An old Platte River crossing near Minden, Nebraska
I find the relative obscurity of US 6, the forgotten cousin of US 66, rather intriguing. Originally this highway, dubbed the Grand Army of the Republic Highway in New York, connected the tip of Cape Cod with Long Beach in California. In the 1960’s it was truncated at Bishop, California but, surprisingly, most of the remaining road remains intact.
Crossing the Rockies over Loveland Pass (11,990 feet) above the Eisenhower Tunnel, it is one of the highest US highways. A section near the Nevada-Utah line remained unpaved until around 1950. And the course it follows is, to say the very least, odd. Check it out on an atlas or online.
On the most recent trip to the Miles of Possibilities Conference in Bloomington, Illinois we followed Route 66. However, for the return trip we decided to pick up US 34 in Galesburg, Illinois, follow it across Iowa, catch US 6 for the Nebraska crossing, and then weave our way through a corner of Kansas and across the southern section of Colorado over Wolf Creek Pass.
US 34 and US 6 were most interesting. However, it was soon made obvious that they lacked the vibrancy of Route 66.
Dinner is served in Red Oak, Iowa
There were charming cafes, mom and pop motels that seemed clean and well maintained, abandoned service stations dating to the 1920’s, and even a few old towns that maintained a thriving historic business core with fascinating architecture. Still, something was missing. That spark of enthusiasm and excitement found in travelers and business owners along Route 66 was, for the most part, missing.
I found a number of the small towns in Iowa interesting. However, Red Oak was a standout. Specifically the Red Coach Inn and the Casa de Oro restaurant.
I had selected the Red Coach Inn as the price was relatively reasonable and there was a restaurant with good reviews on site. The motel was better than average in regard to cleanliness, location, comfort, sleep quality, quiet at night, and with a very friendly staff.
However, the restaurant was closed on the day of our arrival. As it turned out, this was a good thing. Had it been open we would have never discovered the Casa de Oro.
The food wasn’t on par with that special kind that is found only in New Mexico restaurants but much to my surprise, it was equal to anything I have found in Arizona. The beer, however, reminded me of Germany – großes Bier. The motel was one block up the street.
Day two of our homeward journey ended in McCook, Nebraska, after a stop at the Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska on US 6. It was a most enjoyable and pleasant drive.
Pioneer Village is located about a dozen miles south of I80 near Kearney. This is one of the most astounding museum complexes in the nation, and, perhaps, one of the most overlooked museums.
The collection of historic buildings relocated to the site, each packed with fascinating collections and displays, and the massive main building filled from floor to ceiling (planes hang from the ceiling) is almost impossible to describe. On the grounds you will find trains, a depot, a barn housing massive century old steam tractors, a furnished log cabin and sod house, a church, another two-story building where you can see entire kitchens, with state of the art appliances, for each decade between 1870 and 1960, tea sets (including one made as a gift for Abraham Lincoln), and a collection of gas pumps. A day can be spent here with ease, and there is something for everyone regardless of age.
That is the good news. The bad news is that it is quite evident that maintenance is being deferred. As an example, the 1870’s carousel was in dire need of paint, and the gazebo roof was almost non existent.
The automotive collection, more than 300 vehicles, consists mostly of what were used cars in the 1950’s, the era when they were acquired and put on display. Many are unrestored, which is rather remarkable in itself.
Nestled in among Cords (two of them) and a beautiful, ornate horse drawn hearse are a plethora of cars dating to 1905, farm equipment, electric cars, and lit glass cases filled with everything from pocket watches to slot machines. In other rooms you will find a WWII German cutaway jet engine display, a B-17 radial engine, a 120 year old fire truck, boats, a display of outboard motors spanning a century, guns, an ornate wooden 1830’s horse drawn trolley, and original Currier and Ives prints as well as original Native American art work from the 1870’s.
You will find displays of snowmobiles and phonographs, music boxes and cameras, china dolls and promotional signs. It overwhelms the senses. It is nothing short of amazing.
There is a motel and restaurant on site. As we didn’t make use of the facilities I defer you to Yelp or TripAdvisor.
What I can suggest is that you add this you list of “must see” attractions and sites. You won’t be disappointed.