I have been remiss in my blogging duties I had hoped to get my next post out over the weekend so that it would be ready for today, but my broken ankle has slowed and complicated my world a bit. I am back and excited to share our Day Trip with you to Wakefield NE.
It’s a funny thing that we can live our whole lives in an area, and never know the wonders that are waiting around the corner. I have done this for most of my adult life, but that is something that I want to change, so I started searching for local events. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, there are a lot of sites out there that promise fairs and festivals for every state, and lure you into believing that they have the complete, exhaustive list, then you put in your zip code, city or State and you get 0 results. I live in a mostly rural area, so it would be easy to be lulled into believing that nothing goes on in small rural towns, but persistence pays off.
I started narrowing my search to counties and was pleasantly surprised that even this late in the year, there are fun activities going on all around me. The one that caught my eye, was the Wakefield Balloon Festival. First of all hot air Balloons in my backyard, how cool is that?! Okay, it was about a 50-minute drive, but if you live in the country you know that it isn’t uncommon to get from one small town to the next.
Wakefield, Nebraska is a small town in Northern Nebraska, nestled among rolling hills of soybeans, wheat, and corn. Per the 2010 consensus, Wakefield had a population of less than 1,500, but it is the people who make the town, and on our visit to Wakefield we met some of the most friendly people in midwest.
flyer courtesy of: https://www.facebook.com/WakefieldBalloonDays
We decided to attend the 7:30 a.m. balloon launch, even though that meant getting up early by 5:30 so we could be on the road no later than 6:30. This would be my first Nebraska Balloon Festival, and until a few weeks ago, I was completely unaware one even existed.
The Balloon Festival is completely reliant on the weather, and Nebraska weather has a tendency to be unpredictable. Earlier in the week, it was beautiful 70’s and 80’s weather, but on the morning of the balloon launch, there was a distinct chill in the air, and it was overcast with stronger winds.
We arrived just a few minutes before 7:30 .a.m. and waited for our son to arrive. I had tried to call him as we got close, but cell service can be spotty. Our son, Travis had driven from 2 hours away and I don’t care how old our children get, I still worry about my kids. I texted several times and called, but got no response. The fact that I know Travis is a lot like me and likes to be early only made we worry more. It turned out he was parked not too far from us and found us by driving around. My parents arrived much later, they took a wrong turn, and being more conventional by using a map, got lost.
The balloon part of the festival was to start at the school. Fourteen years ago, Allen Paul, a balloonist himself, as well as a native from Wakefield, was the brainchild behind the idea of the Balloon Festival. October is the earliest month the balloons can launch, in order for the balloonists to have a place to safely land. By the third week of October, most farmers have harvested their crops. Locals report up to 10-15 balloonists have shown up for past festivals.
Hot air balloons are delicate crafts, that float along wherever the wind takes them, because of this they are limited to taking off when the winds are no stronger than 10-15 miles per hour. On this day, the winds were far too strong and the balloonists could not safely take off, in addition to the overcast skies, which would have limited their vision.
While this was a disappointment, I knew there were still some fun things to check out in downtown Wakefield, so we headed to the Main Street where local vendors had set up crafts, food, souvenirs, and the local shops selling their wares on the sidewalks.
Just as we were departing for Main Street, we met a lovely family coming back from the Color Fun Run/Walk that had begun earlier in the morning. They were headed to elementary school for the omelet breakfast, provided by Michael’s Foods to the public. The cost of the meal was a free will donation!
Once we arrived on Main street, we found a vendor selling homemade jams and jellies (we were assured they were non-GMO, pesticide and herbicide free). We picked out an elderberry jelly and a Habanero pepper jelly, (yes, pepper in the jelly), courtesy of Stolz farms out of Emerson, NE. Mr. Stolz had up to 15-20 different jelly varieties. At $5 a piece, I was tempted to buy one each.
Win a Prize at the Duck Pond Floaters Game.
Near the far end of Main Street was the Wakefield Railroad Depot Museum. Built in 1925, it houses items local to the town. It was an eclectic mixture of toys, household, business and railroad-related memorabilia from the 1920’s to modern-day. Several things stood out, such as the nostalgic telephone booth, a 1950’s gas pump (when gas was just .37 cents per gallon), and the lifelike train conductor (near the entrance). What stood out most of all, was numerous working toy trains (of all sizes) that were busily chugging along on, as if on their own great adventure. I was also happy to see that the museum is handicap accessible.
If you are a truck or car enthusiast, then Wakefield’s car show was the place to check out some really neat local handiwork. The blue 1957 International Harvester pick up took its owner (who calls himself, “just an average “Joe”) about 7 years to build. He did a fantastic job customizing his truck from the stainless steel exhaust stacks, to the plush embroidered IH upholstery, down to the electrically powered sidesteps. The car show is a People’s Choice Award, and while I was torn between the detail and beauty of the ’57 IH, the ‘Rag Ride’ really stood out and caught my eye – there was something about the raw simplicity and uniqueness of this multi-undefined year wagon that took me back to the Beverly Hillbillies days of my youth. For starters, this car had no visible radiator. It was filled with copper piping running from the hidden coolant reservoir to the inline 6 Pontiac engine (that’s plumbing piping from a house). The rag ride had its own particular ingenuity, beginning with the shiny glass doorknob handles, to the customized inside door panels (made from real old cowboy boots, no less), down to the converted oil to electric side lamps. If these two cars didn’t catch your attention, there were at least two dozen more cars, trucks and one motorbike to admire and fancy.
Customized cowboy boot door panels.
I would be neglectful not to mention the Veterans’ Park tucked away in an alleyway next to The American Legion. I was surprised to see, a Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter near the base of the downtown water tower. This helicopter was a key player from the Vietnam War into the Cold War-era. The copter was flanked by a brick memorial honoring the many local people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.
What I most enjoyed about this day, was the small town feel. Don’t expect to see a million vendors, there were maybe 15-20, but these are all local people selling everything from Mexican foods to homemade jams/jellies, crafts, and popcorn to name a few. Many of the local shops brought their goods outside to sell and interact with the visitors. We found the people of this wonderful community to be kind, humble, welcoming and willing to share their experiences and pride in their town. If you are ever passing through Northern Nebraska the third weekend in October, consider checking out the Wakefield Balloon Festival. The people in this small town America will not disappoint you.
This was a great inexpensive activity that all ages of the family will enjoy – one I would highly recommend.
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