Sunday, February 7, 2016

Refuge at the Paxton Depot

It was raining when George Wyman arrived in Ogallala, Sunday evening, June 7, 1903.  The locals told him it was a very wet spring and had been raining for nearly two weeks.  He was near the half way point of the first motorized vehicle journey across America, which started in San Francisco on May 16.  With mountain ranges and vast deserts behind him, he was eager to complete the journey and reach his final destination of New York City before July 4th.

Wyman awoke early the morning of June 8.  After a quick breakfast, he departed at 6:45 am east along the road out of town, which followed the tracks of the “Transcontinental Railroad” built some 35 years before.  Wyman was using the Union Pacific RR tracks for navigation, referring to the station guide to mark his position and distance from San Francisco.  When the roads became too difficult, he would often ride his motorcycle along the tracks. 

The road was very muddy and it was a struggle to ride his 1903 “California” motorcycle through the ruts.  Its 90cc, 1.25 horsepower motor propelled him along at 10 to 20 miles per hour over firm dry roads.  But, riding 10 miles of slugging through the mud and sand he switched to the railroad ties.  After going another six miles it began to rain heavily.  The gusty winds and torrential down pours of the thunderstorm made riding almost impossible.  Dismounting, he walked his motorcycle another three miles along the tracks. 

Around 9:30 am, the storm forced Wyman to seek shelter in the Paxton Depot. Built before the turn of the century, the architecture of the Paxton Depot was typical of all small stations along the Union Pacific RR line.  Wyman parked his motorcycle under the shelter of the freight holding area near the Express Office and went inside to dry out.  He was a skilled mechanic by trade and would always take great care to make repairs and adjustments to his motorcycle.  Waiting for a thunderstorm to pass was an excellent opportunity to give the machine a going over.

Shortly after noon, the storm had passed.  Wyman departed the Paxton Depot returning to the road. As the sun came out, he motored at a good pace until reaching a stretch of sand, which caused him to walk the bike for about two miles.  Wyman made the 31 miles to North Platte, where he stopped for gasoline.   He continued another 16 miles to Maxwell and checked into the hotel for the night. 

Wyman chronicled his daily adventures along his route from San Francisco to New York City.  These accounts were mailed and sometimes telegraphed to the Goodman Company in New York City.  It printed his daily reports in five articles published in “The Motorcycle Magazine” and notes from the field in “The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.”  Below, in his own words, is his account of his seeking refuge at the Paxton Depot and his overnight stay in Maxwell.

It is now the time of the heavy rains, cloudbursts and freshets that devastated so much of the Western country during the month of June. It is my luck to be right in the particular great basin where the waters flow most copiously. At Ogallala, Nebraska, I was told that there had been nothing but rain there for the last two weeks. The roads were in terrible condition, I know, when I left there at 6:45 o'clock, on the morning of June 8. After 10 miles of heavy going through the mud, I struck sand, and then took to the railroad track once more. After going six miles over the ties it began to rain so hard that I had to get off and walk three miles to the station at Paxton. There I waited for three hours until it stopped raining, and set out again at 12:30 o'clock. From there it is just 31 miles to North Platte, and as the sun had come out, I returned to the road. I found it good in places and sandy in spots. There was one stretch, two miles long, so sandy that I had to walk it. It was like being back again in the deserts. I got gasoline at North Platte and pushed on 16 miles to Maxwell, which made 70 miles for the day's travel. 

Maxwell is a little bit of a place, and I had to take accommodation in a room that had three beds in it. A couple of surveyors were in one of the other beds, and at midnight, a commercial traveler was ushered in and given the third bed. I was fortunate in having a bed to myself at all the small places, for "doubling up" is quite the common thing where accommodations are limited. One more cyclometer was sacrificed on the ride from Ogallala to Maxwell, snapped off when I had a fall on the road. I do not mention falls, as a rule, as it would make the story one long monotony of falling off and getting on again. Ruts, sand, sticks, stones and mud, all threw me dozens of times…”  George A. Wyman, “Over the Rockies and the Great Divide to the Prairies”, The Motorcycle Magazine, (Goodman, New York, August, 1903)

Today, the Paxton Depot has been given new life.  Opening in September of 2015 as Anne Marie’s coffee and gift shop, the “Depot” as locals call it, is now a refuge for those seeking a good cup of coffee, good company and the opportunity to browse for things of the past.  

Even though the newly renovated Depot was originally located across the tracks on East 1st Street, its historical significance warrants the Paxton Depot being designated a Wyman Waypoint.  We are grateful to Leah Fote, owner of the Paxton Depot, for joining The George A. Wyman Memorial Project as a hosting organization.  

We hope the historical footnote of Wyman’s passing through the Paxton Depot will spark the interest of those visiting Anne Marie’s.  Mrs. Fote’s renovation of the Paxton Depot building, giving it a new life in the community, exemplifies our Project motto, ”Linking the Past to the Present to Enrich the Future.