Column: Archway pays tribute to enduring spirit of pioneers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 22, 2008

By Al Batt, Nature’s World

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

&8220;How are you doing?&8221; I ask.

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&8220;I am so poor, I heat my house with a toaster. When I use my toaster at night, I set it for dark. I&8217;m cleaning my house. My mother said that my house is so dirty that she had to clean her feet to go outside.&8221;

&8220;I never thought I&8217;d ever hear you say you&8217;re cleaning your house,&8221; I say.

&8220;I&8217;ll get it done if nothing breaks or bends. I have to protect my period furniture.&8221;

&8220;You have period furniture?&8221; I ask.

&8220;Sure. You know the kind. You have it for a period of time and then they take it back. I had an insurance salesman over today. He was trying to sell me insurance.&8221;

&8220;Imagine that, an insurance salesman trying to sell you insurance,&8221; I say.

&8220;You shouldn&8217;t have let your stupidity go to your head. Well, sir, the policy peddler asked me if I ever had an accident. I told him that I hadn&8217;t. He was pushy. He said, &8220;Not even one?&8221; I told him not even one, but that a bull had run over me once. The salesman asked, &8216;And you don&8217;t call that an accident?&8217;&8221;

&8220;What did you say?&8221; I ask.

&8220;I told him that it wasn&8217;t any accident. The bull did it on purpose.&8221;

The Great Platte River Road Archway

&8220;We saw the buffalo in rightful droves, as far as the eye could reach, appearing at a distance as if the ground itself was moving like the sea.&8221; &8212; John Wyeth, fur trapper, 1832.

Virginia Reed, survivor of the infamous Donner Party, said, &8220;Never take no cut offs and hurry along as fast as you can.&8221;

Between 1841 and 1866, nearly 350,000 people set along the Great Platte River Road, hoping to find a better life in the West. The distance was vast, the prairie endless, the sky overwhelming, and the mountains and wildlife were unlike anything they had ever seen. These pioneers persevered with will and determination, carrying their cherished belongings in wagons or strapped to burros; and pushed or floated handcarts over mountains, rivers, and valleys.

The Great Platte River Road Archway pays tribute to the enduring spirit of the pioneers. During their trek across America, they encountered Native American tribes; trappers, and traders; stagecoach drivers and passengers; pony express riders; and the telegraph. As the early settlers established their homesteads, they witnessed the birth of the railroads; the Lincoln Highway, America&8217;s first transcontinental road; Interstate 80, the nation&8217;s first interstate; and America&8217;s Information Highway, the fiber optic cable that links a nation today.

The archway began as an idea to memorialize the history of the great Platte River road and the migration of peoples along the route. It is located in Kearney, Neb., where the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails intersected. Ground was broken on July 2, 1998. The archway officially opened on June 9, 2000.

The trellis wings and the wings on the towers speak of winds, flags, energy, sky, waves of water, and fields of wheat and corn. Each tower is eight stories high. The archway&8217;s exterior is designed to resemble a Nebraska sunset. The stainless steel exterior was specifically treated using electricity charged acid to create the yellows, oranges, and reds to tie the exterior colors to the region. The height from the bottom of the Archway to the highway is 30 feet. The highest point of the span is 80 feet above Interstate 80. There are 24 cast figures utilized in the archway with faces modeled from real people. There are 89,000 blades of grass, a 1914 Model T, a 1927 Oldsmobile Touring Car, and a 1961 Cadillac convertible.

The design and engineering challenge was determining how to erect a 1,500-ton structure that would cross 308 feet of a heavily traveled interstate without impeding traffic. It was concluded that the structure be built beside the highway and lifted into position. Since the archway emulates a covered bridge, two towers were erected &8212; one on each side of the road &8212; that served as anchors for the archway bridge to rest. The concrete abutment walls are 60 feet long, 25 feet tall, and 2 feet thick.

The archway was built on the south side of I-80 and moved into position. The freeway was shut down during the evening and early morning hours of Aug. 16-17, 1999, as it took 10 hours to roll the archway into place. The rollout required the use of rubber-tired, self-propelled modular transporters. The archway was raised vertically 22.5 feet with hydraulic jacks and placed on temporary cribbing and a horizontal jacking beam. On the beam, the archway was jacked horizontally, 42 inches at a time. This jacking process took a total of eight days.

The Miami Herald described the archway as a &8220;splashy, brassy history museum that uses film, computer graphics, light and sound, life-size dioramas, re-enactors, and classic cars to document over 150 years of transportation and communication across America.&8221; The Archway brings the westward migration to life. I witnessed the thrills of news coming to a distant trail, a buffalo stampede, the words and faces of those who lived and died on the route, the building of the railroad, and the creation of the first transcontinental road (the Lincoln Highway).

I watched a group of people gathered around devices that indicated the speeds of vehicles traveling down I-80 under the archway. People move a little faster today than those whose stories are presented in the archway.

Q and A

&8220;How can turkey vultures eat what they do?&8221; Vultures have good eyesight and a very keen sense of smell. They can sense dead things at great distances. A vulture can eat up to 25 percent of its body weight in one feast. Occasionally, a vulture will eat so much it can&8217;t become airborne, so it will waddle around while it digests the meal. If they are startled while too gorged to fly, they have a simple solution. They vomit and then take wing. As to your question, how can vultures eat all that dead stuff and not get sick? They have special chemicals in their systems that allow them to digest such foods without poisoning themselves.

Thanks for stopping by

&8220;I will waste not even a precious second today in anger or hate or jealousy or selfishness. I know that the seeds I sow I will harvest, because every action, good or bad, is always followed by an equal reaction. I will plant only good seeds this day.&8221; &8212; Og Mandino

&8220;Four short words sum up what has lifted most successful individuals above the crowd: a little bit more. They did all that was expected of them and a little bit more.&8221; &8212; A. Lou Vickery


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at