Saturday, June 11, 2011

Atlantic, IA to Omaha, NE on US Route 6

Atlantic, IA to Omaha, NE

I hate severe thunderstorm warnings, especially when they come with threats of golf ball sized hail.  Weather reports projected these storms in the afternoon, so I left Atlantic by 9am, hoping to get to Council Bluffs – just across the Missouri River from Omaha, my home for the night – within the hour.  But a few minutes after heading West on Route 6 – the most direct route between Atlantic and Omaha – dark skies cracked with shards of light to my right. 

Eagle of Honor Monument
Oakland, IA
Nishna Heritage Museum
Oakland, IA
Today, I ran the severe weather gauntlet – and won!  As soon as I thought I’d be enveloped in winds and rain and hail any second, I made it to the small town of Oakland, IA.  There was a nice brick bank full of employees on an otherwise empty main street, so I ducked in there to wait out the storm.   Of course, this being Iowa, everyone was really, really nice. They were also bemused by this Northeastern gal who was afraid of a little thunder and lightening, and even more so when the feared deluge didn’t occur.  I’d wanted to stop in Oakland anyway, to see the Nishna Heritage Museum – what I heard was a very well done History museum.  But it was closed.  I snapped a photo of the Eagle of Honor Monument before driving the next 25 miles to Council Bluffs.  I saw clear skies to the West – a great sign.

Kanesville Tabernacle
Council Bluffs, IA
Large homes are being built on the outskirts of Council Bluffs, indicating a city on the rise – the opposite of what I witnessed to the east.  Route 6 goes right though town, and the first attraction sign I spied was for the Kanesville Tabernacle.  Naturally, I stopped.  The Mormons are steadfast in their belief, gently teaching others.  I was one of those “others” who came to the Visitor’s Center.   This site on the Mormon Trail tells the story of the US Army Mormon Battalion.  Persecuted Mormons from the East made their way west to Council Bluffs where they waited out winters before moving along to Salt Lake City.  While here, the US Army drafted 500 Mormon men for the Mexican-American war, though by the time the Mormon Battalion got to San Diego, CA a year later, the war was over.  Some of the men went back east to find their families, others sojourned North, assuming that Brigham Young would have moved West by then.  These Northern California Mormons just happened to start working for a sawmill owner named Sutter, and we all know how that story ended.  Sutter’s workers found gold in them there streams, so, according to Mormon History, a few Mormon families panned for gold, but were loyal to Sutter and remained when others did not, to help him finish his saw mill.  Then, they went Eastward, foregoing the gold strike to reunite with their families.  The trials and tribulations these California Mormons endured while clearing a road over impossible terrain for thousands of others to follow is the stuff of Mormon legend.  The Tabernacle here is a recreation of the place that Brigham Young was “sustained” as prophet after Latter Day Saints founder, Joseph Smith was “martyred.”  I can’t claim to understand the background of this religion, but Council Bluffs is important to those who adhere to it, so for me it was worth a short stop – if only to learn a bit.

Bayliss Park
Council Bluffs, IA
Council Bluffs is proud of its lovely Bayliss Park - as well as it should be.  In the center is a gorgeous, working cascading fountain, which brightened up even this grey day. 

Union Pacific Railroad Museum
Council Bluffs, IA
Council Bluffs is also a linchpin in the story of the Union Pacific Railroad – one of the oldest publically traded companies still operating under its original name.  The best place to learn the history of the UP is at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum

When I got to the museum, a bunch of husky guys were driving pallets full of boxes to a waiting truck; archival treasures stored in the basement in need of protection if the Missouri River overflows its banks.  There are flood warnings out in Council Bluffs and Omaha now – with “sandbag gatherings” going on citywide. 
Virtual Ticket Taker
Union Pacific Railroad Museum
Council Bluffs, IA

But for now, streets are dry here.

Railway Luxury of the 1940's
Union Pacific Museum
Council Bluffs, IA
The Union Pacific Railroad was created by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and Omaha was designated its Eastern Terminus,  Sacramento, CA it's Western Terminus.  Railway builders began at each end, working towards the middle - an endeavor nicknamed The Race to Promontory (the two sides met in Promontory Summit). The museum depicts this history in a nicely presented timeline beginning with “The Trials of Travel” prior to the railroad, Surveying the untamed West, the use of Chinese workers (American men were fighting the Civil War at the time, and the Irish refused to travel from New York and Boston), and how the Union Pacific Company drew families to populate the new railroad towns.   The second floor is more interactive; you can sit in a simulated conductor’s chair to see what he’d be seeing out the windshield, and listen to an old ticket-taker tell you what to expect on a luxury liner of the ‘30’s and 40’s as you prepare to “embark” on one.

The Union Pacific Railroad still employs 44,000 with 2,500 (now all freight) trains over 35,000 miles of track. 

Squirrel Cage Jail Cell
Council Bluffs, IA

Jailhouse Graffiti
Squirrel Cage Jail
Council Bluffs, IA
Council Bluffs is also home to an unusual “Squirrel Cage Jail” – a cylinder of pie-shaped cells stacked three tall, with ten wedges per level- thirty tiny cells in all. It operated as the local jail from 1885-1969 and looked like something out of Wild Wild West. The whole thing rotated, and some inmates would stick their hands outside the bars to purposely have them broken by the stationary beams in order to get some coddling from the local doc.  Everything was left as it was, including the graffiti on cell ceilings created from ash of burnt newspapers. The jail building itself is prominently brick, designed to blend in with the surrounding community.  To see this, you’ve got to cough up $7, but some things are just quirky enough to justify the cost.  I’d say this is.

The Route 6 bridge into Nebraska is being worked on now, so I had to take a short detour.  No Welcome to Nebraska signs on the alternate bridge however.  My next post will be about Omaha.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comment here: