fun to wrap up the trip early.

So I whipped out the phone and started googling.

Gothenburg Nebraska, right there on the Lincoln Highway between me and North Platte, has both the Pony Express Station and the Sod House Museum. Certainly possibilities, although the descriptions and reviews left me interested, but not excited.

Then some more searching turned up the Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden.

I'm not sure the old-fashioned font and ribbon-formatting for the title of their brochure did anything to dispel the cheesy factor!

Now Minden is not along the Lincoln Highway, but it was no farther out of the way than I'd already gone a couple of times on this trip anyway, and somehow, despite the fact that just saying The Harold Warp Pioneer Village out loud brought to mind the cheesy tourist-trap 'Indian trading posts' of my northern Michigan youth, I; inexplicably perhaps; had a strong urge to go see for myself.

OK, according to the map Minden is supposed to be out here somewhere. . .

What a serendipitous convergence of events and urges!!! I would defiantly put the Harold Warp Pioneer Village high, very high, on a list of places to go see.

Now I have to admit, first impressions of Pioneer Village were a little iffy and did nothing to dispel that nagging hint of cheesy tourist-trap, but in reality it turned out to be more funky than cheesy, and funky is fun!

Minden, population ~3000, is a gritty, no-nonsense working town, one of those places where the colors are muted under a noble, hard-won patina of work-a-day grime, and Pioneer Village fit right in.

It sits there right across the road, and clacking trains, and idling trucks, from the grain elevator and compared to what I could see of the shiny modernism of the Stuhr Museum from the wrong side of the locked gate, this place comes across as - well - a little grubby and tired.

But that's because there is no time or money wasted on first impressions here, Harold, like the homestead stock he came from, put far more value on deliverables instead.

Just who is Harold Warp you ask??

Well frankly so did I.

He was the youngest child of Norwegian immigrants that homesteaded in Nebraska. While still in his teens and working as a house-painter, Harold saw the farmer's need for better, more affordable replacement window glazing and in his brother's garage developed a plastic product called Flex-o-Glass. From there he started a factory and came up with something like 30 plastics patents, including Jiffy-Wrap and Jiffy Bags.

Wanting to ensure that people never forgot the innovation and determination that created our modern life,  he used much of his fortune to build and stock Pioneer Village, which he turned over to a non-profit foundation before his death to make sure it kept going.

OK, admittedly, age and a steady reduction in visitors has taken it's toll on the Pioneer Village, but don't count this place out yet!!

But be forewarned, the Village is huge and with every step it gets bigger!!

They claim to have 50,000 items on display. I didn't count, but wouldn't be surprised if the number was even higher!!

I didn't have the time this trip, but I got the impression that you could turn your entry fee  into a multi day access pass which would be worth looking into if you have more than a passing interest in things like this. (Entry was a very reasonable $15 if I remember right.)

In typical entrepreneurial fashion, Harold built an adjacent motel and campground for visitors to stay in during those multi-day visits. Both are looking very basic now, to put a good light on it, as is the theme for this trip, but also very convenient, and the proceeds from both go directly back into the museum. (The state department of revenue tried to take away the motel and campground's property tax exempt status, but in 2013 the state supreme court told the revenuers to take a flying leap and leave the place alone!! You have to wonder just how much the two year court battle cost the citizens of Nebraska, all for an estimated annual tax bill of $28,000. . . Dumb-ass bureaucrats. . .)

Apparently Harold personally typed up many of the information placards that go along with most every large item in the museum.


So what's your interest??

Tractors, china, trucks, kitchen appliances, radios, Fords, airplanes, Chryslers, outboard motors, firearms, horses, Studebakers, dolls, pony express, trains, computers, farm equipment, broom-making, old beauty parlors, snowmobiles, Oldsmobiles, bicycles??

Well that's all here, and plenty more as well.

When I walked into the museum at around 10AM I was still over 100 miles from the Golden Spike Tower  that closes at 7PM, so, in order to make that 100 miles in a leisurely, non-expressway drive, I figured to give the Pioneer Village until 2PM then I had to leave. Well that changed to 3PM, and finally at 4PM I forced myself out the door. This meant I had to compromise by doing half the trip to the tower on the Lincoln Highway and the other half on interstate 80 to make up some time, but it was worth it.

