Nebraska's Capital City
Hello again, it’s Don Milne to guide us on our twenty-sixth day of Roadtrip-'62 ™ travel down historic US-6. Yesterday, we stayed in just one city, seeing sights in Omaha, Nebraska. Today, we still have a few places to stop at in the Omaha area before we leave, but then it’s mostly fields until we reach the state capital, Lincoln. As I mentioned yesterday, we’ve now entered the Great Plains. The farm fields become ever larger out here because rainfall becomes sparser the further west we travel, so farmers need more acreage to make a profit. But it won’t be all fields, we will find a few surprises. If you see anything you like, get yourself out on the road and enjoy it in person. I hope you’re having fun on this virtual roadtrip, I know I am, but there's nothing like the real thing! At any time, click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. Time to get back on the road!
I’m going to start the day off with some donuts and a newspaper. The newspaper in Omaha is the World-Herald, which not only still publishes 7-days a week, but is the only remaining major metropolitan newspaper in the United States to publish both morning and afternoon editions. The newspaper was founded in 1885 by Gilbert M. Hitchcock, whose son-in-law, Henry Doorly, took over after Mr. Hitchcock's death in 1934. This is the business where Mr. Doorly made his fortune, under the name World Publishing Company, which allowed his widow to donate $750,000 to the local zoo and have it renamed for him. Local television station KETV was also owned by the company from 1957 to 1976, so we might have watched it in our motel last night.
For morning donuts, it looks like we have plenty of choices. LaMar’s Donuts began in a converted gas station in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1960 and began franchising in 1990. One of their current 27 locations is here in Omaha so LaMar’s is either old or new, depending on how you look at it. Or we could go to Pettit's Pastry, founded in 1954. Pettit’s is located downtown or in three other locations in Omaha. Beside donuts, they feature brownies, muffins, and even pies. Maybe I should get a pie for a picnic! Then there are several small, family run bakeries that seem to be old enough for us, though I couldn’t find out for sure. Olsen Bake Shop is a hole-in-the-wall place that is well known for delicious and inexpensive donuts. The Donut Professor is a local chain that operates with the conceit of calling its stores Laboratories: it bakes 37 varieties of donuts. The Donut Stop is another possibility, located in Little Bohemia not too far from the Bohemian Café, where we ate last night. The Donut Stop is famous for being open overnight, high school kids playing board games, and the cat posters in the bathroom. Of course they are also famous for the delicious and inexpensive donuts like their cinnamon Bavarian cream.
Something we cannot visit in Omaha, but it existed both in 1962 and today, is the nuclear reactor in the basement of the Veterans Administration Medical Center. Yes, there was a small nuclear reactor there, though it was hardly known by anyone but the medical staff that used it for radioisotope experiments. The reactor was installed in 1959 because at that time, nuclear medicine seemed to have unlimited potential for diagnosing diseases and treating cancer. The reactor was used for research into a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, for a study of selenium deficiency in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and many other experiments. It was a General Atomics TRIGA model, of which there are a few dozen still operating in the United States. This one was shut down and the fuel removed in 2001, after the September 11th terrorist attacks prompted vulnerability reviews. The Veterans Administration decided this location was too big a risk for a reactor that had not been used since 1995, when newer technology supplanted the need for it. It is scheduled to be dismantled and removed in 2015.
We continue west through town on US-6 and the original Lincoln Highway. One of the concrete route markers is at the southeast corner of the US-6 overpass over Saddle Creek Rd. Up one of the hills along US-6 is Memorial Park, where I’m going to make a stop. Memorial Park was created in 1948 by a group of businessmen and civic leaders with a memorial dedicated to World War II veterans. It was dedicated that year by President Harry S. Truman. The Omaha Rose Society added a rose garden in 1959 and memorials to other war veterans have been installed since. After visiting the memorials, I’m gong to wander through the formal rose gardens of over 1000 rose bushes. Past Memorial Park and the University of Nebraska’s campus, we finally leave residential neighborhoods and hit the commercial strip. The first store we see in the commercial strip is Wolf Brothers Western Store. Wolf Brothers has been here since the 1950s and claims to have Omaha's largest selection of boots and a large selection of western clothing, hats, belts, and tack gear. The store also has a nice neon sign at night too. I almost bought myself a cowboy hat once in Colorado: maybe I should finally get one today! Here’s your place to get a hat, some boots, flannel shirts, jeans, and anything else you think you might need to head out to the American West. Buy a saddle if you’re going to be riding later on the trip!
