Today, you can travel via Interstate 80 some of the Hundredth Meridian Expedition Route taken in 1866 by 150 special guests of the Union Pacific Railroad. I wrote about the “First Wild West Show” on June 6, 2016. That post discussed how the Union Pacific’s “Doc” Durant’s staged a wild west show during the excursion he hosted to tour the construction progress on the first transcontinental railroad.
Modern Interstate 80 whisks an automobile driver rapidly across southern Nebraska from Omaha to North Platte, then on into Wyoming. The first half of the highway journey in this direction does not follow the original route of the Union Pacific Railroad. It is not until you are about half way across the state that the road begins to parallel the initial tracks laid down by the first transcontinental railroad.
To reach Columbus, Nebraska, the site of Durant’s Wild West Show, you must travel 75 to 80 miles off I-80. You can visit the Platte County Museum in Columbus, but there is nothing left of the original Hundredth Meridian Expedition campsite. http://www.megavision.net/museum/index.htm
I-80 and the original railroad come together near Grand Island, Nebraska. A short distance west, you reach Kearney, site of old Fort Kearny State Historic Park, which was passed by Durant’s special train. An unusual museum exists near here. Spanning the traffic lanes of I-80 is the Great Platte River Road Archway. It provides the visitor with excellent life-size representations of traveling across Nebraska in earlier times. http://archway.org/
About half way between Kearney and North Platte, you come to Cozad, Nebraska. This is where Durant erected his “monument” commemorating the Hundredth Meridian victory which awarded to the Union Pacific the right to continue building westward. In Cozad, you can visit the museum to learn more. https://www.facebook.com/100th-Meridian-Museum-225548467456024/
The original excursionists traveled as far as Platte City, now North Platte, Nebraska, on the Union Pacific’s rails. In October 1866, the UP provided service between Omaha and Platte City. Visit the railroad museum here. http://visitnorthplatte.com/attraction/cody-park-railroad-museum/
If you don’t make any stops, the modern automobile driver can travel from Omaha to North Platte in half a day. In 1866, the participants on the Hundredth Meridian Expedition made the journey in two days, traveling at the fastest speed then known for man–forty miles per hour.