I ended up going through just short of three camera batteries, (The third started flashing red as I was making for the door.) and since I only have three it's a good thing they charge fast!!

Now I'm not going to run anybody off  by trying to include all the 'good' photos I got, but, unlike my Greenfield Village post, I am going to break this post up into separate parts, because I did get a lot of 'excellent'  photos (Hey! It's all in the eye of the beholder, and in this case I'm the beholder.) that I just have to share. . .

To be continued

Friday, August 26, 2016

I Think They Corrupted Me!!

I might not have mentioned it, but at this summer's family get-together one of the gastronomic features was home-made ice-cream.

You could have it in a cup, you could have it in a cone. You could have it plain, you could top it with fresh fruit. And, if you liked, you could drizzle it with a selection of several syrups, candies, nuts and sprinkles lined up there on the table. Oh yeah, don't forget the home-made whipped cream there at the end of the table!!

But however you had it, it was goooodd!

I don't usually eat ice-cream but come on!!! How could I turn down something like that??!

On top of that, at her age Mom has found herself struggling to keep enough weight on her, (Don't hate her! She can't help it.) so, not wanting me to feel left out, on two separate evenings while moochdocking in her driveway, she hands me my very own home-made milkshake, designed to put those healthy pounds on my skinny ass.

OK, you can stop laughing now. . .

                 . . . No, really. It's not that funny.

But wait!!  We weren't done yet!

As we wrapped up a long summer day  at Greenfield Village Mom happened to say "too bad they didn't have an ice-cream place in there. I really could have gone for some ice-cream."

The next thing I know Sis, who was doing the driving, was pulling into - well - frankly I don't know where she pulled into, but I got a hint of what she was up to when she said "This place has the best ice-cream!"

If you've been keeping count, that's 4 ice-creams in a week!! (Oh come on!!  I couldn't very well have disappointed anyone by refusing could I??) That's 4 more than I've had in the last ten years!

And I blame what happened later on this well-meaning ice-cream glut.

You see, I was driving along somewhere in Kansas, merrily minding my own business; you know, watching fence posts and cows go by; when I got a sudden urge for ice-cream.

My first thought was well that can't be good, my second thought was hey! Salina is only an hour away and I'll bet I can find an ice-cream there!

Frankly this was not a merry-go-round I wanted to be riding, but urges can be powerful things, and as Salina approached I started scanning for someplace that might have that creamy summer treat. Fortunately the first likely place I spotted was a McDonald's.

Just how can that be fortunate you ask? Because downing a McDonald's milkshake, assuming that it really is a milkshake, seems to have broken the cycle. It's been over two months since that incident and the ice-cream urge appears to have been banished back to the depths of oblivion.

 But I guess I should mention that there was one other similar incident on that trip that I can't blame on anyone but me.

You see, somewhere in Grand Island Nebraska I caught a glimpse of an Arby's go by as I was driving and I thought hum, an Arby's classic and curly fries, now that sounds good!

Now I have no idea where that thought came from. I haven't had an Arby's classic for decades, not since my system was young and robust enough to handle it, and the required curly fries, without a glitch. And when I'm traveling on my own like that I never, as in never, eat at restaurants, not even fast food places. The closest I'll come is to grab a bag of mixed nuts at a gas-station once in a while.

Fortunately it was way too early in the day for Arby's to be serving and the thought faded away. But then later, as I was approaching Hastings Nebraska, a tiny little, fence-post type billboard for Arby's drifted past my windshield.

Oh crap!!

But let's see. 6 miles ahead. Even accounting for reduced speedlimits in town, that's like maybe 10 minutes away.

I was turning off in Hastings to follow an even smaller road, so I made a deal with myself that if I saw the Arby's before my turn, and if it was on my side of the road, I would take it as a sign to stop.

Well there it was, before my turn, but I broke my own deal because it was on the other side of the road, yet I stopped anyway. . .

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dannebrog Nebraska

When you think Nebraska, you probably don’t think tourist destination. And you’re not alone. The fact that there’s only three KOA’s in the entire state testifies to the scarcity of camp-tourists hanging out around here. (Granted, New Jersey has 0 as in zip, but even South Dakota has 13!)

