Friday, May 26, 2000...
Howdy from Hastings, Nebraska, where even on a holiday weekend, plenty of motel rooms are still available.
Started the day by driving from Laramie to Cheyenne, over a mountain pass closed by snow less than two weeks ago. Through here, I-80, and before it the Lincoln Highway, follow the original roadbed of the first transcontinental railroad. At one point the Interstate splits for a small rest area in the median, which contains a tree apparently growing out of solid rock. A century ago Union Pacific trainmen regularly threw buckets of water on this tree as they whizzed by.
Even though every major transcontinental route for more than 75 years -- the Oregon Trail, the railroad, the Lincoln Highway -- ran the length of Wyoming, nobody stuck around longer than necessary. Wyoming still has fewer than half a million people. There's a reason. Despite the stunning scenery, the land's virtually unusable for anything except grazing cattle, mining and drilling for oil. At Cheyenne, I turned south for my rendezvous with US 6, the Front Range of the Rockies visible to my west almost the entire way.
When the US Route system was announced in 1926, US 6 ran only from Cape Cod to Erie, Pennsylvania. Fifteen years later it was the longest road in America, extending to Long Beach, California, though the western terminus was subsequently shortened to Bishop, CA. At the beginning of On the Road, Jack Kerouac's hero muses about following 6 from the Bear Mountain Bridge all the way to California before deciding that would be a sillly way to go. I beg to differ...
From Denver, before I-70 was constructed 6 was the main route west, But I was driving east. Although 6 absorbed 600 miles of the route of the old Detroit-Lincoln-Denver highway, even 70 years ago not many people wanted to drive anywhere via Lincoln, Nebraska. Even the Lincoln Highway avoided Lincoln.
6 follows the South Platte River across eastern Colorado, often just a few miles from the western incarnation of I-76. It passes through Fort Morgan ("Boyhood Home of Glenn Miller") and Merino, Colorado, where a roadside sign proclaims that cleanup duties are being handled by students in the "future homemakers" club at the local high school. Yes indeed, in the year 2000 not only are women still being trained to become housewives, but part of their study includes picking up other people's garbage.
Today's #1 priority was making sure I got far enough east to be sure of reaching the Chicago area in plenty of time for my flight home Sunday. This meant skipping a couple of small local-history museums to be sure of reaching the region's one must-stop: Harold Warp's Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska.
Harold Warp was born in Minden in 1903. 20 years later he followed Nebraskans' time-honored path to success: he moved out of state. Once safely in Chicago, Warp invented transparent plastic "Flex-O-Glass" windows and "Jiffy Wrap," becoming a multimillionaire. But he never forgot his hometown, and in 1953 he opened the Pioneer Village to preserve its heritage and honor the theme of American progress. The result is the country's best-funded collection of everyday junk.
Except for a few period structures -- church, sod hut, one-room schoolhouse, general store -- the rest of the 20-acre Pioneer Village displays related items in chronological order. The "related items" can be anything from a shelf-ful of camera equipment, to a display case full of phonographs from the Edison cylinder to a 1970s hi-fi, to rooms-ful of period furniture showing the evolution of kitchens and bedrooms, to buildings-ful of old Fords and Chevies. One sign proudly boasts, "World's Largest Collection of Early Outboard Motors." Because I arrived less than two hours before closing time, I had to hurry through some areas -- a visitor could easily spend three or four hours here.
Tomorrow: eastern Nebraska, then on to Iowa! Oh boy...
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