Tag Archives: Union Pacific

Retaining Wall

January 22, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Good workers are hard to keep. U.S. unemployment rates were remarkably low in 2018. While that is good news for workers, it’s potentially challenging for companies trying to retain their top talent for the long haul.

Competition is fierce. Employees are no longer staying in one spot for years—even decades—just because they earn a decent salary, like what they do, and are comfortable where they are.

Perhaps more than ever, experts say, companies across the country—including those in Omaha—are realizing how imperative employee retention has become in today’s strong job market.

“There’s no loyalty,” says Spencer Brookstein, president of Brookstein and Associates Executive Recruiters. “You don’t go to work for somebody in your 20s and stay there forever. Those days are gone.”

But was this simply a romantic ideal? A 2014 study titled “What Should I Be When I Grow Up? Occupations and Unemployment Over the Life Cycle” notes that, “Young workers enter the labor market not knowing the occupation that they are the most productive in.” This study goes on to note that those younger workers who are most desired traditionally have the highest rates of mobility.

This past summer, the Labor Department released its April 2018 snapshot of the economy, showing the unemployment rate at 3.9 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2000. At the same time, a younger, tech-savvy workforce continues to emerge, bringing with it a new generation of employees who are demanding more than average salaries, two-week vacations, health care, and retirement benefits.

Because of that, Brookstein says, companies are trying to find creative ways to keep their current employees happy.

“With compensation you’ve got salary,” Brookstein says. “Salary is important, but there’s also benefits, especially medical benefits, and perks. Does the company offer discounts to places in town, gym memberships, an extra week of vacation, or special recognition for something done right?”

Union Pacific, according to a company report, offers child care both in-home and on campus for employees, pet care, tutoring and homework help for employees’ children, elderly care, and housekeeping.

U.P. “draws thriving talent, energizes current employees, and develops them to carry out our mission while leading the transportation industry into the future. Key engagement initiatives revolve around our culture, workplace relationships, employee rewards, job responsibilities, and personal growth opportunities,” the report says.

All Makes, which celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2018, has seen an increase in office-furniture business as younger workers desire open-concept offices, which, interestingly, were popular in the 1960s.

“When it comes to recruiting and retaining talent, pay and benefits play a major role, but so does the work environment, i.e., the furniture and workspaces available,” says Amee Zetzman, All-Makes CFO. “Due to the Great Recession and explosion of the ‘gig economy,’ young adults expect remote, flexible, and collaborative workspaces—similar to what they experienced in college.”

While environment and culture mean a lot to younger employees, how do employers turn these values into their value of retention?

Zetzman says that having employees with passion and treating employees with compassion is a strategy that has helped this century-old company retain a great staff.

“We have people that have been at All Makes for more than 45 years, and that’s inspired by their passion for their jobs and loyalty to the company,” Zetzman says. “We strive to treat our employees like family and encourage honesty and open communication. Our office doors are never closed and we encourage people to come to us directly with issues as well as solutions.”

“We also make it a priority to give back to the community, and our employees follow that lead,” says All-Makes CEO Jeff Kavich. “We listen to all requests regardless of size or scope, and take suggestions from our employees for what is important to them. Our team members’ personal circumstances influence our giving.”

Brookstein says that while employees leave jobs, they tend to stay in the same industry they start out in, whether that’s accounting, law, medicine, real estate, or another field.

To retain employees, Brookstein says companies should look at what he called “two sides of the coin.”

First, career growth.

“If you look at it from the employee point of view, you’re looking to see if your current company is offering you growth and not stagnation,” Brookstein says. “You’ve heard of the five- or 10-year plan? I say, look at two or three. Does the employee see themselves doing the same job, working for the same boss, the same responsibilities two or three years down the road with no growth possibilities? Probably not.”

Second, compensation.

“I’m not talking about people leaving for a dollar more an hour or whatever,” Brookstein says. “Nobody’s going to make a switch for that, but they will for more.”

Brookstein continues: “So how do I keep people happy at my company? Pay them above market rate. A company paying 10 percent or more above market rate is going to see their employees staying with them longer.”

