Quackgrass Sally: On the Trail 10-22-12
I’ve traveled the entire Pony Express trail, through all eight states, from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, Calif., and I always love the less traveled roads. On my annual trek to the National Pony Express Association convention, I decided to take the scenic rural routes and stop at some of the more interesting places on my way through Nebraska to this years convention in Seneca, Kan.
Just 12 miles south of Interstate 80, on Neb. Hwy 10, (Harold Warp Memorial Drive) is the little town of Minden. Here, on the corner where US 6 and US 34 meet up with Hwy 10, you can see one of the top tourist attractions in Nebraska and one of its famous landmarks, Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village. Advertised as the “Only Museum of Progress in the USA,” they have had over 5 million visitors since their establishment in June, 1953. For a small admission fee, one can spend hours or even days wandering around this 20 acre development. Pioneer Village’s founder and owner, Harold Warp, wanted to “show our children how this great country was built” and created a place to preserve items for future generations to see. Filled with over 50,000 Americana items from every field of human endeavor, most are displayed in chronological order from 1830 to present day.
I hadn’t toured the family museum for over 15 years, so decided to see if they still housed the extensive collection of William Henry Jackson’s historic prints along their walls. Happy to say, they are still on display, along with many other famous artist’s works. In the main building I wandered through dozens of covered wagons, stagecoaches and brightly painted peddler and gypsy wagons. Here too, rows and rows of antique automobiles sit under airplanes hanging from the high ceilings. A 1915 Wood’s Electric Auto quietly waits beneath the first plane to fly from New York to Philadelphia, round trip, (1910) in one day and winning a $10,000 prize. A cute little red convertible car, complete with “winged” fenders, caught my eye. I learned that it was the only amphibious car ever built for private use. Named the Amphicar and built in 1961 in Germany, it has a four cylinder Triumph motor mounted in the rear and the driver could drive from the shore right into the lake. Two propellers, for water cruising are mounted under the back seat and one of these cars became famous when it crossed the English Channel from France to England in 1962. Now THAT’S my kind of car!!
Stepping outside, I continued my tour along the paved walkway, under mammoth trees and a beautiful grassy park-like area. Circling this park are buildings of all types, each with a historic story to tell, from the first log cabin built in 1869 to a train depot, complete with a Steam Engine and coal car. I wandered through a Sod House, a Pony Express Station and buildings filled with all kinds of farm machinery and tractors. The Agricultural building includes the first McCormick reaper and John Deere’s first plow. Another house displayed peoples Hobbies, including cabinets filled with thousands of advertisement ballpoint pens.
The Homes and Shops building included a hallway where typical kitchens had been set-up, each depicting a different era, starting in 1830. Each kitchen had a cooking area, sewing spot, baby crib and dining table. It was fun to see the changes from one era to the next and the advancements housewives had with each generation … and yet how much chores stayed the same.
But the best part of my visit was a “living history” exhibit, where I met Pat Haight, a delightful gentleman who was making broom-corn brooms using machines built in the 1800s. I watched while he cut and sewed a hearth broom, its bristles tightly attached to a wooden handle, all the while telling “broom history” and how sail-makers became broom makers long ago to make money when they couldn’t go to sea. Pat had learned from the retired Village broom maker six years ago and admitted he loved sharing a good sweeping tale with people. He told me this broom would be his 3,810th made in Pioneer Village and that each was numbered and signed when finished. Taking the broom out of the stitching vise, Pat said there was one last test he did before he signed a broom.
“Each hearth broom MUST stand up on its own bristles,” he said while balance-testing the broom on the floor. A bit of trimming on some longer bristles and then a snip to angle the edge and the little broom was proudly standing up by itself. I have to say I was impressed!
“One time I had to make a dozen little brooms for a elementary class …. ” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “… all exactly the same and when the kids arrived, I had the brooms standing straight-up in a long line. They thought it was magic!”
Happy, I headed back to my car, my new hearth broom under my arm. I’m glad I took the time to re-visit this award-winning “Authentic Americana” museum in Nebraska. If you get this direction, do stop and explore … and ask Pat to “sweep you off your feet!” ❖
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