Just past Wolf Brothers we hit the modern mall area, with everything dating from the 1970s and later. The development just keeps getting newer and newer as we cross I-680 and US-6 becomes an elevated freeway right above the old road out to Boy’s Town, Nebraska. Looks to me like Omaha has swallowed a lot of really good farmland since about 1985. The Boy’s Town complex lies on the south side of US-6 and was established in 1917 as the headquarters of what was then known as Father Flanagan's Boys' Home. Boys Town was founded as a boy’s orphanage dedicated to the care, treatment, and education of at-risk children. Today, Boys Town directly cares for more than 27,000 boys and girls each year in fourteen states and the District of Columbia. Here, by 1997, 550 girls and boys in grades 3-12 live and attend school at the Boys Town campus. Reflecting its beginnings by a Catholic priest, each child must attend church or synagogue once a week.
We finally get off the freeway at Elkhorn, Nebraska, but we are not out of new development or the Omaha metro area yet. Elkhorn has a brand new high school right on US-6, and we can see plenty of new subdivisions full of homes interspersed with the remaining farm fields in the area. In 1962, US-30A would have traveled with us this far, from Council Bluffs. Here we also cross US-275, which currently runs from O'Neill, Nebraska to Rock Port, Missouri. It’s another short route, only 266 miles, but was longer in 1962, running all the way south to Saint Joseph, Missouri. At that time, the highway crossed the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge with us, but it was later moved to a new bridge to the south and no longer runs through Council Bluffs, Iowa at all. Elkhorn was once a small, separate city, but was annexed to Omaha in 2005. If you come in early June, you can enjoy the festivities of Elkhorn Days, which has been a tradition for over 60 years. The festival includes the typical parade, music, food, more.
The new development is finally interrupted by farm fields for just a few miles before we reach Gretna, Nebraska, where we plunge in again. Since the year 2000, Gretna has become one of the fastest growing cities in the State of Nebraska, attesting to it’s being swallowed by the Omaha metro area. The small, farm town core has only a few businesses, but there are new plazas and subdivisions all around. One historic building on the US-6 bypass of Gretna today was once a busy truck stop, bus stop, and Ford dealership. It doesn’t take long for a freeway to siphon off the traffic from the old 2-lane roads, though. Even though I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska was only opened in 1961, it already carried about 4300 vehicles per day over the Platte River, and US-6 had been reduced to a mere 670. Of course, the truck stop and the Home Oil Co. gas station across the street could not survive the traffic loss, even though Home Oil was know for the best homemade cherry pie on the route. That building was demolished and a new Shell gas station was built when suburbia arrived here. The one in the picture has been re-purposed to a BBQ restaurant, barber shop, beauty shop, insurance office, and apartments. If we get off US-6 and travel through Gretna on the city streets, we find some of the same new brown-and-white Historic Route US-6 signs we’ve seen elsewhere along the trip. Also some old brick streets exist in town, including along that route.
Driving through the farm fields along US-6, you might be surprised to find a full size lighthouse so far from the ocean! But Linoma, Nebraska has the Linoma Beach Lighthouse, at the site of an old resort. This location on the north bank of the Platte River was originally the sand and gravel pits of the Lyman-Richey Sand Company, which began its works in 1907. By 1924, the Inland Development Syndicate bought a large chunk of the land that now included several lakes, and opened the Linoma Beach Resort. The location is about half way between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska and the name is formed from the first three letters of each city name. Oddly, the lakes were too deep for swimming, so the developers brought sand back in to make them safer and to create a beach over 100 feet wide and extending 600 feet long. To make a resort to attract customers from both Omaha and Lincoln, a bathhouse was constructed, picnic grounds were developed, and a farmhouse was converted into a restaurant with a veranda suitable for dancing. The restaurant's first manager was Alfred Jones, a African-American cook from Omaha. The Linoma Realty Company appears to have been ahead of the times by a negro to hold such a prominent position. With a good road in front and the developers installing a platform and lighting on the adjacent Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, business was immediately good. Three trains ran on both Saturdays and Sundays!
