Thank you to April Berry from Minivan Adventures, for this Guest post.
On our Nebraska vacation portion of our summer road trip, we were looking for things to do in Nebraska along I-80 and great Nebraska attractions.
When I learned that our summer road trip would take us right by The City of North Platte I knew a stop at the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard and the overlooking Golden Spike Tower was a must. The Golden Spike Tower is really just one of the many surprising things to do in Nebraska along I-80.
You see, trains hold a special place in my family’s heart. My father-in-law loves trains. He builds model trains, he takes my children to railroad-related attractions, he shares interesting facts and stories about trains… and not surprisingly, he has passed along a little of his passion to my husband and I and our three children.
But even if we weren’t railroad enthusiasts, it would have been an interesting and worthwhile stop. Bailey Yard is impressive to see with its seemingly endless rows of train cars and its intricate sorting and repair systems. And, you can easily observe the hustle and bustle of this railroad yard from the viewing areas of the neighboring Golden Spike Tower.
Golden Spike Tower and The Union Pacific Bailey Yard
^Planning A Trip Along Nebraska’s I-80? Pin It To Your Roadtrip Pinterest Board!^
Golden Spike Tower features an 8-story observation tower, a visitor center, and gift shop, and a Union Pacific train car on display. Most importantly, it provides the best view of Bailey Yard.
And, in the railroad industry, Bailey Yard is a pretty big deal. (Just ask my father-in-law!)
As the world’s largest railroad classification yard, Bailey Yard handles 14,000 rail cars daily along its 315 sets of tracks, two classification humps and 120 bowl rolls.
One of the most interesting features of Bailey Yard is the classification humps. These humps are used to ensure cargo reaches its correct destination. Using one of the two humps, rail cars are detached from an incoming train, sorted, and switched to the appropriate outgoing train.
About 3,000 cars are sorted daily at this gigantic railroad yard!
The Baily Yard Cam
Here is a great video to show you just how impressive the operation really is.
You can also watch the official Bailey Yard Live Cam Here, which is always fun to see what is going on in real time!
Other Interesting Facts about Bailey Yard:
On average, 139 trains pass through Bailey Yard every single day.
- The hump yards can sort four rail cars per minute.
- 8,500 locomotives per month are serviced in the fueling and service center.
- Bailey Yard replaces about 10,000 pairs of wheels annually.
(Source: https://goldenspiketower.com/bailey-yard/ )
So, yeah, Bailey Yard is definitely a big deal in the railroad industry!
And from the Golden Spike Tower, you get a bird’s eye view as all of this train handling excitement unfolds.
Our Family’s Visit to the Golden Spike Tower
As we pulled into the parking lot, our children excitedly noted that the overlook tower is “even shaped like a spike” and pointed out a bright yellow Union Pacific Train Car on display outside of the tower.
We entered the Golden Spike Visitor Center, approached the desk, and paid our admission fees. (Find information about location, admission prices and hours of operation below.)
It was an unexpected bonus to find that each admission came with a nice sturdy souvenir ticket! We are pretty frugal travelers and rarely purchase souvenirs. So our children were thrilled to have a souvenir to bring home as a reminder of this experience.
After paying our admission fees, we sat down to watch a welcome video. It shared information about the history and operation of the Union Pacific Railroad Bailey Yard. My husband and I found the video interesting, and my youngest children were delighted to discover train toys to play with in the room. Win, win!
After the video, we rode the elevator up to the observation areas of the Golden Spike Tower. The tower offers two separate observation areas – open air viewing on floor seven and a window-enclosed viewing area on floor eight.
TIP: Bring binoculars. Also, bring a camera with decent zoom capabilities if you are hoping for close-up pictures of train cars.
We visited the open air observation deck first. This is the best viewing area for taking pictures. It allows you to fully take in the sights and sounds of the rail yard and is less crowded. This level also has some coin-operated binoculars (which my children loved).
Next, we moved on to the eighth floor observation area. This space is fully enclosed with windows. Besides the great views overlooking the railroad classification yard, it had a few interesting displays. Also, there were helpful volunteer guides on hand to answer questions.
One of the volunteer guides showed us a model of the Bailey Yard’s engine repair facilities. He pointed out that the man who built the model used toy army men to represent workers. We looked closer, and sure enough, you could tell the figures throughout the model facility were army figurines carrying weapons instead of train repair tools. We all had a good chuckle over that!
Each member of our family found something different to like about our Golden Spike Tower experience.
My husband and I enjoyed watching the classification hump as it sorted railcars. Over the years, my train-loving father-in-law had told me about classification humps but I never fully understood how it worked… until I saw one in action at Bailey Yard. It was mesmerizing to watch train cars detach one or two at a time from an incoming train and roll gently down the slope to one of the many bowl tracks where it would be connected to the appropriate departing train.
My teenager was impressed with the graffiti he found on many of the train cars. Not only did he admire the cartoonish letters and artistic graphics, but it helped him to identify train cars as they moved throughout the yard.
My ten year old was amazed at the overwhelming number of railroad cars. “It’s like there are train cars as far as I can see,” he said. (He was also impressed that there were corn fields as far as he could see in the opposite direction.)
And, my seven-year-old enjoyed using binoculars to see everything and anything up close.
After visiting the viewing areas, we returned to the Visitor Center and Gift Shop to look around and shop. We bought some postcards for ourselves. We also purchased some train-themed playing cards and a Union Pacific cap for my father-in-law.
With our purchases and souvenir tickets in hand, we exited the building. On our way to the parking lot, we stopped by the bright yellow Union Pacific train car on display. It is a great place to snap group photos which, of course, is what we did. My favorite photo was of our three children in front of the train car proudly holding their souvenir tickets up in the air.
Overall, we had a great experience at the Golden Spike Tower. We would highly recommend it to others. Even if you aren’t a railroad buff, it’s worth a stop.
Location, Hours of Operation and Admission Rates
The Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center is located at 1249 N. Homestead Road in North Platte, Nebraska.
In October through April, this observation tower and visitor center is open daily from 10am until 5pm, and in May through September, it is open for extended hours of 9am until 7pm.
At the time of our visit, prices were as follows:
- $7.00 – Adults
- $6.00 – Seniors (62+)
- $5.00 – Students (6-16)
- FREE – Small Children (5 and under)
* Please check the Golden Spike Tower Website for current prices and hours of operation.
Do we recommend visiting the Golden Spike Tower? YES! It is a great family-friendly stop for anyone with even the smallest interest in railroads and trains.
Will you visit North Platte to stop by the Golden Spike Tower?
April Berry loves to pile into the minivan with her husband and three children for road trips throughout the United States in search of unique destinations, quirky roadside attractions, and waterfalls. Check out MinivanAdventures.com to read about her family’s latest hikes and road trip stops. You can also follow her minivan on Facebook and Twitter.