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North Platte, Nebraska is a railroad lover’s paradise, for freight trains in particular. On a daily basis more than 10,000 rail cars rumble through town as they head for the nearby Bailey Yard, the largest train yard in the world. To live near the tracks that cross Nebraska from east to west is to live with the ever-present sounds, sights and smells of the freight train: the night-and-day tug of the piercing whistles, the clang of the wheels, the dust the train hurls up from the tracks and hurls in its wake like mini-cyclones and the never-ending wait at crossings for the trains to pass.

Bailey Yard

If you’re a train geek, and let’s face it, if you’re reading this you probably are, the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte is a must-see destination. The 8-story high structure provides a grand viewing platform overlooking the 2,850 acre Bailey Yard; known as the place where east meets west for the Union Pacific Railroad. At any time of day or night there is a continual blur of motion as the powerful locomotives engage in their unending ritual of coupling, uncoupling and humping. (I’m not making these NSFW terms up by the way. That’s really what they call it.)

Golden Spike Tower

Golden Spike Tower

The numbers at the Bailey rail yard are daunting. It is eight miles long and pumps more than 14 million gallons of diesel fuel per month to power those 10,000 cars. I can believe those figures. I drove on the old Lincoln Highway across the entire length of Nebraska and was never far from the Union Pacific tracks.

On the long drive, filled with unending stretches of lots of nothing, the clanging wheels and blaring whistles of the trains were my steadfast companion. Back east the arrival of a freight train is something unusual to be noted. Not so in Nebraska. Here they run constantly with the frequency of a New York City subway train.

Their presence is unrelenting in the local’s lives. I asked a woman in a shop near the tracks if she ever gets used to the noise. She replied stoically, “What noise?” I guess I had my answer. The laid back rhythms of Midwestern life are reflected in the rhythm of the freight trains. I wonder which came first.

The view from the Golden Spike Tower makes you feel like Gulliver peering down on a Lilliputian railroad system.  From high above the yard looks like an old-fashioned department store’s model railroad Christmas display. If from tall heights people look like ants, then the Union Pacific locomotives, painted in their yellow and black coats, appear like so many worker bees buzzing around the hive. If you’re into this sort of thing, and I confess that I am, it can be mesmerizing. I found myself staring down on the trains for what seemed like an hour before I even blinked.

Suspender-clad retired train buffs are stationed around the tower to provide a running color commentary for the goings on below. As a train hauling 100 cars of coal slid by, the guide pointed to twin smokestacks, each as tall as a fifty-story building, just visible in the haze on the western horizon. They loom over the Gerard Gentleman Station; a coal-fired power plant that is Nebraska’s largest. The guide noted that this plant alone can burn over 19,000 tons of coal, or enough to fill about 150 freight cars, per day. I repeat, per day. That’s a lot of coal but just a drop in the bucket compared to the 500 million tons passing through North Platte each year.

You can watch all this activity from an indoor viewing platform with panoramic windows and an outdoor platform as well. The Golden Spike Tower is one of those travel experiences that won’t compare to anything else that you’ll ever see. I highly recommend it.

We’ve taken road trips all over the world but still love driving around America the most due to the wide variety of unusual roadside attractions in the United States. One of the more off-beat highlights of our autumn road trip across America was visiting Carhenge in Nebraska. Just north of downtown Alliance, it’s a faithful reproduction of the ancient site of Stonehenge in England. Carhenge was built in 1987 by Jim Reinders and his family as a memorial to his father and stands on his father’s farm. In keeping with the original Stonehenge’s reputed astronomical significance, it was dedicated during that year’s summer solstice.

visiting carhenge in nebraska

The cars are painted gray to resemble the original standing stones at Stonehenge. Surprisingly the wheels on the cars still spin.

carhenge nebraska

When the automotive sculpture was first erected the town elders of Alliance didn’t know what to make of it and wanted it torn down. But people started coming from all over the world to view the unique artwork so the locals now embrace it as a visitor attraction.

carhenge in america

Carhenge is definitely worth a trip. Considering the remote location in the far northwest corner of Nebraska I was surprised that there was a steady flow of people coming to see it on a blustery weekday in October.

Larissa Michael Carhenge Nebraska (800x666)

Right next to it is a “Car Art Reserve” with newer sculptures made out of cars and car parts. There’s even an “auto-graph” car people can write on. During the summer the appropriately named Pit Shop Gift Shop is open for souvenirs.

carhenge art reserve

For updated information go to: http://carhenge.com/. Admission is free. And be sure to stop a few miles north on Route 87 to see one of the more unusual rest stops we’ve come across.

Michael Nebraska straw rest stop recliner (800x636)

Visiting Carhenge in Nebraska

Visiting Carhenge in Nebraska is easy. It’s located on Highway 87, three miles north of downtown Alliance. Alliance is in the northwest section of the state that is sometimes referred to as the “Outback of Nebraska.” If you’re hitting all the top sights on a cross-country road trip, Carhenge is only a 2 1/2 hour drive south of Mount Rushmore. Which is really just a drop in the bucket for those of you who crave long drives. [youtube]http://youtu.be/CD-PKgrvXfk[/youtube]


28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.