The Linoma Beach facilities were improved each season and crowds grew right through the Great Depression. During the Depression, both the railroad and the highway, now marked as US-38, were re-aligned due to flooding. This caused the demolition of the dance pavilion, and it was not rebuilt. Also during those years, roadside businesses across the country began to construct whimsical and eye-catching buildings to entice motor tourists. Many places in Nebraska built wigwam buildings, including a motel in Hastings. Also near Hastings, a building was constructed in the likeness of a Mississippi River side-wheeler paddleboat. Being a waterside attraction, Linoma built the 100-foot tall Linoma Beach Lighthouse in 1939. The rooms above the first story have plumbing, stoves, and windows, so it appears they were intended to be a novelty motel, though no records of the rooms being used that way exist. The base of the building was a gas station. Gasoline rationing during World War II put a serious damper on roadtrip tourism: the lighthouse fell into disrepair and the restaurant closed as revenue did not allow the repairs needed to attract tourists after the war. The lighthouse and grounds were rather dilapidated by 1962. The campground remained though, and in 2003, Linoma Beach was listed in the National Register of Historic Places with the lighthouse deemed especially significant, as an example of a vanishing type of roadside architecture. The beach and restaurant have since been reopened. The Linoma Beach Lighthouse itself was actually falling apart by then and was deeded to the Linoma Lighthouse Foundation for preservation. They have recently recovered the exterior with concrete siding panels, chased out the 200 or so pigeons who had taken up residence, and are working on stabilizing the sandstone foundation wall which is listing toward the water.
Directly across the Platte River is Camp Ashland of the Nebraska National Guard. While it might look like a campground from the road, the recreational facilities are only open to retired and active Department of Defense personnel. Public camping is available at the nearby Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, but as it was only dedicated in 1991, that’s too new for us to stop at. Another new attraction in the Ashland, Nebraska area is the Strategic Air & Space Museum. The museum opened in 1998 and is regarded as the nation's foremost facility of its kind. The local Ashland Historical Society is also new, founded in 1996 as the Saline Ford Historical Preservation Society. Saline Ford refers to the ford of the Salt River that was well-known in pioneer times because of the solid rock bottom. The remainder of the river was sand or mud unsuitable for a ford by freight wagons.
There are a few things that were here in 1962, though. The old road into downtown on Silver St. passes under the railroad through a one-lane underpass. The center portion of the street is brick, so I’m thinking that the bypass of US-6 around downtown was constructed before the new brick pavement needed resurfacing with asphalt, perhaps in the late 1930s or 1940s. The Farmers & Merchants Bank, on US-6 as we come into town from the east, occupies a small brick building that was formerly the Barnes Oil Company gas station. Unusual building for a bank, but it came with a ready-made drive through lane. An IGA supermarket was in the ground floor of the Hoffman Building. While the building still has some of the old grocery store signing, it is now a fitness center. Back in 1962, Ashland also had a major limestone quarry that employed about 250 men. While old, towns from here west are much newer than those we saw to the east. Ashland was only settled around 1863. The Stir Up Days festival has been held for the last 66 of those years, so we could have seen that in 1962. It’s a fairly typical small town festival with rides, a parade, kiddie pedal tractor pull, music, old car show, and more.
US-6 has run alongside the BNSF railroad track from Linoma and will continue to Lincoln, Nebraska. In Greenwood, Nebraska, where we find a beautiful park right beside the BNSF tracks. The railroad runs many trains a day on the Lincoln-Omaha corridor, including unit coal trains on their way east from Wyoming and Amtrak trains. If you want to stop and do some train watching, you won’t have to wait long here. Also trackside is the Greenwood Historical Society’s Greenwood Depot Museum. The depot was built in the 1870's by the Burlington & Missouri Railroad and presents the society’s collection of historical items. Along the railroads from here west, we will see a lot of grain elevators. The Farmers Union Cooperative Association elevators in Greenwood are part of the largest business in town. The coop was founded in 1919 and has continued to grow, though otherwise the town’s growth halted in the 1920s. Two devastating fires wiped out much of the early business district and the timing was poor to rebuild because the road we’re on was soon paved and people could easily drive to Lincoln to shop.
