Headed East

I knew that I would have to adjust my focus once I crossed the Rockies. I pulled off to get gas at Pine Bluffs, WY. This would be the last town in Wyoming for me, and the last place with any type of rock formations for quite some time to come. In Pine Bluff, I switched to a local road to head east. It was time to make the switch from spectacular natural beauty to focus on the interesting ways the United States was settled with its history scattered about the countryside. Just before crossing into Nebraska, was a mural that summed up my adventure this summer. It depicted locations spanning the nation from west to east.

As I jumped on Route 30, I was smacked with this gathering of old gas pumps and other such collectibles at Pete’s Service Station.

Down the street from Pete’s is the NEB / WYO borderline once represented by this old crossing site.

Between long stretches of farm and grazing land, I would come upon a lonely town from time to time.

Each town of any substance will have a water tower with the town’s name emboldened on it. Welcome to FUNK, NB.

I saw Funk on my big Rand McNally map that I carry with me. I had also seen ‘Harold Warp Pioneer Village’ written as a site in nearby Minden, NB. Reading the name on the map I thought perhaps it was one of those wild west reenactment things. You know, with gun-blazing shootouts and a fall from the balcony. That’s not what it was at all. Beyond this building’s facade is something remarkable.

Pioneer Village is a treasure trove of American History artifacts. This overwhelming collection comprises everything from a small piece of American china to an entire building. Many of them are historic buildings. Other buildings are large warehouses that contain more huge collections of Americana. It begins with vehicles from carriages to airplanes. You will receive a map upon entry and there are arrows everywhere to guide you along.

There were numerous old carriages. Some were practical like this vessel and the hearse to its left. Others were the carriages for charlatans and snake oil salesmen.

This first enormous room leads you to another football-field sized room filled with trains, fire engines, and more planes.

I stepped out the back door of this gigantic room filled with technological history and really began to see how vast this collection is. It looks like you have entered a small town. There is no evidence of this mass acreage when you first approach Pioneer Village from the highway. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It looked like I was going to have to cover quite a bit of ground by foot before I put the round rubber back down to the pavement.

As I faced the church it felt like I was standing in an old town square, but each building in its circumference was unique to a different time and place. What I was looking at was the greatest private collection of Americana anywhere! Harold Warp’s vision is described well on Roadside America’s website. I am amazed that I did confer with this site as a reference before visiting. Everything was a wonderful surprise.

The Elm Creek Fort. This was the first log cabin in Webster County Nebraska, both as a dwelling and as a community fort against Indian attack. Built in 1869, the interior is authentically furnished. An original Pony Express mailbox is on the wall.

The People’s store is a replica of everything the people may have needed during the migration west.

Below is a testimony to memorialize the fortitude of Americas’s pioneers. It goes on to explain the personal reasons for Harold Warp’s endeavors.

The firehouse had all the contents intact that a fireman of the time would need.

To the right of a Petticoat Junction type water tower was a large steam engine. From 1872 to 1882, during homesteading days, this was the western terminus of the B & M Railroad.

Beyond the imposing locomotive was a cute little steam engine. It’s the one that could.

Inside the station office, everything looks tip-top.

There was an authentic rural school building of the late 19th and early 20th century, furnished with original desks, books, stove, water pail, dinner pails, etc. Even Harold Warp’s Perfect Attendance Certificates hung on the wall.

An authentic replica of the home where Harold Warp was born.

Built in 1884 the first church in Minden, has the original pews, pulpit, and organ.

This authentic log building was moved to Pioneer Village from Bridgeport, Nebraska, where it originally served as the Pumpkinseed Creek relay station to the Black Hills for the Pony Express. Wild Bill Hickok himself may have stopped by here for a fresh horse.

The oldest steam-powered merry-go-round in the United States. Rides were only a nickel.

This typical pioneer barn was moved to this location from the Warp homestead 9 miles south of Minden. (Harold Warp’s parents were good Christians, so the hayloft boards were laid rough side up, so young folks couldn’t have barn dances.)

Inside each of these massive old buildings was a thematic collection of some sort.

Outside too, there were old steam-powered vehicles lying about.

Just one of many buildings housing old cars was 22,400 sq. ft., two stories, featuring antique Buicks, Cadillacs, Dodges, Chryslers, Oldsmobiles, and of course Edsels. 100 cars placed in their order of development. There was another building for Chevrolets and motorcycles and other buildings for everything imaginable.

When I was making my purchase to enter the museum, the lady behind the counter said, “You may be interested in the motorcycle collection above the cars in this building”, as she pointed to the map that she was handing me. Yes! I am absolutely fascinated with everything here!

In yet another massive building there are twenty rooms of the past, showing kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms of each generation since 1830. It’s amazing! There is also a music shop, doctor’s office, lawyer’s office, print shop, drug store, barbershop, and many others.

There were so many rooms! Many of them had wonderfully tacky mannequins portraying happy families of days gone by.

I am sure this was a local lawyer whose entire office was displaced here.

You would think we were looking at another life-size diorama at Pioneer Village. But no, this is not a bedroom circa 1953, this is the Graduate Hotel in Lincoln, NB.

I stayed at a Graduate Hotel once before in Richmond, VA. There are only and few of them and they are awesome. The decor is a mind-blowing time warp and the staff is excellent. Besides that, it is reasonably priced. It ranked with the less expensive hotels in Lincoln. I give it two straight cylinders! (That’s a Triumph joke.)

When you are on the road for extended periods of time, sometimes you have to wash your clothes by hand. Fortunately, my overpacked bags leave a lot of surface area for my socks and undies to dry in the wind and sun. Gold toes baby!

