Hard driving, Hells Angels and lots of pit stops

 Hard driving, Hells Angels and lots of pit stops

Now I know how Class A motorhome drivers live. They spend lots of time checking their mirrors, looking for places to park that are big enough to handle their length and…. visiting gas stations.

As we are towing a 21-foot travel trailer behind our Roadtrek on a family caravan vacation trip to the Rockies, I’ve found towing very easy and parking not so bad as long as I don’t try pulling in to fast food places with my 30-foot-plus length.

iowacorn
Tall Iowa corn

Truthfully, I’ve quickly gotten used to towing and with 1,000-pus miles under my belt as we pulled into Gothenberg, Nebraska last night, the only complaint I have is what towing a trailer has done to my fuel consumption.

Where before my 2012 Roadtrek eTrek averaged 17-18 mpg, towing the 2,780 extra pounds in the trailer has dropped it to 11-12 mpg.

Still, it’s well worth it to be all together as a family.

This is now my third trip west along I-80 and I have forgotten how much corn they grow our here in the prairie. And how tall it is, easily eight feet in most fields.

The biggest challenge we’ve had so far is group sight seeing with three big dogs. Someone always has to stay outside or behind to tend to the dogs.

The biggest excitement yesterday was having lunch with a bunch of Hells Angels motorcycle club members. About a dozen of them from the California chapter pulled into the same Kum & Go gas station and Subway restaurant we chose west of Des Moines. A guy named Demento told me they were headed to Sturgis, SD and the big motorcycle week doings up there.

They seemed like nice enough guys. In the Subway, one of them groused that there was a steakhouse up the road and he couldn’t figure out why they were eating at a Subway rather than a steakhouse. One of the other members said they could eat steak tonight and that about ended the discussion.

Steak sounded pretty good to me, too, but with all the extra fuel expenses, I’m lucky I can afford Subway.

As we pulled out of the station, we saw an Iowa State Police cruiser backed into the Kum & Go keeping an eye on the Hells Angels.

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Dog juggling

We drove 480 miles yesterday from Amana, Iowa to get to this little community, which bills itself as “the the Pony Express Capital of Nebraska” because of a restored station in town that is a great tourist stop. Gothensberg is near the original route of the Oregon Trail and right on the Pony Express route west.

The Pony Express was in existence a very short time – from April 3, 1860 to late October 1861 and provided the fastest mail delivery between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California.  As explained by the Nebraska Tourism folks, the whole reason it existed was promotional –  to draw public attention to the central route in hope of gaining the million dollar government mail contract for the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak express Company.

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Gothenberg, NE Pony Express Station

pony2In total there were 183 men that were riders for the Pony Express during this period of just over 18 months.  They had to be young, skinny men, not over 18 and must have been expert riders.  It was said they had to be willing to risk death daily and that orphans were preferred.  Most of the riders were around 20 with the youngest of them 11 and the oldest was in his mid-40s.  The average weight was 120 pounds.

These men worked for $100 a month.  The riders traveled for between 75 and 100 miles with fresh horses being provided every 10 to 15 miles.  The speed of the horses averaged 10 miles an hour.  The mix of breeds included thoroughbreds, mustangs, pintos, and Morgans.  There were approximately 165 stations along the route of almost 2,000 miles.

The cost of a 1/2 ounce letter was $5 when the rides began but by the end of the Pony Express the price had dropped to $1 per 1/2 ounce.

The end of the Pony Express happened on October 24, 1861.  With the outbreak of the Civil War and the lack of getting the government contract and the debt incurred by the owners the route could not be continued. The Pony Express station in Gothensberg is open from   8am – 8 pm during the summer and 9 – 6 in May and September.

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Hua Hua and Rachel check out the sod house

Also in Gothensberg and right off I-80 at the town exit  211 is a sod house.

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Historic photo of sod house from the late 1800’s

Sod houses or “soddies,” as they were also known, were built on the prairies from the sod of thickly rooted prairie grass by the settlers and were forerunners to the log cabins in North America. The sod was used primarily as there weren’t standard building materials such as wood or stone on the prairies. The houses were naturally very cheap to build and surprisingly well insulated but were susceptible to damp and even rain damage.

The Sod House Museum is a red barn shaped authentic replica of the sod houses built by early settlers in this region and was established in 1988. The lives and working practices of the settlers is honored here with memorabilia and photographs taken during the pioneer era. The inside of the sod houses were pretty sparse reflecting the hard times experienced by the settlers who lived there. The women who work at the musem tell fascinating tales of life on the prairie and its many hardships. Many of the women settlers here, isolated in such big country, committed suicide.

One story they told us involved a variation of the sod house, lean-to houses carved into the sides of hills. Seemed that sometimes,snakes would some down through the earthen roofs of some of these dugout homes, dropping right on the floor.