As we leave town, we pass Pine Grove RV Park, which may have been here in 1962. It’s adjacent to the I-80 freeway interchange, which was opened in 1961 and has at least one sign that looks similarly old style. Next, we come to Waverly, Nebraska, home of the Camp Creek Threshers. The Camp Creek Threshers are a non-profit volunteer organization trying to preserve Nebraska’s agricultural history. To do so, they have moved or constructed typical farm town buildings including a one-room schoolhouse, country church, general store, summer kitchen, horse barn, saddle shop, gas station, post office, and blacksmith shop on their 75-acre showgrounds. They also have a 7.5 inch gauge railroad on the grounds and run live steam locomotives. I’m really not sure any of their buildings pre-date 1962, but you can find tractors and other farm equipment of the time here. The only other old place I noted in Waverly is Millard Lumber, founded as Millard Lumber & Grain Company in 1948. The company was an early manufacturer of roof trusses, building a plant for that purpose in 1960. My father used roof trusses in homes he built in early 1960s and I remember him showing me how they were built and explaining why he used them instead of building roof supports on site from lumber. Millard Lumber has since expanded to make pre-manufactured wall sections and pre-hung doors, staying in the forefront of advanced building techniques.
The Lancaster County Fair has been held for over 130 years near Lincoln, Nebraska. Their current fairgrounds are at the northeast edge of Lincoln, just 2 miles off US-6. At the northeast edge of Lincoln, we also discover that our route had a bypass in 1962. US-6 CITY used to cut off and turn south through what was once the town of Havelock, Nebraska. We’ll drive into Lincoln on the main part of US-6, but later tonight we can come back to check out the bypass. Also at the northeast edge of town, we would join US-77 back in 1962, which traveled with us most of the way through Lincoln. It has since been moved onto the I-80 freeway, and we will instead cross it near downtown. Also in 1962, US-77 went 1525 miles from Ortonville, Minnesota to Brownsville, Texas, at the Mexican border. However, after completion of I-29 in 1982, everything north of Sioux City, Iowa was decommissioned.
There are quite a few older businesses along US-6 in northeastern Lincoln. The Starlite Motel looks old, but in good shape outside even though it’s missing some amenities. It once had a great star-shaped neon sign, and it still has its in-ground pool but that may not be open. Next door is the Oasis Inn, which formerly a Holiday Inn in 1962. The only part that looks like an old Holiday Inn now it the northerly side, with the glass along all the rooms and exterior doors. King’s Inn is located a little farther up the road, just before US-6 turns west. We just passed a Purina feed processing plant. Purina animal feeds have been around since 1894, though this plant looks to be originally from sometime later than the 1950s. You might know them best for Purina Dog Chow, but they produce feeds for all types of farm animals, pets, wildlife and even exotic zoo animals. Dog Chow was created in 1956, as the first pet food extruded into the distinctive shapes known as “kibble”. The Muppet characters Rowlf the Dog and Baskerville the Hound were created for a series of Canadian Purina Dog Chow commercials in 1962.
Another old business we might be interested in is Virginia's Travelers Café, just down the road from Starlite. It’s been here since the 1950s and serves homestyle meals. I may come back for dinner, but I have someplace else in mind for lunch. We have time to see something before lunch, though, so I’m stopping at the University of Nebraska State Museum in Morrill Hall, on the University of Nebraska campus downtown. The museum is also known as Elephant Hall, for the display of the world's largest articulated fossil mammoth. The elephant experience begins outdoors, with the life-sized bronze mammoth statue that greets visitors. It is a natural history museum with a collection of other fossil elephants, a hands-on science discovery center, interactive paleontology exhibits, a dinosaur gallery, ancient life and evolution exhibits, the First Peoples of the Plains Gallery, wildlife dioramas, and gem and mineral displays. One special exhibit highlights fossil finds from the last five decades of Nebraska's Highway Paleontology Program, basically found during highway construction. The Ralph Mueller Planetarium is also located at the museum, and maybe we can come back for an evening show.
The University of Nebraska is also home to the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team. The team has an unbroken record of sellout crowds here at Memorial Stadium for every home game since 1962! Because many fans wear red clothing, the stadium becomes a "Sea of Red" during home games. The stadium was dedicated in 1923 and like most large college stadiums, it has been expanded several times. The four additions have all come since 1964. With its current seating capacity to 81,067, Memorial stadium holds more people when full than live in any city in Nebraska except Omaha and Lincoln. If we had come for a game in 1962, we may have noticed that there were no lights. In fact, it used only portable lighting for many years, and only began that practice in 1980 for late-autumn games shown on national television.
