Take in the world’s largest rail yard from the top of the Golden Spike Tower
Get a birds-eye view as 10,000 train cars move around this Nebraska rail yard…
If you’ve ever driven I-80 across Nebraska, you already know… It can get a little monotonous. Not to say the gentle, rolling hills aren’t pretty, but after several hours on the highway, it starts to get a little old. Just off the highway in North Platte, however, you’ll find a little surprise: the world’s largest rail yard and the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center.
Golden Spike Tower is a fitting name for the observation tower since just up the road (or rail, I guess we should say?) is Omaha, NE, where officials drove a golden spike into the ground to commemorate the east and west portions of the Union Pacific rail lines meeting. (Central Pacific, you may remember, did the same thing in Sacramento, CA.)
Although the “gold spike” was placed in Omaha, it’s actually here outside North Platte where the east/west lines meet as part of Bailey Yard, the largest rail yard in the world.
The Golden Spike Tower is the result of a nearly 20 year vision started in the 90s after the Union Pacific’s old viewing platform started to deteriorate and local leaders decided the magnificence of Bailey Yard could wow tourists with a birds-eye view. The tower finally opened in the summer of 2008.
Outside the tower, you’ll find a flag flying for each of the 23 states serviced by the Union Pacific Railroad along with commemorative bricks and a vintage dining car. Once restored, the dining car will be just as it was when it served meals to rail travelers several decades ago.
The lobby of the tower features a modest exhibit with the history of Union Pacific along with a gift shop to buy everything from books to coffee mugs. Of course, the real draw is the observation deck. An elevator takes you 7 stories up for an impressive view of the massive Bailey Yard.
Named for Union Pacific president Edd H. Bailey, Union Pacific Railroad's Bailey Yard manages 10,000 rail road cars every single day on its 2,850 acre spread. While the world’s largest train yard today, the yard’s history can be traced back to a single train in the mid-1800s.
Chosen for its close proximity to good water, a necessity back in the steam days, the first train came through in 1866. By 1867, Union Pacific’s Chief Engineer, Grenville Dodge, had constructed a large shop and winter quarters, enough to begin running main line operations through North Platte.
The railroad changed North Platte forever and even attracted some famous people, all eager to use the railroad. By the late 1800s, Buffalo Bill Cody made the town his home base. For the next several decades, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show traveled the country by train and wagon, becoming an American icon.
The town and rail yard also played a major role in WWII, helping ship war products across the country. The North Platte Canteen even provided more than 6 million soldiers with food as they made a short stop in town.
Passenger rail service finally stopped in 1971, but everything other than people still flows through the yard at a staggering rate.
If you’re looking for a quick stop along your I-80 road trip, the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center will give you a view for miles and miles as it lingers over the flat, open spaces of central Nebraska.
All photos via Golden Spike Tower's Facebook page.
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