Tuesday, May 5, 1992...
A long but rewarding day's drive -- except for one traumatic event. Began by crossing the Missouri into Omaha; since I passed through before 8 AM, I missed the chance to see the Union Pacific museum, conveniently located in the railroad's headquarters right on 6. The route passed a little north of downtown, mostly through shopping areas, then past the main entrance to Boys Town. Several miles later I got an unexpected treat: the preserved section of the Lincoln Highway (marked 1913, paved 1920, restored 1988) in Elkhorn ran right by 6, accessible from two plainly marked turnoffs! It had been much harder to find two years ago, coming from US 30 on the north.
I then passed Lincoln, skirting the north side of town on the Cornhusker Highway, before 6 turned permanently south of I-80. I detoured north at Hastings to the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island...where I was unfortunately reminded that lovely spring days like this are perfect for dragging schoolkids on Important, Uplifting Field Trips. At least five buses' worth ran shouting and screaming around the grounds the whole time I was there, and since it's so early in the year I was one of the few "regular" tourist visitors. The museum's main building is a striking modern structure set in the middle of an artificial lake; notwithstanding the setting, though, at heart the Stuhr's just a very well-funded, better-than-average local collection, with all the painful earnestness associated with the genre. Lots of artifacts inside, lots of old buildings (with the inevitable craftsmen) on the grounds, even a collection of rail stock, but the only sense of personality I got anywhere came at the Pawnee Indian lodge replica, where the guide informed me that this ordinarily-peaceful tribe sacrificed a captured virgin to the Sun God each spring.
The next stop, though, had more than enough character to go around. I revisited Harold Warp's Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska. Warp, who was born three months before my grandmother, is still alive and active at 88 -- they expected him to fly in for a visit in a few weeks. He grew up in Minden, moved to Chicago to seek his fortune, and found it in plastics. In the late 1940s he began accumulating an enormous collection of every conceivable manufactured object, which he began displaying to the public in 1953. Just about everything -- cars, washing machines, TVs, roomsful of furniture -- is displayed in chronological order to highlight its evolution, with the collections now filling over two dozen buildings. I visited for two hours, but could easily have spent half the day.
Then came the long, dull drive across southwestern Nebraska and northeastern Colorado. Between Minden and Sterling, Colorado, where I spent the night, a distance of some 240 miles, there are exactly two communities with as many as 2,500 people. There's also a LOT of farm and ranch land, though as I neared Sterling I started noticing a lot of sagebrush, a sure sign I was past the Ogallala Aquifer and into a land of diminishing returns.
A few miles after I crossed into Colorado, with the sun right in my eyes and a pickup approaching in the other lane, two dogs suddenly darted into my path! One stood straddling the yellow line, the other froze in the middle of my lane. I slammed on the brakes and tried to swerve, but caught the younger, smaller dog flush in the head with my right front bumper. After the sickening THUMP, I glanced in the mirror and saw it rolling off onto the shoulder. I didn't stop -- couldn't have done anything to help it anyway, and had no way of knowing which of the distant ranches it belonged to. Not to mention my reluctance to ring someone's bell with the news... Was not in a cheerful mood when I reached the motel.
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