Yep, this is Nebraska
You could argue that there’s nothing in the state but farms and ranches, that there’s nothing but one flat mile after another, but I’d argue that if you got off of I80, (With the exception of 2 miles of I74 and the I680 loop around Omaha, the state’s one and only interstate highway.) if you took the time to slow down and really see the state, you’d find out you were wrong, or at least not entirely right.

But so is this
When I first began to loosely outline this particular trip, a specific destination in Nebraska came to mind, The Golden Spike Tower, which pretty much defined the rest of the trip. It just so happened that once I got to Nebraska I would have to cross nearly two thirds the width of the state to get to the tower, and in keeping with my resolution to find the good on this trip, I set out across the state with an open mind and a determination to find the interesting.

Which is why I was soon leaving the relatively grandiose US30 (Lincoln Highway) at a point where there wasn’t even a town to straddle the intersection, such as it was, and setting out across the lesser roads as I traversed the hump between the Platte and Loup Rivers.

After two more turns, again, intersections without towns, I found myself on SR58 about to cross Oak Creek into Dannebrog (Population 306).


Now you may or may not know that Dannebrog is Nebraska’s Danish Capital.

You also may or may not know that Dannebrog is home to Rodger Welsch.

After all, neither Dannebrog nor Welsch are significant enough to have made it into SpellChecker’s dictionary.

So if you don’t know, Rodger Welsch was a correspondent for CBS and is classified as an author and humorist, along with the likes of Garrison Keillor and Dave Berry, but in another time I think he would have actually been called a philosopher, albeit with a sense of humor. (If you ever saw his segment on what we name our children, I think you'd agree.)

And Rodger, though born in Lincoln, now lives in this town of Dannebrog, from where he hosted a PBS/RFD type show called Postcards From Nebraska for several years, during which, in addition to all things Nebraska, he did segments on virtually every business and aspect of life in Dannebrog.

So when I rolled into Dannebrog early on a Sunday morning it was as if I’d been here before.

“If you have no ambition or imagination there’s nothing to do in Dannebrog. It’s like art, you can wait until beauty is lined up nicely for you in an art gallery, or you can go out and find the beauty in its natural context; where the artists find it.” Rodger Welsch


I stood on the corner there in front of the Columbia Hall, empty and for rent in 2009 when last seen on Postcards, now home of the town archives and tourist center. This corner is the figurative as well as literal center of town, bordering as it does, a wide spot in the road, the little paved triangle that is as close as it gets to a town square.

From where I was standing I looked up each of the three streets that converge here, Mill St., north and south, SR58, now also called Roger Welsch Avenue, east and west, and Park Row, east and west, though East Park Row is only that very short little segment that blends seamlessly with SR58 down the side of the grocery store.

These streets form that tiny little triangle that would cause havoc in a larger town, (There’s no median there like the map shows, just open, paved over space.) and from that spot I could see virtually the entire business district, most of which I'd already seen, sometimes more than once, on Postcards.


Grundlovsfest, the town's annual weekend long Danish festival, is the first weekend in June, andsince I am here early on a Sunday morning near the end of June the streets are empty, but because of Postcards I know this corner I’m standing on is prime real estate for viewing the parade, and I wonder about the little girl I’ve seen standing here more than once, thanks to the magic of reruns, inching out from the curb with a very determined look on her face, tiny Danish flag clutched fiercely in one hand, waiting for the candy-tossing to commence.

And right out there in the main street in front of me, currently empty all the way to the town limits, I’ve seen cars spontaneously stop, driver’s window to driver’s window, for a short visit while Rodger steps casually off the curb as he discourses on the finer points of small town living.


True, things had changed in that gap between recorded images and now, after all, it’s been nearly a decade since Rodger, now  80 years old, did Postcards.

Back then the town’s Fire and Rescue was housed in little more than an extra-long, wood framed, two-car garage on the other side of the road and a block or two further down.

If Mel’s gas station was still around I couldn't find it. Mel wasn't a young man in the Postcards days so maybe the station is closed up while he takes it easy.

The bank, there on the corner to the far right with the door angled to give it two front facads, is now the Archer Credit Union,


I'm not sure that the Danish Baker is baking anymore,


And Eric's Tavern seems to have changed to the Whiskey River Bar and Grill.

Even though I was tempted, it being a Sunday morning and all, the door’s locked so I’m not able to walk inside and see if that table right there behind the Budweiser sign is still full of the guys, Phil the Postmaster, Daniel from the body shop, Sean the part time mayor, Old Bumps the story teller, and Dan the plumber, maybe even Rodger himself, all shootin’-the-shit and solving the problems of the world .


