Archive for August, 2008

Fred’s Dead? Say It Ain’t So!

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

When I told Airstream Life editor, Rich Luhr that Patrice and I would be on caravan from Denver to North Platte, Nebraska, and wouldn’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? Isn’t Nebraska just someplace to get through instead of it being a destination in and of itself?

The Golden Spike Tower
The Golden Spike Tower

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 world’s largest railroad “classification yard” 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 – all enclosed within an eight mile area. It includes one of the UP’s largest repair facilities in a building large enough to house 3 football fields and that employs 750 workers.

Bailey Yard
This is just a portion of the west end of the Bailey Yard

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 “feel and hear the action going on below.”

The Challenger
The Challenger locomotive is the only type of its kind on display in the world.

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.

Buffalo Bill Cody
Cody lives on in reenactment.

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 soldier’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.

Rainbow Arch Bridge
Located at the northwest corner of Riverside Park (I-76 and Colo. 52) this James Marsh designed Rainbow Arch Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and the National Register of Engineering Landmarks. Photo courtesy of

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 don’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 let’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 “backyard.”

Feather Rivers RV Park
Part of the caravan at Feather Rivers RV Park, North Platte, NE.

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 couldn’t believe that I was so out of touch that I didn’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 Fred’s death I panicked and started emailing various people to find out if it was true… completely forgetting that all I needed to do was read Renee’s blog on the Airstream Life Online Community. Whew! Isn’t it amazing what rumors can do? Just in case any of you heard the same, be assured that the rumor of Fred’s demise is very premature and he is still “Living the Life” with Renee!

Salida RMVAC Rally

Thursday, August 14th, 2008
Aerial of Salida Rally
Aerial photo of the 2008 RMVAC Salida, CO rally.

We’re back from another rally, this one in Salida, Colorado. From what we’ve heard everyone had a great time. One of the smaller contributions we made was to borrow Roy Rogers and Dale Evans from a friend, Bill Payne, and deliver them to the rally.

Roy & Dale
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were the VIP’s at the rally!

They are such celebrities and good natured too. Neither of them complained about having to stay in the tent or be fawned on by the rally participants. After all these years Dale is still pretty hot.

To keep them from blowing away I had to bungee cord them to the tent pole. While I was doing that, our friend, Donna Thomas, from Fort Collins, CO caught me with my arms around Dale. “What’s going on, Forrest, are you undoing her bra strap?” Man, am I glad she didn’t take a picture of that!

Dale Evans
Vintage, but still hot after all these years. Donna Thomas checking Dale out. Fred Coldwell (left) sampling a “Donnarita.”

Not that the camera cut her any slack. Here’s a picture of her riding what is left of Babe, Paul Bunyan’s blue ox, at the rally’s rodeo event. Ride ‘em, Donna!

Cowgirl Donna Thomas riding Babe, the blue ox at the rodeo.

The RMVAC Rally has always been about just having fun. We have our seminars and Fred Coldwell’s history lessons, but the main thing is to just lighten up and enjoy each other’s company. This year I think we succeeded better than we have ever before. Thanks to all the committee members who made the rally possible and to the participants who make it all worthwhile!

Pot of aluminum
Even when it rained the weather was good to us. We even found a pot of aluminum at the end of this rainbow.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Forrest McClure. I've been writing for the magazine since its inception. My wife and I travel with our 1966 20' Globe Trotter or our 1986 32' Excella. So, my primary interest is vintage travel trailers.