Covered wagons carried pioneers and their belongings westward at an average of 10 miles per day. Since the wagons were crowded with belongings and food, everyone who could walk had to. At this speed, how many days would it take a class to walk from Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska, back to their school?

Such questions build critical thinking at Pioneer Village, where exhibits are arranged in chronological order to vividly portray how America grew from the open hearth and grease lamp to supersonic speed and cell phones. Often described as the “Smithsonian of the Plains,” the village is located a short 15-minute drive south of Interstate I-80.

“Visitors from around the world use words like ‘fantastic,’ ‘a wonderful American treasure,’ ‘amazing’ and ‘remarkable’ to describe the 50,000 items in 28 buildings,” said Marshall Nelson, the village’s general manager.

Pioneer Village automobiles and airplanes
Credit: Pioneer Village

Students marvel at items like a steam carousel and the world’s oldest Buick. They find wagons, buggies, saddles, guns, trains, 350 antique automobiles, 100 tractors, 20 aircraft, Rogers’ statuary and historic buildings. There are seven generations of kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms from 1830 to 1980. 

Nelson said the groups that visit are most surprised by the diversity of its collection. The village gives visitors the chance to experience the development of current technologies through the original technologies developed by forefathers.

“The collections encompass virtually every field of human endeavor,” Nelson said. “The museum is full of the actual items used by our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, as well as ourselves.

“When you experience the things from your past that were meaningful to you, you take away a sense of family, belonging and heritage, and the recognition of how our forefathers were able to survive and develop from the merger life of the 1800s to the world in which we now live,” he said.

Pioneer Village has served the student travel market for more than 65 years. There is front-door loading and unloading, easy motorcoach parking and the opportunity for a step-on welcome.

Nelson noted there are areas to sit down and rest, and shade trees. During the summer months, a snack bar is available for students to order drinks and old-fashioned burgers, chili cheese dogs and root beer floats. “It is an extremely relaxed atmosphere — never crowded,” Nelson said. “Our guests can pick the areas they are most interested in and pass on the buildings they are less interested in, and still truly enjoy themselves.”

For more information, call 308-832-1181 or visit pioneervillage.org.

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Cortney Erndt oversees Student Group Tour magazine and contributes to all Group Tour Media publications, online and in print. She has an affinity for adventure travel; find her on a sky ledge — maybe sky diving — and reporting on it. Her favorite destinations connect cityscapes with captivating culture and good coffee.