Today was a day of trails and tracks. We started our day at the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri. The Museum is an interpretative center that focuses on the three main westward trails that jumped off in or around the small frontier village of Independence, the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails.
The Santa Fe Trail is about 1200 miles long and connects Franklin, Missouri with Santa Fe, which was part of Mexico at the time the trail was established. The Oregon Trail is a 2000 mile trail that connects Independence with Oregon City in the Oregon Territory. The California Trail is also about 2000 miles long and follows much of Oregon Trail – but splits in what would now be Idaho and heads down to the northern California Territory. Back in the days the trails were used it was normal to cover about 15 to 20 miles a day so it would between 100 and 133 (or more) days to get from Missouri to the west coast.
It is estimated that about 400,000 people went on the westward migration trails from 1840 and 1860. We frequently hear how difficult life was on the trail, however a movie presentation at the museum said that about 90% of the people survived the trip. Although that percentage is higher than I expected to hear, there still were a lot of people that did not make it. Near the start of the museum we found these maps that showed the difference that 40 years between 1840 and 1880 made in the United States, I would have liked to see a map for the mid-point also.
Looking at this exhibit we both remembered the computer game Oregon Trail, in which you played the part of wagon master, outfitting and guiding your wagon trail from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Although the game was first written in 1971 it proved to be such a popular tool to teach children the about the pioneer life it has been upgraded and rereleased many times and was published on the Wii just last year.
As we continued through the museum we realized that the people that traveled to relocate west were might be considered the long-time RVers. After looking the wagons we became very glad we live now and not back then.
We learned a lot from the various exhibits. In the last room there was a poster on the wall that compared a wagon of yesteryear (covered) to a common one seen on the roads today (Ford Explorer) and it was interesting to note that they both have keyless entry. They also had an area where you could load your wagon with provisions making sure you keep the weight in line with the carrying capacity. A yellow light would illuminate to show you were nearing capacity and he red would light when you were over, however the exhibit was not working (but it would be nice if our RV had those lights).
On to the Tracks – Sharing the same parking lot of the National Frontier Trails Museum is renovated Independence station of the Chicago and Alton Railroad. The railroad ran from Chicago to St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri from 1861 to the 1940’s when it was taken over by the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad.
A group of volunteers did an incredible job restoring the station and collecting all kinds of memorabilia from the era. The stationmasters office included a couple of Edison Battery Jars (we visited Edison’s Lab last May), and some teletype keys (the guide said that the teletype was still used into the early 1960’s in the stationmasters office).
I did not realize that the stationmaster was required to be onsite 24 hours a day, 7 days a week like the light keeper in a lighthouse. The stationmaster and his family lived on the second story of the station.
It included all kinds of wonderful items like an Edison phonograph (which still plays), an old sewing machine and a candle by the hour.
We also learned that Abraham Lincoln worked for the Chicago and Alton Railroad very early in his legal career procuring the right of way for rail tracks. When Lincoln was running for President, the Chicago and Alton Railroad said they would build a Presidential Rail Car for him should he win. That was the train car that carried the Presidents body from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois.
We really enjoyed looking at all the signal lanterns they had collected and had on display throughout the station. However the conductors pocket watch really caught my eye (I wonder if it makes train sounds like my Mickey one does when it is opened in the sunlight).