I happen to be posting this on the 20th anniversary of the attacks of September 11th. I rolled through the town square of Leon, Iowa just to take it in and have a drink break. (I used to carry a Camelback and was able to drink while I ride. The new bike configuration didn’t allow for that this trip.) Anyway, in front of the old courthouse was a miniature Statue of Liberty honoring the souls lost in NYC on September 11, 2001.

The saviors of many old and otherwise neglected buildings throughout the United States are the artists and artisans who recognize their beauty and repurpose them or re-utilize them bringing them back to life.

The second melancholy milestone that I mentioned in the last post was upon me. I was crossing the Mississippi River. It’s exhilarating going in the other direction. The excitement and anticipation of a great adventure await you! Going east it is quite the opposite. It feels more like the door closing behind you. The beginning of the end.

Towns along the Mississippi have many elements of yesteryear. I feel like I crossed that bridge from Fort Madison, Iowa across the Mississippi before, but the town on the eastern riverfront was unfamiliar. This was Dallas City, Illinois.

This looked like it may have been an old service station in La Harpe.

I shacked up in Canton for the night. There was a large sidewalk area outside my window so I parked Bonnie there for the night. I wasn’t even looking for camping spots anymore. I was heading home.

I was heading home, but that doesn’t mean there is not more to see. In fact, I missed about 40 or 50 miles of Route 66 when I was heading west. Somehow I missed a turn in Dwight, Illinois. I kept riding south when I should have turned to the right. I found my way back to Route 66 when I got to Pontiac, so that was my destination. Strangely I found more things I hadn’t seen on my way to Pontiac, and I am sure there is more than this.

Route 66 may have multiple routes in any given town. It moved around from decade to decade, so there could be one part representing the 30’s and 40’s and another road that existed during the 50s and 60s. I stopped to have a look at this church because the steeple reminded me of the Art Deco church I visited in Tulsa, OK.

Now I was back on track. Here is Old Route 66. This part of the highway in Towanda was called Dead Man’s Curve.

This small part of the old highway is called ‘Memory Lane’ in Lexington, Illinois. It is a bumpy mess but wonderfully nostalgic.

And finally, I had returned to Pontiac, where I thought I had originally found my way. This was actually my third visit to Pontiac and there was more I hadn’t seen.

This painted sign on the side of the bridge is the last of its kind in Illinois. It shows that this section of Route 66 was originally Route 4.

Here is another Old Route 66 establishment. The Old Log Cabin.

The Old Log Cabin actually resides where there is a split in Route 66 like I spoke about previously.

When I first pulled up to the Old Log Cabin there was a big SUV next to my bike. I went to take a photo across the street of the above signs. When I returned, I am thinking, OK great! The SUV left. Now I can get a good photo of just the bike and the Old Log Cabin. It’s just me. I am tired, hot, hungry, and thirsty. I go inside to remedy these factors. As I walk in. a lady welcomes me in, then walks around me and locks the door. Hmmm.

So here I am, alone and the door locks behind me. I am reminded of one of my favorite movie scenes in A Bronx Tale, when Chaz Palminteri locks the door behind a group of unruly bikers and says, “Now you’s can’t leave.”

My experience fortunately was a lot more pleasant. This lady was there with her daddy the cook and they closed at 2 o’clock. That’s why she locked the door. She told me to take my time but she didn’t want any more folks coming in after me.

Moving north to Odell, I found an old service station that I had marked on my map but missed it when I got lost the first time.

Finally, back in Dwight, I completed my Route 66 journey at this old Texaco station.

This was the last site I had marked to visit from my original Route 66 plan.

This story ends like many before…abruptly. Once I get closer home, I get more aggressive. I take more risks. It’s a classic tale. As you get closer to home, you lose focus.

I took on another storm as I said I would never do again. I thought I would get to the other side and everything would be alright. I would cross this storm. I had a plan. I was zipping across making eastern miles on my way home. I didn’t factor in the equation that the storm had the exact same plan as me. It was swirling eastward as if it wanted to tuck itself in bed with me for the night.

And to cap it off, when there are low black clouds overhead…remember to duck…no wait, remember the duck.

I rode through that terrible storm for most of the day as I took Route 30 east. The rain let up periodically as it did when I passed through a small town in Ohio. A duck flew right by my head. It could have easily hit me. It must have been 3 or 4 feet in front of my face. It pretty much blinded my vision. Fortunately, it missed me as it flew from right to left crossing into the next lane of traffic and promptly smashing into the windshield of the car passing me in the other direction. SMACK! I watched that duck go toppling limply into the air and landing with a loud thud across the street. Ducks are like flying footballs filled with water. Could have easily been me catching a duck upside the head. Not my time.

The rain only got worse. Because of the rain, I hadn’t consulted my maps. I didn’t realize that Route 30 went directly into Pittsburgh. UGH! And guess who had the same travel plan? That horrific storm. Traffic became impassible and streets quickly became rivers. It was horrific. My hand is a small piece of evidence for this trying day.

Just after I took this photo, I walked into the convenience store at the gas station. The girl behind the counter looked at me and said, “Are you OK?” I was so beaten down. I just asked her if she knew where I could find a hotel, then I warmed up my hands on a cup of coffee.

The following day I rode all the way back to NYC. Exactly 10 weeks to the day since I left, I made it safely home.

Though the end was tough. I can now reflect on another epic journey. I had an amazing adventure. I met so many interesting people and was able to reconnect with others I have met on other journeys. I saw great friends from my past as well. It’s a wonderful life…and it’s even better on a motorcycle.

I end the final post of my journey across this great country with a moment to remember the innocent souls who lost their lives 20 years ago today on September 11, 2001.

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