The University of Nebraska has had many famous alumni. These include Johnny Carson, who had just begun hosting The Tonight Show in 1962, and Warren Buffett, who made his first million dollars in 1962 and is now one of the four richest men in the world. Other alumni include Karlis A. Ulmanis, the first Prime Minister of the country of Latvia, Gladys Dick, a co-inventor of the vaccine for scarlet fever, and Jay Wright Forrester, who went on to MIT and to work with the U.S. Navy, where in 1949 he invented random-access magnetic core memory, the information-storage device still used in most digital computers. The University of Nebraska is downtown along US-34, a route that runs from US-66 at Berwyn, Illinois to Granby, Colorado. Before 1970, it ran east a little farther right into Chicago. The highway crosses through Rocky Mountain National Park, where it becomes a toll road and the highest paved through highway in the United States, at 12,183 feet above sea level. We meet it here and travel just a few blocks to get back to US-6 CITY, where we will turn west and rejoin the main US-6 route.
And what do we find back at US-6? Lunch at the Runza Restaurant, a chain that began in Lincoln in 1949. Runza is named for the main menu sandwich they serve, which is a yeast dough stuffed full of ground beef, onions, cabbage, and secret spices, and then baked. While it seems unique to most Americans, it is well-known in this part of the prairie because it came with early settlers from Russia and Germany. It can be baked in many shapes; Runza Restaurant bakes theirs in a shape like a hot dog bun. Don’t order dessert though, because we will head back to the University of Nebraska for that! We’re having ice cream today, direct from the production, at the UNL Dairy Store. The students have been making premium ice cream since 1917, while learning to invent and create food products. When the store opened as Varsity Dairy in 1917, they served all-you-can-drink milk for a nickel, but you had to bring your own cup. In addition to ice cream, they also make cheeses and meats, which are sold here. I’ve been to the Michigan State University Dairy Store, also at an agricultural college, and if this is anything like Michigan’s, we’re in for some great ice cream! The store also offers a tour where you can see how cheese and ice cream are made, if you give them two weeks notice to schedule. Now I just have to find the neon ice cream cone in the window on East Campus.
While I’m on East Campus, I’m tempted to stop at the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum. The museum was established in 1980 and is dedicated to preserving and documenting the history of Nebraska's tractor test law. This law was passed in 1919 to protect farmers from irresponsible tractor companies that might advertise false claims. Today it is the only tractor testing museum and the only complete tractor testing laboratory in the world. While the museum is too new for us, their collection is located in the original test building and has 40 antique and unique tractors, so we might see something from around 1962. They still have the Waterloo Boy tractor that was the first to successfully complete the testing process in 1920. Another attraction at the university that is too new for us is the Great Plains Art Museum, a fine arts museum that opened in 1981.
Nebraska’s state capitol building is in downtown Lincoln, and is the second tallest in the United States. Louisiana’s is taller by 50 feet, but the shape of the Nebraska capitol is more of a skyscraper and the lack of other nearby tall buildings makes it look even taller. It was designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and was constructed between 1922 and 1932 of Indiana limestone. The sculptural elements of the building were designed by sculptor Lee Lawrie Hartley, with input from Burr Alexander, who is responsible for the strong American Indian symbology of the building. The golden dome at the top is topped by a Lawrie sculpture of The Sower, facing northwest to look out over most of the state. The frieze around the lower part of the dome depicts thunderbirds, an American Indian symbol. Tours are available on the hour, so let’s take one. We’ll see the tile and mosaic designs of Hildreth Meière depicting cultivation of the prairie, including the elaborate tile vaulting, which is both structural and decorative. Maybe the tour reaches the central room of the 14th Floor Observation Level, where the Memorial Chamber is dedicated to heroism in the public service. The interior murals were left unfinished between 1933 and 1951, due lack of funds because of the Depression and World War II. I’ve noticed that we visit a lot of large public buildings that existed in 1962 on our roadtrips. The state capitols are open to the public for tours, courthouses are open to the public but generally have no tours, and it seems that most cities do not brag about their city halls, so we have not mentioned many of those. One thing these public buildings had in common in 1962 and today is that they are good places for a clean rest room, at least on weekdays.
A compliment to the capitol is the governor’s official residence. This is also in Lincoln, and was opened for use in 1958. It is a modified Georgian Colonial style house. I could not find whether it was open for tours in 1962, but today it is open for guided tours only on Thursday afternoons. One museum I would have liked to tour is the Nebraska History Museum. However, the museum is closed for renovation and is expected to be closed all during 2015. The Nebraska State Historical Society has operated a museum in Lincoln since at least 1917, at which time they were provided with larger quarters in the State Capitol building. The museum moved after World War II and again in 1983, to the present building. Even though we cannot visit this year, they provide some online exhibits.
