Orphans And POWs

 Posted by at 12:48 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 032012

Yesterday was yet another busy day for us. We were up early again because there were several things we wanted to do in Concordia before we left town and we still had a 250 mile drive ahead of us.

Our first stop was at the National Orphan Train Complex, a small interesting museum that tells the story of the 200,000+ orphaned and disadvantaged children who were loaded onto trains back in Boston and New York City and brought to rural areas across the country in the hopes of finding them good homes.


The stories of these children, told at the museum through books, signage and displays, range from heartbreaking to endearing. While many of the children were placed in loving homes and assimilated into the family and the community, there were also many who were seen as simply free labor, and treated no better than slaves or indentured servants. Many of them were separated from their siblings, never to be reunited again. While the Orphan Train program did a lot of good, there can be no question that a lot of misfortune and pain came of it also.


In my blog the other day, I mentioned how friendly people in the Midwest are. Here is another example; I knew that there had been a German prisoner of war camp in Concordia during World War II, and after we toured the Orphan Train Museum I asked the curator if she could tell me how to get to the old POW camp. She said she could do better than that, and pointed out a gentleman working in the yard and said he was Paul Rimovsky, director of the group which is working to preserve the old camp. I introduced myself to Paul and told him why we were in town and inquired about the camp, and he immediately stopped what he was doing, jumped into his car, and led us two or three miles north of town to where the old camp was located.

Paul gave us a tour of what remains, which includes a guard tower, a wooden guard shed, and one of the warehouses built to serve the camp. At one time over 4,000 German POWs were interred here, as well as over 800 American soldiers assigned to guard them. Paul said that while most of the POW camps scattered around the country held enlisted personnel, Camp Concordia housed mostly officers, including some diehard Nazis who made life difficult for the guards and other prisoners.


We enjoyed our visit with Paul, who told us he grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska and that when he was a youngster he taught himself to play the accordion. When he was 10 years old he was hired to be the opening act for an older boy who performed magic tricks at schools and auditoriums around the area. Paul grew up and ran a music store in Concordia for most of his working life, while that young magician went on to fame as televisions’ late night talk show host, Johnny Carson. How cool is that?

In one more example of how nice the folks from Concordia are, when we drove back into town we stopped at the Visitor Center to purchase a book on the POW camp and inquired about the Cloud County Historical Museum, which wasn’t scheduled to open for over an hour. Tammy Britt, the nice lady at the Visitor Center, called out to another lady who was there, who happened to be the museum director. She said there was no reason for us to wait and she went right over and opened the museum up for us. Try getting that kind of service in the big city!

With all of our sightseeing and story gathering done, it was time to get on the road. We took off and headed north, passing through a lot of countryside with not much to see in it except pastures and farmland, broken up by occasional small towns. It seems like almost every small town in Kansas and Nebraska has a city park with RV camping allowed. You could spend an entire summer in these two states and never have to go to commercial campground.

250 miles later we arrived in Pender, Nebraska, the home of Blue Ox towing products. Blue Ox has its own campground with about 20 sites, all with 30/50 amp electric full hookups. I had let Mandy Johnson, our contact at Blue Ox, know that we were coming through the area and wanted to have them service our tow bar, and maybe do a factory tour if we could. Mandy said no problem and that she would reserve a site for us in the campground. There are only three other RVs here, and we certainly didn’t expect that we would be assigned to the personal campsite of the company’s owner! While all the sites are nice, this one borders on the luxurious, with well manicured flower beds, a brick walled outdoor kitchen with stainless steel barbecue grill and refrigerator, a fireplace, and two patio tables with umbrellas. Heck, I may just stay here forever!


Today we plan to sleep in, and then not do much of anything else. We’ve covered 1,265 miles, seen a lot of things and been busy, busy since we left Show Low, Arizona six days ago. It’s time for a day off.

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Nick Russell

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  5 Responses to “Orphans And POWs”

  1. We hope you have time for a Blue Ox tour – it’s amazing to see the size of some of the tow bars and learn of the company’s history. BTW, in our 8+ years of traveling full time, this was the first time we’d seen pull-in/back-out sites there at Blue Ox – must be to make it more convenient to inspect the rear of the vehicles. And you are special – the owner’s site is gorgeous!

    Lu & Larry

  2. We have enjoyed a few of the city campgrounds in our travels — especially the one in Tallequah, OK. Electric and water, lawn and lots of trees, and no one collected a fee — there wasn’t any place we could find to pay the fee, so we stayed several days for free. The only negative: there was no sewer and no dump.

  3. Well, it is nice to have your experiences to read in these states. (I have many relatives in Kansas and Missouri that I saw as a small child and never since…would not even know how to find them. Some my mom told me would not even walk across the street to meet them, after they had driven all the way from CA, before cars had AC too…heh, so my Mama told my dad, whose relatives these were, that we were NOT making THAT trip again…) So nice to hear that you have run into very very nice people in these places!!

  4. There are two taverns in town for lunch. The one on the north side of the main street is where we went. The food was “ok”, but the entertainment from the farmers in there playing cards was a hoot. The factory tour is really cool. A lot of agriculture stuff also. Enjoy!

  5. Your blog is bringing up so many good memories.

    The lady opening the museum early for you reminds me of a good fortune that my DH and I had on our honeymoon. We were traveling through northeastern Iowa and noticed signs for a museum about the first successful gasoline-powered engine (tractor) that could be driven backwards and forwards. We pulled into Froelich, Iowa, and found that the museum was closed that day. A gentleman noticed our t-shirts that said, “Just Married,” and after finding out that we were on our honeymoon, gave us a private tour. I know that a place about the first tractor would not be every woman’s dream honeymoon, but for this history buff, it was great!

    If I remember correctly, my sister’s mother-in-law was one of the orphan train children, so I look forward to visiting the museum you mentioned.

    We toured a museum last year in Algona, Iowa, about the POW camp that had been located there during WWII. I could have spent all day there and viewing the one-half life-size nativity scene that the prisoners made and donated to the city after the war. If you are ever in the area, it might make an interesting addition to your article about the camp in Concordia.

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