Steam Wagon plaque.

Where The Steam Wagon Broke Down

Field review by the editors.

Nebraska City, Nebraska

In 1862, Nebraska City already knew that it would not be on the planned route of the Transcontinental Railroad -- and enjoy the economic boom that would come with it. So the city was intrigued by a proposal from a Minnesota inventor, Joseph Renshaw Brown, for a "railroad without rails," pulled by "steam wagon," that could cross the trackless prairie all the way to the Rocky Mountains from anywhere, even Nebraska City.

Steam Wagon monument.

The nine-ton machine, dubbed the "Prairie Motor," was painted red, fueled by burning wood, and it was huge, with wheels 12 feet high. Brown, aided by a crew of three, set off west for Denver with much fanfare on July 22, a trip of 535 miles. He had only traveled five miles when Nebraska City's miracle machine broke down. A team of horses had to drag it to a nearby lodge, Brown went back to Minnesota, and what remained of the abandoned Prairie Motor was eventually broken up for scrap.

All that remains of "the first self propelled road vehicle used west of the Missouri River" is an old stone monument with a bronze plaque on a rural road, marking the spot where the steam wagon broke down.

Where The Steam Wagon Broke Down

Address:
5599-5585 H Rd, Nebraska City, NE
Directions:
West of the city. Take NE-2 west two miles from its intersection with US-75. Turn north, just east of the weigh station, onto Co Rd 56. Drive north a half-mile until he road ends. Turn left onto H Rd. Drive about a hundred yards. You'll see the monument on the right: a large rock with a plaque bolted to it.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Whispering BenchWhispering Bench, Nebraska City, NE - 3 mi.
John Brown's Cave and Secret TunnelsJohn Brown's Cave and Secret Tunnels, Nebraska City, NE - 4 mi.
Kregel Windmill Factory MuseumKregel Windmill Factory Museum, Nebraska City, NE - 4 mi.
In the region:
Dairy Sweet Papa Burger, Auburn, NE - 20 mi.

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