Another factor is lower and middle managers. While most people want to do work they love, having a positive relationship with a direct manager can make a world of difference.

While higher salary and better benefits may cost a company some money, turnover is more expensive, Brookstein says.

“Hiring and training costs are exorbitant,” he says. “If you won’t pay someone an extra $5,000 a year it’s going to cost $20,000 to hire someone new and train them. If your employees leave, you’re going to pay many times over what you could have paid them to stay.”

Visit brooksteinrecruiters.com for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Spencer Brookstein sitting with left arm resting on desk

Spencer Brookstein


September 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To industries that depend on verification as a core factor of their business, blockchain technology has much to offer, according to Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber. B2B recently caught up with Wassinger to get her take on blockchain and its benefits to companies in Omaha and elsewhere. 

B2B: Please explain what blockchain technology is. 

Wassinger: Blockchain is a new form of the internet. The distinguishing factor between blockchain and the internet as we know it now is the fact that blockchain is not controlled by any central entity or person. It’s completely decentralized and distributed. Think of it like a public ledger that can record transactions of any type. A simple parallel might be that it can be a supply chain for just about anything, including information. When you dig deeply into the industries of Omaha, you think about our density within the supply chain. We’re home to Union Pacific, Werner Enterprises, and some of these big logistics companies. Blockchain fits really nicely into the business models of those types of companies because it allows any organization or person to verify where something is on the supply chain. 

B2B: To make use of blockchain, you have to be appropriately credentialed, digitally, right? 

Wassinger: To an extent. Businesses can operate on blockchain, any person can cooperate on it. If you want to develop on the blockchain, it does require a certain level of skill. There are very few developers. I heard one source say there are as few as 1,300 true blockchain developers in the world. 

B2B: What are those individuals doing? Developing applications for different products? 

Wassinger: Yes. They’re thinking of different use cases just like we would for the internet, where we think of how to create a web platform or an app that solves a problem. Blockchain developers are doing that same thing for blockchain use cases. 

B2B: What are some blockchain use cases?

Wassinger: You see blockchain used in the food industry with the verification of crop growth product formation. For example, if, as a consumer, I want to eat a food, and it matters to me greatly that that is a wholly organic food, I might want to go all the way back to the point at which that was planted in the soil to figure out how the crop was treated, how often was it watered, when was it harvested, where did it go, and what happened to it at the next facility.

B2B: Is supply chain verification the most popular use of blockchain?

Wassinger: Yes, at least here in the Nebraska blockchain market, whether it’s the food supply chain or the information supply chain. 

B2B: What are some local use cases for blockchain?

Wassinger: Let’s dig into the economy of Omaha. We’ve got deep density in financial services— everything from payment processing to banking to insurance. All those bases are completely ripe for blockchain technology, especially when you think about the need for authenticating things. Think about insurance, for example. Wouldn’t it be great if, upon buying a new policy, you could record every transaction very simply? That’s happening now with certain insurance companies. They’re testing that, and some are live right now. You can also look outside financial services and into the food industry. There’s a startup we are working with called BlockEra that’s working on an ingredient-to-table verification process. You can also think supply chain logistics. For example, if I am Union Pacific and I want to watch my train go from here to there, and I want to know what freight was loaded, when it was unloaded, and all of the details of that experience, blockchain becomes very relevant. 

B2B: What about an international use case? 

Wassinger: The United Nations, which works with massive refugee populations, has a really interesting blockchain use case. As a refugee, your anonymity is important to you—the ability to transact in any environment is important. You also fully expect to have a physical wallet on you to carry cash. You’re going to be crossing borders and deal with this, that, or the other. So the United Nations looked at that. We can respect these people’s anonymity through leveraging the block chain by giving refugees tokens that will allow them to transact across any border. As they reach certain points in their journey, we can make sure that they have enough tokens to fuel that piece of their journey. 

B2B: The technology sounds great. How does anybody make money from it? 