Another historic home here is the William Jennings Bryan House. I’m amazed by how US-6 is connected to the Presidency all across the country, from its connection with John Kennedy back on Cape Cod to here. William Jennings Bryan ran unsuccessfully for President as a Democrat in three elections between 1896 and 1908. He had previously been elected to Congress from Nebraska, and had been editor of the Omaha World-Herald. Bryan was known as a fiery orator and traveled widely as a lecturer on the Chautauqua circuit. His Presidential campaigns suffered from limited messages though, which could not be overcome by his speeches. He closed his political career as Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson, trying to keep the United States out of World War I. His home in Lincoln, known as Fairview, was built during 1902-1903, after one of his campaigns. In 1922, William Jennings Bryan gave Fairview and five acres of the surrounding land for the purpose of establishing a new hospital in Lincoln. The hospital became Bryan Health System, which still owns Fairview. The home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and was restored in 1994. While it probably would have been hospital offices during 1962, the lower level is now open as the Bryan Museum and is restored to depict his family's life during the early 1900s.
It seems that quite a few of these historical sites were not open in 1962, and the Sheldon Museum of Art is another. However, the original art collection has been around since 1888. The Sheldon Art Association’s collection, which began in 1888 as the Haydon Art Club, and the University of Nebraska collection, initiated in 1929, came together in the current building in 1963. We would have seen them in their old homes and could have watched this museum under construction in 1962. The Sheldon now holds over 12,000 works of American art in all media. It includes everything from 19th-century landscape and still life, to American Impressionism, geometric abstraction, pop art, minimalism and contemporary art. There is also a sculpture garden containing more than 30 monumental sculptures. I think we can spend a couple of hours here.
I’m going to stroll around outdoors a bit after the museums, and the Sunken Gardens are a picturesque location for that. This 1.5 acre garden was originally constructed as the Rock Garden during the winter of 1930-31, as another public works project for unemployed men during the depression. It is the only garden in Nebraska listed in the “300 Best Gardens to Visit in the United States and Canada”, published by the National Geographic Society. The annual floral display at Sunken Gardens consists of over 30,000 individual annual plants in themed garden areas. These are redesigned to a different theme each year. Displays include the Healing Garden, Perennial Garden, Annual Garden, and Rose Garden. Themes have ranged from tropical, to peacock inspired, to a stylized Japanese headband, and even Van Gogh’s “Starry Night."
Speaking of gardens, the Maxwell Arboretum Collections on the East Campus of the University of Nebraska have their beginnings in tree plantings from the 1940s. The area was formally declared an arboretum by the university in 1969. This five-acre arboretum has the greatest diversity of plant species on the campuses and now includes specialized collections of trees, shrubs, vines, perennial plants, and a sunny open prairie. The centerpiece of the arboretum is a group of mature oak trees, though younger trees are nearby to ensure the wooded area can continue throughout the 21st century. The hosta collection contains over 80 different cultivars of this shade plant, which range from tiny dwarfs to giant-leaved varieties. I hope the staff avoids the problem I have with hosta in my home garden, where the rabbits eat the blossoms just as they open. In addition to all the shady areas, there is an open prairie with mown paths to wander through the big bluestem and Indian grass that once covered the Great Plains. And if you come in April or May, be sure to visit the Flack Lilac Collection, not only for the beauty of the flowers in colors from nearly blue to pink, but also for the fragrance: it’s hard to beat being surrounded by lilacs in spring.
I think it’s time to hunt for dinner now. We can’t go to the Tastee Inn & Out, because it closed at the beginning of 2014. The restaurant opened in 1948 and was famous for its loose hamburger meat sandwiches, like we had at Mr. Dan's Sandwich Shop in Newton, Iowa, and for the onion chips. Onion chips are individual layers of an onion cut into about quarters, instead of sliced across the onion into rings. And of course, battered and deep fried. The Tastee Inn had a couple of other innovations that never really made it in the fast food industry. First, the drive-thru lane was on the passenger side for cars, so drivers had to lean way over to reach it. Second, orders were sent from the drive-thru in a pneumatic tube system like banks sometimes used. And then, the food came back from the kitchen on a gravity-driven conveyor system. Too bad we missed that unique bit of history.