We’ll stick with our RVs, thank you very much.

We spent the night at the Gothenberg KOA, a pleasant shaded little campground just a half mile from the Interstate.

Off we go again today, 360 miles to Colorado Springs, CO and the Cheyenne Mountain State Park.

But first, I better fill up.

Mike Wendland

Mike is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road. He enjoys camping (obviously), hiking, biking, fitness, photography, kayaking, video editing, and all things dealing with technology and the outdoors. See and subscribe to his RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube, where he has hundreds of RV and travel related videos. His PC MIke TV reports, on personal technology are distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations.

20 Comments

  • are you going to try boondocking at all? does the trailer have any batteries, or does it have to be plugged in to work? you could run an extension cord from the E-Trek… ­čśë

  • I’m really enjoying the history lesson you are bringing to us. I had no idea about the Amana Society and now this little gem. Many years ago I once had the privilege of knowing and talking to a woman who had travelled the Oregon Trail in covered wagon. Your report has brought this wonderful story back to me. Thanks Wendland Caravan.

  • Did you have to pay for 2 spots at KOA? Enjoying your adventure.

  • Mike,

    I’m one of those folks who love the Nebraska Sand Hills. The play of the morning and evening light on the prairie is, in my view, pretty special. We’re envious! The fuel mileage drop is a small price to pay for the memories you’ll have after this trip.

    Thanks for taking us along!

    Bill

  • Hi Mike & Jen,
    Enjoying your family travels.
    I think your total length with trailer is closer to 45′ than 30′ and you will find it much easier to use truck stops.
    If you are going to be near Denver, Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora is wonderful campground. I rate it a 10.
    We just returned from a 5 week, 1400 mile trip in our class B Krystal. No problems with the Sprinter or coach but sorry to be home so soon!
    Harry

  • I saw the caravan going through Council Bluffs yesterday. Looks like you’re still getting better MPG than most big class A’s. Have fun & be safe. ­čÖé

  • Hi,
    Hope you are having a great trip!
    Is your TT really only 2280 pounds?
    Seems really light.

  • Bryan…. The trailer really is only 2,780 pounds. I’m letting Mike do the driving, but feeling a little guilty for not stepping up.

  • Jennifer,

    I say go for it! But Carolyn would say don’t. Backing is the hardest part. Old trucker trick for backing….. put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and move it in the direction you want the trailer to go. Make small corrections, have fun, and be ready to laugh at yourself.

    Happy travels!

    Bill

  • Bill….. We love the sand hills as well. I’ve been telling our kids how beautiful the drive is on highway 2. Because we have reservations we can’t take our time. We already have seen things we would like to have done a video on, but we are on a schedule. We will have to come back next summer so we can show how great this land is and how many wonder stories there are to be shared.

  • Jennifer,

    We have dear friends in Ord, Callaway, and Harrison. All have ranches and all say park here any time. The wonders of footloose small coach travel cannot be minimized.

    We’re looking forward to Rt. 2 next spring. The wildflowers should be special.

    Bill

  • HI MIke, it was fun reading about your visit to Gothensberg. I drove through several years ago and found the park by accident. We stopped and had lunch. We also spend time at the Pony Express museum. Since we lived in Sacramento Ca. for many year, the end of the pony express line our goal now is to visit St. Joseph MO. Safe travels.

  • Cheryl…… We did buy two spots at the KOA. The poor KOA people told us they got 5 inches of rain in a couple of hours on Thursday. They must have had some wind as well because there were many tree limbs down. The septic field seems to be challenged, enough said. We were so late arriving we picked up a couple of pizzas and had a fun dinner, a camp fire and a good nights sleep.

  • Campskunk…. We are driving machines the first couple of days. The plan was to stay at the KOA so the girls could swim after two days of driving, but we got there too late for a swim. We were having so much fun yesterday morning we couldn’t get eight of us moving.

  • Did you know that Buffalo Bill Cody was one of the youngest Pony Express riders?

  • Hi Jennifer ,looks like you have dog duty .what a great vacation enjoyed you historical descriptions no sod houses for us Joe and Ginny Farrug

  • Looks like fun, my 6 would fill out that picture for sure.

  • #missingout

  • Add 2 german shepherds sorry 8 lol

  • I TOLD my husband we could rv in a Road Trek with our Goldendoodle, but he insisted we really wouldn’t be able to manage it with BOTH of them (both >60#). So, ok, I guess he’s right, but you guys sure do look like you have fun and do fine with ONE big dog. Question though, where do you find room to store their food? And where do they sleep? We ended up with a 45-footer, and can’t go where you all can (and I would easily share the driving in a Road Trek, but I’m not gonna be driving this rig!).

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