Wassinger: A lot of people are still trying to figure all of this out. Because the transactions are happening on blockchain, they require use of cryptocurrency. When you hear “cryptocurrency,” a lot of people are going to initially think of bitcoin. But there are several others that come up, Ether being one. Ether is the cryptocurrency of choice for the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is an open- source blockchain that is hinged around the idea of a smart contract, which is a really transparent way of two entities agreeing on a value for something and then recording that agreement
transaction together. 

B2B: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Wassinger: I think about Omaha and the talent pools we have here. I keep coming back to this: we’ve got really a strong agribusiness talent pool, we’ve got a really strong talent pool in supply chain and logistics, and we’ve got an incredibly dense and strong talent pool as it relates to financial services, insurance, and payment processing. I think our region needs to embrace blockchain. We need more people in the core industries where blockchain stands to be a major disruptive source to test and dabble and experiment earlier with the technology to look at it and say what levels of verification need to happen in those industries. I would love to see that embraced because I firmly believe that blockchain will be very important to the future of Omaha’s economy.

Visit blockgeeks.com for more information about blockchain.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber

The Beermuda Bicycle Tour

May 31, 2018 by
Photography by Rod Howe
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

It began as a simple adventure concocted by four bicycling buddies to explore local byways on two wheels and sample good beer from the state’s burgeoning craft brewery landscape. Four days later, they dubbed their adventure the First Annual Beermuda Triangle ride.

On a Thursday in mid-October, a pickup truck drove the thirsty explorers to their first destination—Bootleg Brewers—on a rambling Sandhills road eight miles northwest of Taylor, Nebraska. Behind the wheel was retired Union Pacific railroad engineer George Evans, 66, hauling retired USDA appraisal specialist Randy Darling, 67 (both of North Platte), Holdrege hairdresser Tim Rehm, 58, Grand Island CPA Mike Swanson, 57, and their four bicycles in the back of the truck.

Rest assured, drinking and driving (or riding) was not on the agenda. These veterans of Bike Ride Across Nebraska, The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, and myriad other long-haul trips have more than 20 years of experience responsibly sharing back roads and highway shoulders with automotive traffic. Once the bikes are parked and secured, another story unfolds. Ensuing evenings of mug curling have more than once resulted in a slow start to the morning-after ride.

“The idea came from Mike and I, not sure when,” Rehm says. “I guess we had both been to at least Scratchtown [Brewery] and Kinkaider [Brewery] and got to thinking originally about a self-contained trip [where bicyclists do not require a support team and carry their own camping gear, if necessary], but chose to do a credit card tour with lodging each night. At times we talked about including Kearney [Thunderhead Brewery] and Grand Island [Prairie Pride Brewery], but time and calendar constraints eventually determined how many breweries.”

Thus, the first leg of their craft beer tasting began at Bootleg Brewery’s idyllic setting. Imagine a brewery ranch materializing in the middle of the grasslands—a beer oasis. Conveniently, the cyclists reserved one of several cabins situated on the premises to crash.

“Bootlegger was good because of the on-site cabins, so over-indulgence was not a problem,” Darling says. “We also enjoyed their patio at the end of the tour.”

Owners Ron and Dodie Worm were very accommodating.

“Ron was a good guy,” Swanson says. “He allowed me to ride my fat tire bike in the pasture, plus he found my water bottle that bounced off the bike. The quiet in that pasture was amazing.”

On day two, a 39-mile ride through the rolling hills took them to Scratchtown Brewery in downtown Ord. The cyclists took time off their saddles to explore the town square on foot.

“We had a fun, extended happy hour with some of the locals who invited us to join them in the street-side beer garden,” Rehm says. “We toured the Standard station with some members of the local hot rod club, and before we knew it they were treating us to pizza as well. Some late-night shenanigans resulted in a visit from the Valley County sheriff; some of us were glad to get out of Valley County Saturday morning.”

Shenanigans, scenic rides, and opportunistic acquisitions have accompanied this fearsome foursome for many years.

Darling, whose cyclist handle is “Ranger,” has been riding the highways for “at least 30 years” with Evans, 10 to 15 years with Rehm, and on several occasions over the years with Swanson.