And though the name's changed to K's Korner, it looks like I could still walk into Harriet’s cafĂ©, the green door with three small windows there on the right. Harriet's was converted from a house by the simple expedient of changing the furniture out for tables and chairs,  has no menu, only eat-what’s-put-in-front-of-you home-style cooking.

"We don't start the gossip, but we sure do pick up a lot of it in here!" Harriet

Well - it looks like I could walk in, if I was here tomorrow, or maybe yesterday. But for now, echoing the empty streets, the cafe is closed.


Clearly things have changed between getting to know the town and actually getting here, but not enough to completely hide the Dannebrog I know.

And though Dannebrog isn’t really my town, nestled there near where Oak Creek moseys on into the equally lazy Middle Loup River, in a way it is, and it was nice to be able to drop in for a visit.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Black Elk-Neihardt Park

Nowadays if you mention the Tower of the Four Winds, most people might think of Disney, or a video game, (Sorry, fantasy roll-play.) but the concept of the Four Winds, or the Four Elements, is tens of thousands of years old, and way up on top of a hill, the highest hill, in Blair Nebraska is Black Elk-Neihardt Park and in Black Elk-Neihardt Park you will find one such Tower of the Four Winds.

Blair is the first town you come to in Nebraska when following the modern day Lincoln Highway west out of Iowa.

Black Elk was second cousin to Crazy Horse, witnessed the battle of Little Big Horn when he was 13, and lived until 1950

Neihardt was Nebraska's Poet Laureate and after a long series of interviews with Black Elk, in 1931 wrote the book, Black Elk Speaks.

Artist Bill Thomsen, with the encouragement of Neihardt, interpreted some of the visions and scenes from that book in pastels.

 The Tower of the Four Winds is a mosaic interpretation of one of those pastels, which Thomsen described as a message of brotherhood, peace and compassion.

For a city of only 8,000 Black Elk-Neihardt Park is pretty big, covering some 80 acres, well appointed and impeccably maintained, as the following photos will show, but I have to say, it was also one of the weirdest, maybe even creepiest, parks I've ever been in.

But more about that later.

In front of the Tower of the Four Winds there are plaques that flesh out Black Elk's interpretation of each of those winds. Following his interpretation I've included a Celtic/Pagan interpretation of the four elements.  (I'm fascinated by the confluence of legends, stories and symbolism that threads consistently through centuries of beliefs.)

North: Where the Great White Giant lives in power and the source of the cold and mighty winds which gave strength and endurance.

North: Mother Earth: the source of life; power and fertility:

East: the source of the light of day and where the morning star lives. From the light of the east come wisdom and understanding, and from understanding, peace.

East: Air: the breath of life; knowledge and wisdom

South: The source of summer and the power to grow.

South: Fire: the spark of life; strength and passion

West: Where the thunder beings live. The thunder beings have the power to send rain or lightning, the power to bring life or to destroy.

West: Water: the nectar of life; purification and new beginnings

But there's more to this park than the tower.

Besides the usual picnic and playground facilities,  there's a nature trail, though to my thinking it was less a trail and more of a paved path to wander around the park on.

And there's a 9 hole disk-golf course.

For a city park the infrastructure of the golf course is top of the line with concrete tee's, both men's and women's,  pretty much indestructible information plaques at every hole, well groomed grounds and equally well maintained targets. Even without a bag of Frisbee's over my shoulder, it was a very pleasant amble to walk the course.

And if a group event is in your future, the park has a really cool pavilion with tables, fire pit (You can see the funnel shaped chimney near the center of the pavilion.) and bathrooms, all under the cantilevered roof

which looks out across the park.

So what's so weird about all that???

Well have you noticed that I managed to take every single photo without getting someone into the frame??

 That's because there was no one there, not a single person, dog, screaming kid, nobody, other than me!!

And this is a fine sunny Saturday afternoon we're talking about here!

It's not like the park is isolated either. When you drive up the hill to get here you are going through a residential area with houses and driveways lining the road right up to the turn into the park, and town is right there at the bottom of the hill.

Now you know I'm not one to complain about lack of crowds, but - well - it was a little creepy!!!!