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

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