“I am not sure how many organized tours we have done together, but several BRANs, RAGBRAIs, and Pedaler’s Jamboree in Missouri,” Darling says. “We have also done several self-organized rides, which I actually enjoy more.”

On day three, a 49-mile ride against fierce headwinds through roller-coaster hills took them to the Kinkaider Brewery Co. just north of Broken Bow.

“On the third day we encountered some strong winds between Ord and Broken Bow, which challenged this aging group,” Rehm says.

On day four, the fearsome foursome closed the loop 47 miles later, returning to Bootleg Brewers’ patio for a trip-ending happy hour.

Of the hundreds of bike trips Darling has embarked on with these friends and others, he ranks the Beermuda Triangle Tour near the top. “I would rate our Beermuda Triangle Tour as one of our most fun,” he says. “We had good weather, good roads, moderate mileage, and good beer.”

Swanson also enjoyed the experience: “Our timing was incredible,” he says. “Despite being windy, the temperature for October was great. Microbreweries make a great finish to a day’s journey. As the industry grows in Nebraska, I hope the communities that are home to the breweries reach out to travelers of all kinds to enjoy. Our next trip visiting breweries could take us to eastern Nebraska in an urban setting or even here in central Nebraska. Who knows? Anyone can do a tour. Just pick a few destinations and peddle on.”

Brewery Highlights

Bootleg Brewers, Sandhills Brewing Co.

Rehm: “I got lost on my way and missed my turn on [Highway] 183 and ended up in Loup City, so I had to do a little gravel travel to catch up to the boys. Although the others had a head start, there was still a lot of fun to be had. I think by night’s end, Mike had his bike in the taproom. I was amazed at the considerable investment made at Bootleggers; it’s a beautiful spot.”

Scratchtown Brewing Co.

Darling: “Scratchtown was a pleasant surprise for me. They are a small brewery, and the beer exceeded my expectations. The locals were friendly. We nearly had too much fun and narrowly avoided trouble with the county sheriff.”

Swanson: “The locals we shared beer with and the stop at the high school football game were memorable.”

Kinkaider Brewing Co.

Darling: “Broken Bow is a pleasant rural town with all the services we needed in addition to Kinkaider Brewing. The Arrow Hotel provided a nice evening meal.”

Rehm: “It’s always fun to be there as we have gotten acquainted with the ownership in previous stops. It was probably our shortest happy hour of the trip as it had been a long, windy day. We had a great meal at the Bonfire Grill in the historic Arrow Hotel in downtown Broken Bow.”

Brewery Details

Bootleg Brewers, Sandhills Brewing Co.
45145 829th Road, Taylor, NE 68879
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tues.-Sun. (winter hours vary)


Nestled on 40 acres of ranchland in the Sandhills, Bootleg Brewers is a small brewery that fulfills a dream of longtime home brewer Ron Worm. In fact, its flagship beer, “Cling On,” was born in his basement 17 years ago.

As the brewery’s website details in its background story: “Out of this passion for brewing, Ron created an all-grain brew system in the basement of their home out of common household items. With a little ingenuity, he went on to work on creating a session beer he loved. From that hard work, Cling On was created. Cling On got its name because of the large amount of grains required to make this tasty brew, which also increases the ABV to about 7%. Easy drinking and high in alcohol can sneak up on you and before you know it, you are looking for something or someone to ‘Cling On’ to. Sorry, Star Trek fans, no relation here.”

The brewmaster garnered a reputation for sharing beer and advice with fellow homebrewers. In turn, he started his own brew club in 2001 called Bootleg Brewers. Finally, on May 17, 2016, Bootleg Brewers became a licensed brewery, the first to be officially established in Nebraska’s picturesque Sandhills region.

Owners: The family-owned brewery is operated by Ron and Dodie Worm (husband and wife) with support from daughter Jody Worm. Ron is head brewer and Dodie cooks and manages the kitchen staff. Other family members manage the bar and sales.

