6427 Miles: A Tour of America by Car

By Gerard Forgnone

Day 14

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Omaha, Nebraska, to Des Moines, Iowa

Ok, I have to backtrack a little for you to understand the significance of this next event.

Mom and Dad are buried in the Winton, Ca, cemetery.  Years ago, I was in Yosemite, and decided to visit their graves while I was nearby.  Mom had mentioned that the former Castle Air Force Base had started an aircraft museum, so I figured I'd stop and see it.  Good thing I did, because it is a GREAT outdoor museum!  The airplanes get newer and larger as you walk toward the back, and it was there that I saw my first B-36.  Here is more information from Wikipedia:

The Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1949 to 1959. The B-36 was the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever made. It had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built (230 ft, 70.1 m), although there have been larger military transports. The B-36 was the first bomber capable of delivering any of the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal from inside its two bomb bays without aircraft modifications. With a range of 16,000 km (9,900 mi) and a maximum payload of 33,000 kg (73,000 lb), the B-36 was the world's first manned bomber with an unrefueled intercontinental range. Until it was replaced by the jet powered Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, which first became operational in 1955, the B-36 was the primary nuclear weapons delivery vehicle of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), and the B-36 set the standard for range and payload for subsequent U.S. intercontinental bombers.

The thing is HUGE!

Anyway, there are only FOUR of these significant aircraft still on display (out of 384 produced) and I figured I ought to see them all.  The second one was in Tuscon, at the Pima Air and Space Museum a few years ago.  I had made a plan on THIS trip to see my third one at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  I don't know why, but I never thought about where the fourth one would be.

So, the evening of September 11, I'm driving along I-80 almost to Omaha, and it's getting about time to stop for the night.  The road was fairly open, so I had good vision all around, and it was a good thing, because I just happened to see the only sign for this place on the side of the freeway.  There were no billboards, no other indication of what was ahead, and I could have EASILY missed this sign had it been dark or if I been going around a truck or something.

This pic is from Google Maps...the sign surprised me, so I didn't get my own photo.

I pulled over at the next rest area and looked at the GPS for the museum, and guess what????


Right next to the museum was a park with camping, so I stayed the night.  What a wonderful place it was!  Here is the view in the morning.

It was nice enough to break out the folding table and have some Cocoa Puffs for breakfast!

So just 1/4 mile away is the Strategic Air and Space Museum, formerly housed at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska.  I used to launch Atlas rockets, very similar to the one with the red bottom in the center.

This one is an Atlas F, with the hold-downs required for vertical storage.  The ones I worked on and launched were Atlas E's, with clamps on the very bottom for horizontal storage.

What a great museum!  The airplanes are mostly unrestored, which gives you a feel for what they may have looked like during use.  I liked the white ceiling...made it easy to see and photograph everything.

There it is!  B-36!


Big tires!  But, these are actually the SMALL tires installed in sets of 4, because the single tires exerted too much pressure on the runway surfaces, that there were only 3 runways in the US that could handle the aircraft.  The 4-tire bogie allowed the aircraft to land on most concrete runways.

B-58 Hustler.  This is a rare find, not many of these around either.

It was a beautiful day in Nebraska!

Well, I finally made it to the beginning of the Transcontinental Railroad, in Omaha, Nebraska!  There is some controversy with folks who live across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who rightfully say that their town was the beginning of the Transcontinental Railroad, but more commerce occurred in Omaha, so there is more to see in Omaha now.  The Council Bluffs railroad museum was not well rated, so I decided to make The Durham Museum, in Omaha's Union Station, my destination.

Beautifully restored!

Inside an old railcar.

After passenger rail travel ended, the Union Station was abandoned.  The Durham Museum took the one track next to the station, enclosed it, and put some vintage rolling stock indoors.  Here is a beautifully restored caboose.

This area used to be FILLED with rail lines!

This is the old Burlington Railroad Station, a competitor to the Union Pacific railroad.  This building was abandoned years ago, and is currently being renovated to become a TV news studio.  Wonder how they're going to deal with the locomotive noise...

So, as I was leaving the Durham Museum, I asked the attendant if there was anything else to see in the area, railroad-wise.  She told me to go south about two miles, to the Kenefick Park, where there were two locomotives on display.  What an amazing park!

This really sums it all up: The Transcontinental Railroad changed the West, changed the United States, and by definition, changed the world. 

There really was "Nothing Like It In The World."

Because the government gave plots of land to the railroad, the railroad sold it cheaply to whoever wanted it, knowing that people would have to use that railroad to get themselves to the land, and to get their products and crops to market.  Brilliant.  From points north and south of the Transcontinental Railroad, more rail lines were put in, more towns sprouted, and the West was settled.  There were no cars at this time, therefore no roads.  The railroad was THE way to move in the West.  If a rail line wasn't close, you didn't go there.  Once the rails came in, people followed in vast numbers.

What a view!  The Missouri River is just below.

Big Boy steam locomotive in black, diesel locomotive in yellow.

This map was built into the walkway of Kenefick Park.

Heading out further east from Omaha, in Iowa.  Beautiful country!

KOA Kampground entrance, Des Moines, Iowa.  What a beautiful end to a wonderful day, the final day of the Transcontinental Railroad route.

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