We could try Major's Café, located in south Lincoln since 1933. Major’s serves breakfast all day, catfish, chicken fried steak, real mashed potatoes, and other comfort style food. Or, there’s Lee's, which also serves homestyle cooking. Lee’s has been serving since 1946, and the interior still looks old. Their specialties are southern friend chicken, chicken pot pie, and chicken gravy on the mashed potatoes. And, sometimes you are serenaded with live piano music. Instead, I’m stopping at Merle's, a steakhouse west of downtown on US-6. Merle’s has been here since 1959, though the building has been a restaurant since at least the early 1920s. They hand cut their own steaks, and serve burgers, fish, and chicken too. I’m rather fond of catfish, so I may try that and the famous curly fries that come all fried together in a kind of loaf.
There are a couple of other restaurants that we didn’t stop at: one is closed and one is slightly too new for us. King’s Food Host began in Lincoln in 1951 or 1955 (depending on what you read) as King’s Drive-In. For many years, the business ran a stand at the Nebraska State Fair. The first King’s franchise opened in 1961, and there were once nine of these restaurants in Lincoln. One of their signature offerings was the Cheese Frenchee, a deep fried cheese sandwich with a crunchy cornflake exterior. I would have liked to try something that unique! The chain expanded rapidly after 1968, often locating near universities, but borrowed too heavily in the process. Less than ten years later, the company entered bankruptcy, from which it never emerged. When the assets were sold, there were only 17 outlets remaining, but all are gone today. The other restaurant I mentioned, that is too new for us, is Fred's at Parkway, in a bowling alley. It was founded in 1964 within Parkway Lanes. Sometimes it’s a shame that we are restricted by dates on the roadtrip, because Fred’s was recently noticed by the Nebraska Beef Council as serving one of Nebraskas’s top 8 hamburgers. Parkway Lanes was opened in 1959, so we could spend our evening there or at the Hollywood Bowl, which was established in 1956. But I don’t really feel like bowling tonight.
And I don’t really feel like a round of golf, though there are a couple of older courses in Lincoln. Pioneers Golf Course is one of five courses in the Lincoln municipal parks system. It opened in 1930 and is the oldest public course in Lincoln. Pioneers was originally 27 holes, but was reduced to 18. The park system’s golf program has been self-supporting since 1952, relying on fees to maintain, build and improve the golf courses. That’s quite a record for any municipal undertaking. But what I’m going to do tonight is see a planetarium show at the Ralph Mueller Planetarium, which I had mentioned earlier this afternoon. The Mueller Planetarium was opened in 1958 and was the first planetarium in Nebraska. Oddly, it was originally operated by graduate students in geology, not astronomy. The planetarium projector was a Spitz Laboratories model A2, specifically designed for schools, universities and museums that did not have the budget for the popular Zeiss Planetariums available in 1947, when Armand Spitz designed his. When the Mueller Planetarium opened, it was one of the first to use a separate console for sound and lighting control. All the equipment has been upgraded since 1958, and now includes laser lights, surround sound, movies, and digital projectors.
I think I’ll find my motel before the show though. I already mentioned a couple of older motels in northeastern Lincoln when we came into town. There were of course many others in 1962, with several along O Street. East O Street was US-6 City and US-34, and West O Street was US-6, which is the road we will leave Lincoln on tomorrow. The Lazy K Motel was located on this street, but is now gone and replaced by a modern commercial building. The Villager Motel & Convention Center boasted the Aku Tiki Lounge, in the popular Polynesian style of the times, along with a putting green! This motel is also gone and replaced by a modern commercial building. Also gone from O Street is the Sleepy Hollow Motel, which had underwater music in its heated swimming pool! I’m sure the West-O-Motel was located on West O Street, and I’m also sure it’s gone too. There were more, perhaps in other places around town, such as the Buffalo Motel, Delores Motel, and "Y" Motel.
All of those are also gone, so I’ll either have to stay back where we came into town if I want an old motel, or I’ll have to stay at a newer motel. Heading back to the northeast part of Lincoln, it appears that about 1962 the main US-6 route we traveled this morning was a bypass. It passed through industrial and older commercial areas, whereas US-6 CITY travels through some older (1950s-1960s) residential neighborhoods. It is no longer signed as US-6 CITY or any other highway. Oh well, back to the Mueller Planetarium now for the show. See you in the morning on Roadtrip-’62 ™ !
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2015 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
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