Facilities: The brewery features a two-tiered beer garden; full kitchen with extensive menu; main taproom; cabins (four eight-person cabins at $175 per night and one six-person cabin at $150 per night).

Beers on tap (as of March 2018):

  • Cling On (session wheat), ABV 6%
  • Sandhills Ale (cream style), ABV 4.7%
  • Ass Blaster (jalapeño spiced/herbed), ABV 5.9%
  • Horned Hereford (Irish red ale), ABV 4.4%
  • Hoppy Homesteader (IPA), ABV 5.4%
  • Naked Orange Stinger (spiced/herbed), ABV 5.4%
  • Muddy Duck (English brown ale), ABV 5.7%
  • I.E. Oatmeal Stout (stout), ABV 6.5%
  • 2nd Run (amber wheat ale), ABV 6.8%
  • Toasted Wheat (wheat ale), ABV 5.3%

Scratchtown Brewing Co.

141 South 16th St., Ord, NE 68862
4-10 p.m. Thurs. and Fri.;
10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.

Located in the heart of downtown Ord, Scratchtown has made this quaint village a craft beer destination from its start in 2013. Its American imperial porter, called “Black Eye,” claimed the gold medal at the U.S. Beer Open Championship in 2015.

Scratchtown derives its name from the town namesake, Gen. Edward Ord, who remarked that swarms of mosquitos irritated his crew, prompting a lot of “scratching.” The brewery boasts that its beers are made with the purest water in the United States, drawing from the Ogallala Aquifer.

Although the owners initially founded the brewery on the notion that they could draw tourists in from nearby lakes and rivers, Jade Stunkel, one of the owners, was pleasantly surprised at the number of customers who are making the trek to Ord simply to drink good craft brew.

“The other day, a busload of 40 to 50 people came in from Grand Island,” he says. “They were stopping at two or three breweries and sampling a lot of beer. In November we are expecting another group.”

Plain and simple, craft brew lovers know their way to Scratchtown.

Owners: Mike Klimek, Caleb Pollard, Jade Stunkel, and Shay Reilly.

Facilities: Taproom, bar, and beer garden.

Events: Scratchtoberfest in October, The Darkest Day in winter, and other seasonal events (often to benefit philanthropic causes). The Darkest Day event is held the Saturday closest to Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, and features 10 to 11 of their dark brews.

Beers on tap (as of March 2018):

  • Sideburns’ (milk stout), ABV 4.3%
  • MMR (brown ale), ABV 5.5%
  • Wonder Twins (double IPA), ABV 7.9%
  • I Don’t Get It (honey blonde ale), ABV 5.4%
  • Big Joe (Pilsner), ABV 4.7%
  • Nugglehead (Nebraska pale ale), ABV 5.2%
  • (Bottle only) Barrel-Aged Lord of Ord (imperial oatmeal stout), ABV 12.9%
  • (Bottle only) Barrel-Aged Shay’s Calling (doppelbock), ABV 9.2%

Kinkaider Brewing Co.

43860 Paulsen Road, Broken Bow,
NE 68822
4-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.;
4-11 p.m. Fri.; and
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.


Located one mile north of Broken Bow, the brewery is named after the Kinkaid Act of 1904, legislation that increased the 160-acre land allotment of the Homestead Act to 640 acres in 37 northwestern Nebraska counties. The brewery sits on Fox Farms’ land, owned by Barry Fox. Kinkaider Brewery opened its doors in 2014.

Highlights for Kinkaider include being the first brewery in Nebraska to offer crowlers (32-ounce, fill-at-the-bar aluminum cans) and local ingredients, such as pumpkins, honey, apples, and jalapeños grown on the farm.

Crossover beers—some people call them “entry-level” or “gateway” beers for novice craft brew drinkers—are a hit with Kinkaider customers. Big sellers in this category are “Dan the Wiser Kolsch” and “Herd Law Honey Wheat.”

