A few days after my story ran on the Covered Wagon, an article perhaps inspired by this blog ran on the front page of the Kearney Hub. It even featured my 1950s postcard of the place (though initial editions like the one below erroneously credited the image). Writer Todd Gottula talked to the owner and contractor, who is adding a second floor to convert the building into offices with log siding.
Gottula pinned down some dates: the Covered Wagon was sold to Boyd McClara in 1939, then Nick and Rose Ponticello purchased it in 1963. Nick auctioned many of the souvenirs in 2001 before selling the property to Hayes.
Jamie Hayes, who purchased the property four years ago from Nick Ponticello, says he wants to return it as close as possible to its original look. Since work started around the end of September, motorists keep stopping to talk with contractor Ray White and sons. Hayes says the amount of interest is unbelievable, with most making sure the site is being preserved, not destroyed.
A whimsical postcard view from a Covered Wagon attraction, courtesy Bernie Heisey.
Gottula reported in a sidebar story that the site inspired local musician Mike Nicolen to write a song about the Covered Wagon after meeting the Ponticellos in 1999. His thoughts, also on his website, mirror that of many old-time LH fans: “I think instead of building a $50 million archway across the interstate to commemorate westward expansion, they should have sent someone with a tape recorder and camera out to see Nick and Rose.” Nicolen’s site explains further, “Nick and Rose held on to the place and kept it open into their 80’s when health problems finally forced them into a nursing home…. Nick told me once that the Archway people wanted to buy him out and move his beloved Covered Wagon out to the Interstate. He said ‘Why don’t you pick up your Arch and move it out here? I’ve been here a lot longer than you’ve been out there!'”
Nicolen’s song likewise tells how I-80 and the Archway draws traffic from the 2-lane. Click Here to listen to Covered Wagon courtesy of the Kearney Hub or go to Mike’s site and scroll down to the last song, He tells the story from Nick’s point of view. with lines like:
Parked along the highway of our dreams
Facing westward, time moves onward here in the land of opportunity
Now they travel down I-80 doing 85 or more
They gas up at the interchange they’ll never see my store