When I told Airstream Life editor, Rich Luhr that Patrice and I would be on caravan from Denver to North Platte, Nebraska, and wouldnâ€™t be able to get together with him and his family I think he thought I was joking. They were camped in Cherry Creek State Park just a few miles from our condo. I could tell he was a little mystified when I told him I was serious. Who goes on a caravan to North Platte? Isnâ€™t Nebraska just someplace to get through instead of it being a destination in and of itself?
Well, I have to admit I too was skeptical, but it turned out to be a fun little caravan and rally. North Platte is a destination that some railroad buffs consider the equivalent of Mecca. The worldâ€™s largest railroad â€œclassification yardâ€ is in North Platte. Called the Union Pacific Bailey Yard, it is where 3,000 cars are sorted each day on over 300 miles of 18 receiving and 16 departing tracks â€“ all enclosed within an eight mile area. It includes one of the UPâ€™s largest repair facilities in a building large enough to house 3 football fields and that employs 750 workers.
The Bailey Yard can now be viewed from the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center. The tower opened just this Spring and already it has had over 13,000 visitors. The yards and operation can be viewed from the main level 95 feet above the ground. The main level is 1,925 square feet of floor space and the grand 360 degree view is fully enclosed. There is also an outdoor viewing platform that allows visitors to â€œfeel and hear the action going on below.â€
North Platte owes its existence to the railroad. Buffalo Bill Cody settled there so that his Wild West Show could be close to the railroad. In fact, engineers from around the world visited his operation just to study how the Wild West Show loaded itself onto the trains. Cody apparently had it down to a finely tuned efficient operation.
So in North Platte today there are a variety of museums dedicated to the railroads and to Cody. The area has a rich although underrated history. During WWII, for instance, local residents opened a canteen for soldiers headed for the front lines, and supplied them with food, cigarettes and magazines. It grew from a simple and small operation to one requiring numerous volunteers and donations from the surrounding area. For instance, I learned that sugar beet farmers in the area were allocated 100 lbs of sugar a month for their own use, but donated it to the canteen to bake cakes, among other things, for soldierâ€™s birthdays. Bob Greene wrote a book about it, Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen.
The canteen is gone now, but North Platte hopes to recreate it as a museum in the near future. Until then, other museums, such as the Lincoln County Historical Museum and Village, have displays with artifacts and photos.
There are quite a few small towns scattered around the country that offer free RV parking in their city parks or fairgrounds. Finding one of these gems is a real treat and we made use of one both on the way to North Platte and also on our return. Just off I-79 about a block north of exit #80 in Fort Morgan, Colorado, is Riverside Park. The park offers 12 electric hook-ups (15 amp only), large shade trees, walking and biking trails, a water park and a small Zoo.
The city is also quite proud of its Rainbow Arch Bridge, an open-spandrel bridge built in 1923 that is the only multi-span arch bridge of its kind in Colorado. At 1,100 feet in length, it is also one of the longest in the nation. Currently, it spans the South Platte River and serves as an entrance to the Pawnee Pioneer Trails Scenic Byway. The byway winds through the Pawnee National Grassland where the natural prairie is little changed since pioneers in covered wagons drove through it on the Overland Trail.
Although the city offers the RV parking at no cost, donations are accepted, so do put a few dollars in the collection bin to help with the cost of supplying this service.
I think that what the caravan and rally proved is that you donâ€™t have to travel thousands of miles to exotic locations to have a good time in your Airstream. No doubt it would be the experience of a lifetime to take the Alaskan Caravan that Renee and Fred Ettline on currently on, but letâ€™s face it, not everyone gets to do that. With fuel costs up along with all the other costs of living staying close to home makes financial sense and encourages you to find treasure in your own â€œbackyard.â€
Ps.. Speaking of the Ettlines, a member on our caravan told me that Fred had died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. I was shocked and really bothered by this bit of information and couldnâ€™t believe that I was so out of touch that I didnâ€™t know about it, but our informer assured me that he was certain. Fred and Renee had befriended us in 2006 at the WBCCI International Rally in Salem, Oregon and we are quite fond of them. With this news of Fredâ€™s death I panicked and started emailing various people to find out if it was trueâ€¦ completely forgetting that all I needed to do was read Reneeâ€™s blog on the Airstream Life Online Community. Whew! Isnâ€™t it amazing what rumors can do? Just in case any of you heard the same, be assured that the rumor of Fredâ€™s demise is very premature and he is still â€œLiving the Lifeâ€ with Renee!