“Dan the Wiser [named for the brewmaster Dan Hodges] is their introductory beer,” says Thomas Cooper, assistant brewmaster. “Non-craft beer drinkers are like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty good.’ There was a lady in here the other day who asked for Bud Light, and I believe Cody told her we only serve American beers here. She was like, ‘What do you mean?’ We told her Busch is now owned by InBev, a Belgium company. She was absolutely floored. She walked out with a case of Dan the Wiser.”

Kinkaider has bottled a dozen or so of its beers. The brewery always has 12 craft brews on tap.

Owners: Nate Bell, Cody Schmick, Dan Hodges, and Barry Fox.

Facilities: Taproom, bar, restaurant, beer garden patio, and indoor event center.

Beers on tap (as of March 2018):

  • Dan the Wiser (Kölsch), ABV 4.3%
  • Hiram’s Bones (porter), ABV 4.5%
  • Herd Law Honey Wheat (American wheat pale ale), ABV 4.8%
  • Stick’em (altbier), ABV 5.8%
  • 4-County Pale Ale (American pale ale), ABV 5.5%
  • Hopalong Cassidy (American pale ale), ABV 4.8%
  • Smoked Alt (smoked beer), ABV 6.4%
  • Story Horse Irish Red (Irish red ale), ABV 5.2%
  • Nitro Oatmeal Stout (oatmeal stout), ABV 6.3%
  • Snozzberry (sour), ABV 5.9%
  • Snow Beast Winter Ale (winter ale), ABV 7%
  • Devil’s Gap Jalapeño (spiced/herbed), ABV 4.7%
  • Claimstaker (Irish stout), ABV 5.4%
  • KBC Champion (cream ale), ABV 4.2%

About the author:

Rod Howe, 63, taught journalism at Westside High School for 23 years in Omaha. He retired in 2013. Although not a bicycle rider, he loves craft beer and country roads. In the summer of 2016, at a weekend gathering in North Platte at the home of Randy Darling (his brother-in-law), Howe became intrigued by the friends’ plans to embark on the brewery and bicycle ride in the fall. Thus, he conspired with the riders to follow them via automobile with camera, notebook, and tape recorder in October 2016. Cyclist ages noted in the article reflect ages at the time of the ride.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

From left: Randy Darling, George Evans, Mike Swanson, and Tim Rehm

A Timeline of Chinese in Omaha

March 18, 2018 by , and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chinese migration to Omaha began, indirectly, during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The “Old Gold Mountain” (i.e., the Chinese term for California) attracted a flood of unskilled laborers known as coolies. Nationwide, the Chinese population grew by leaps and bounds: from 758 (in 1850) to 35,565 (in 1860) to 104,468 (in 1880), according to U.S. Census data on the country’s foreign-born population.

Facing open hostility in the goldfields, many went to work in agriculture, mining, fisheries, started laundry or restaurant businesses, or joined construction of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The railway industry dispersed Chinese migrants throughout the American interior. With Union Pacific’s headquarters in Omaha, it’s likely that the railroad helped populate Omaha’s own early Chinatown. But documentation of Union Pacific’s role in attracting the city’s earliest Chinese residents remains scarce.

“We don’t have archival records of Union Pacific bringing Chinese labor to Omaha, but we’ve seen this pattern throughout cities and towns of the American West,” says Patricia LaBounty, curator of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs. LaBounty spoke with Omaha Magazine while preparing a research presentation focused on the contribution of Chinese labor to Union Pacific.

Among the earliest documentation is an illustration of Chinese railroad laborers crossing the frozen Missouri River with Omaha’s sparse skyline in the background—including the old territorial capitol, now the site of Central High School (printed in the Jan. 22, 1870, edition of Harper’s Weekly). 

Mounting opposition to Chinese immigrant labor led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which halted immigration and banned citizenship. Many American Chinatowns dwindled and disappeared in subsequent years, with Chinese-American communities remaining staunchly Cantonese-speaking due to the early immigration from China’s southern regions. Post-World War II waves of Chinese immigrants predominantly spoke Mandarin, the language of mainland China and Taiwan.

The second wave of Chinese immigrants arriving in Omaha—and the U.S. in general—consisted of Chinese Nationalists and their families coming overseas after civil war split the Republic of China (Taiwan) from the communist People’s Republic of China.

