Ken's Journal
No. 4 - Summer 2004

Council Bluffs, Iowa - 07/01 - 07/05/2004
Days 5-9 on the road. Part I.

  Council Bluffs, Iowa, 07/01, Thursday, Day 5, Mostly Sunny, 80 at 4:00 PM, Regular Gasoline - $1.69 to $1.79.

After a two day run from Nashville, I set up camp by 4:00 PM in a campground run by a casino, Bluff's Run Casino, a Harrah's venture.  There is a Harrah's just down the road a few miles too. Bluff's Run is all slots, while the Harrah's includes card games, roulette and craps. My guess is that Bluff's run is for the low rollers, like me, while Harrah's is for the high rollers - of whom I know none. I did OK at Bluff's run. They have electronic slots which take only currency or a chit but no coins. Each slot is controlled by a central management computer . . . and whatever, chance plays little part in the payouts . . . but I did collect enough for a couple weeks on the road. Enough said about gambling.

I was in Council Bluffs for the 4th of July weekend with an RV travel group, Singles International (SI), a chapter of the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA). You can recognize FMCA members by the black and silver, pewter looking oval medallions on the back or front of their coach. The medallion features the owners number - a lifetime assignment.

Anyhow, SI is a nice group. I'm single too. They travel a little differently than I do and their goals are a little different too. I'm still in the "See the USA" mode of point-to-point travel to see all the highlights our great country has to offer. Sometimes, or really more often than not, I'm a tourist more than a traveler - SI members are more travelers. The distinction is not that difficult to understand - a tourist is more of a hit-and-run person - they are in town to see the sights and leave for the next town before they've even digested the local cuisine. A traveler stays around for awhile to digest the local ambiance. Right now, I'm somewhere in the middle and I have my own agenda - depending on how I feel at the time.

This particular SI group was on a tour of the Lewis and Clark trail - from Iowa to South and North Dakota to Montana, Idaho and Oregon. They travel a couple hundred miles between stops and stay from one to several days at each. If you don't want to do the whole tour, they encourage you to join and leave the tour where you wish - freedom of choice is a keystone of the organization. I chose to both join and leave the group at Council Bluffs.

Anyhow, even though we are in the middle of nowhere in Omaha/Council Bluffs (check a map), there is a lot to do and see - at least for a few days.  The "planned" agenda includes a lot of activities - from visits to historic homes to local markets to museums. Every evening at 5:00 PM there is a "happy hour" where we discuss the next days activities. If there is no interest in a specific activity, we don't do it. For the activities where there is enough interest, carpooling and meeting times are decided.

One of the first activities was a visit to a local railroad museum, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in downtown Council Bluffs. This is a professional and well executed presentation of the history of the railroads in the American West. "In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln created the Union Pacific Railroad and directed the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific to build our first transcontinental railroad from Council Bluffs IA to Sacramento CA." This museum portrays that development of American progress in an engaging and interesting display. Although there is no period rolling stock at the museum, the three floor presentation in a restored downtown library is rich in the history of the period of the growth of the west and a great learning experience. Admission is free, but a donation is suggested. If you are in Council Bluffs anyhow, or passing through on business, this is worth the stop if you have any interest in railroading history.  


For photography, most of the exhibits are poorly lit and of little interest without several paragraphs of monologue. Here's a shot of a period SP emblem run on the rolling stock of the time. 


Another period emblem - from the KATY line.


Council Bluffs is still a Union Pacific town. UP has a major switching and makeup hub downtown and on some of the major streets, you may have a wait while a train passes. Schedule your travels through town wisely.


  I did find another railroad museum in the downtown - the Railswest Railroad Museum and HO Model Display. This museum is a privately funded effort located in a restored 1899 Rock Island Depot. They display many railroad artifacts, an operating HO-gauge model railroad layout and an outside display of two engines and five cars dating from 1901 to 1969. Although the enthusiasts running the museum have done an excellent job in collection and presentation, it is obvious they're restoration efforts are seriously under funded.   The rolling stock was donated and moved to the site by the Union Pacific, but that's where the donations ended. Admission is $10.

(The picture on the right of the interior of a railcar presented particularly difficult lighting opportunities. The inside was dim but lit by bright light coming in through the windows. You could choose to expose for the light coming through the windows - and most automatic cameras would choose to do that - but then the interior would be in dark shadow - blocked up. I chose to lose detail in the highlights coming from the windows and exposed for the shadows - you can see the detail in the decrepit sofas and chairs but the windows are totally blown out. I made an exposure decision based on what I wanted to show.)


The restored Rock Island Depot and Station. Currently operating Union Pacific tracks run just a few feet to the right of this picture.


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