The automobile was an even greater influence on tourism in this country than the railroads. People still wanted to go to the National Parks and other attractions but now they could drive themselves and go exactly where they wanted to go. The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway and was quite an adventure to traverse. It was the “Main Street Across America” and brought wealth to the hundreds of towns that it went through and was really the start of Nebraska tourism . Other cities saw the advantages of these roads and eventually the US Highway system made roads throughout the country.
What really got the Americans on the road though was the end of World War II. Americans had suffered through years of the Great Depression and the War and they were ready to travel. This new prosperity around the country, with soldiers and sailors coming home from the war ready to start families that had been put on hold for so long, provided the fuel for this new tourism industry. New jobs provided two week vacations and Americans in droves hopped in their cars and headed out to other parts of the country. Travel games like roadside bingo and sing-along’s in the car helped past the hours until the family rested for the night in the new style “motels” that travelers found along the highways.
Kids in the backseat were crying “are we there yet?” and travel games could only provide so much entertainment so the invention of the roadside attraction came into being. Souvenir shops cropped up along roadways throughout the country many times associated with some type of attraction or unusual building architecture. My cousin, Chuck Henline who owns Fort Cody Trading Post in North Platte Nebraska defined the business model “You found yourself an old café, put up your own sign, find a two-headed calf, and man, you were in business!”
At that time road signs were cheap and the government didn’t care how many you put up. Paint your own signs during the off season and give the farmer that owned the land along the highway a small gift at Christmas and you were set. Pioneer Village in Minden Nebraska had hundreds of road signs along the highways and of course probably the most famous of roadside sign builders was Wall Drug in South Dakota even having signs in foreign countries.
Walt Disney called them “wienies” the focal point in a building that would draw attention and create interest so you would want to come closer for a look. The souvenir shops along the roadside in the 1950’s and 1960’s had plenty of “wienies.” It could be the shape of a tee pee like my parents and grandparents shop, the Wigwam, or a fort like my cousins Fort Cody in North Platte Nebraska or some other form to attract attention.
Our present store, the Stagecoach, has sold Nebraska souvenirs since 1973 and used to have a fort like structure with a large “Stagecoach” sign on the front. After a remodel in 2013, the Stagecoach now has more of an old western Victorian saloon façade. This new “weinie” has been our best advertising ever.
After being lured to the store you never knew what you might see. The Wigwam had a small zoo where we kept monkeys, peacocks, donkeys, bears and other wild animals including a miniature bull named Ferdinand Twice, the bear escaped while my mother was running the store alone. Of course we had a two headed calf, a set of stuffed gophers playing pool and other games, and that most elusive of all wild animals out west, the Jackalope. Out front we had a box with “Baby Rattlers” printed in large letters on the box. Many a wary traveler would sneak up quietly to just find some baby rattles in the box. My cousin Chuck and his dad Royce had Sioux Indian dancers and a miniature replica of Buffalo Bill’s wild west show along with a two headed calf. You had to have a little bit of PT Barnum in you to run a souvenir store in those days.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s you could find any number of souvenir shops along Nebraska highways. In northern Kansas you could find the Pawnee Trading Post in Scandia and the Stagecoach in Smith Center. Some of the sites in Nebraska were the Wigwam in Atlanta and Pioneer Village had a souvenir shop in Harold Warps vast museum, both along Highway 6.
Most of the souvenir shops in Nebraska were along Highway 30, the old Lincoln Highway. In Grand Island just west of town you could find Jerome’s Tee Pee, another of the tee pee shaped buildings found throughout the country. Kearney had the Covered Wagon just west of town that featured oxen and a covered wagon, the ruminants that can still be seen today.
In North Platte my Uncle Royce first built Buffalo Bill Trading Post on land once owned by the famous showman. Later they built Fort Cody Trading Post along highway 30 and eventually moved it next the I-80. Cody Boal, a grandson of Buffalo Bill, also had a souvenir shop for a short time in North Platte. Royce also ran the Sioux Trading Post in Ogallala for quite a few years. Every summer, Chief Whitecalf and his family from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, would work at the Trading Post dancing in Sioux regalia. Further west in Grant was the Oregon Trail Trading Post which featured live Prairie Dogs and Rattlesnakes.
When Interstate 80 finally came through Nebraska in the late 1960’s it changed the whole complexion of the roadside attraction. Tourist traffic along the old highways dried up and souvenir shops either closed up or moved close to the interstate. Pioneer Village, along Highway 6, was an exception to the rule and still operates in its original location. Fort Cody in North Platte moved next to I-80 and Chuck Henline still operates his trading post there. Some of the old operators of these souvenir shops moved to Arizona and began new stores in resort areas.
My Grandparents continued to run the Wigwam until they retired and my parents decided to try their luck along Interstate 80. In 1973 my parents and my brother Greg Glandon opened the Stagecoach about ½ mile north of I-80 in Kearney. Greg decided to leave a few years later and I took his place around 1977 and my wife Susan later joined in. Now, my son Skylar has joined the Stagecoach which brings us into the 4th generation. We have seen many changes at the Stagecoach over the years. When we first opened our doors we had very few neighbors but almost 40 years later we are surrounded by activity. Most of our early souvenirs were inexpensive trinkets. I can remember when our t-shirt salesman first tried to get us to sell shirts that retailed for around $5.00. We had been selling our cheaper shirts for $1.99 and my Dad said we’d never sell those expensive shirts. Today, we sell Black Hills Gold jewelry and some of the finest Native American Jewelry available for hundreds of dollars and more. My Dad and Mom always marveled at this.
We even make some of our own jewelry at the Stagecoach as I am a silversmith and my wife does beautiful beadwork. Many years ago we decided to upscale our merchandise and provide the finest gifts and jewelry. This was one of the best decisions we ever made as our customer base expanded greatly. Although we carry many expensive jewelry pieces we never plan on forgetting our roots. You will always be able to find the souvenir spoon and magnet at the Stagecoach and of course the wily Jackalope on the wall.