A third wave of immigration followed normalization of U.S. diplomatic ties with Beijing during Richard Nixon’s presidency. This group included highly educated professionals, scientists, doctors, and students from the People’s Republic of China.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the number of students coming to U.S. universities (evident at the University of Nebraska system, Creighton, and Bellevue University) has steadily grown. Meanwhile, what could be considered a fourth wave of Chinese migration to North America has taken the form of wealthy Chinese looking to the U.S. for property and stock market investments.

May 10, 1869

Promontory, Utah—The driving of a ceremonial golden spike signals the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Chinese labor played a critical role in completing the eastbound Central Pacific that met with Union Pacific.

Jan. 22, 1870

Harper’s Weekly prints “Chinese Coolies Crossing the Missouri River” with Omaha pictured in the illustration. The article claims 250 Chinese laborers passed through Omaha to build a railroad in Texas.

Early documentation of Chinese labor passing through Omaha


The 1872/1873 Omaha City Directory lists Chinese laundries for the first time. There are two: “Yingalongjingjohn & Yingyang” between Farnam and Harney on 10th Street, and “Hong Lee” on Harney between 14th and 15th streets.

June 4, 1874

The Omaha Daily Bee reports on the burial of “Ting-a-ling” at Prospect Hill Cemetery, noted as the city’s first Chinese burial. His death is attributed to “too much ironing and ice cream.” The article explains that his remains will be exhumed after two years to be returned to China for final burial in accordance with traditional custom. The article also notes that the local Chinese population consists of 12 men and one woman.


Omaha has 14 Chinese residents.*


The Chinese Exclusion Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur.

May 6, 1892

The national Methodist Episcopal Conference is held in Omaha. A speaker condemns the Chinese Exclusion Act for jeopardizing U.S. missionary work in China, denounces the U.S. president and Congress, and argues “that the Chinese had the same right to be here as other foreigners, notably the Irish” (according to the New York Times on May 7, 1892).


Omaha has 91* or 93 Chinese residents.**

Feb. 15, 1893

Dr. Gee Wo Chan goes to the Supreme Court of Nebraska for practicing medicine without a license. He will lose his case, but his traditional Chinese medicine practice continues. At the peak of his business, he operates storefront clinics in Omaha, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The Omaha Daily Bee frequently publishes full-page ads promoting that Dr. C. Gee Wo “the greatest doctor that China ever produced is in your city.” His 1892 marriage to a Caucasian woman in Chicago was reported in the Omaha Daily Bee. His life story will be featured in a free online book, Chinese Medicine in Post-Frontier America: A Tale of Three Chinese-American Doctors (published in 2016).

Dr. C. Gee Woh ad in June 7, 1891 Omaha Daily Bee

Aug. 31, 1894

An article in the Omaha Daily Bee covers a revolutionary meeting of 150 Chinese “from Denver, Cheyenne, Sioux City, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and other surrounding towns within a radius of 200 miles,” who meet to discuss overthrowing the Qing Dynasty. Chinese revolutionaries draw support from overseas Chinese communities around the world. Years later, China’s Revolution of 1911 will overturn the country’s last dynasty and set in motion the establishment of the Republic of China.


The 1895 Omaha City Directory lists at least 21 Chinese-owned laundries (featuring names that appear to be Chinese).

Oct. 23, 1898

The Omaha World-Herald reports that 438 men, women, and children—including artists, performers, and cooks—were brought to the United States from China to help with the Chinese village at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha. The expo allowed them to bypass the Chinese Exclusion Act restrictions. The newspaper alleges human trafficking and claims that women were sold into slavery or prostitution.


Omaha has 94* or 103 residents.**

Aug. 19, 1900

The Illustrated Bee publishes an article titled “Chinese in Omaha—Some Prominent Men,” which claims a Sunday school has offered English language education to Chinese youth since September 1885. Laundry is the chief occupation of local Chinese residents, and cleaners tuck “good luck mottoes” into fresh linens. Opium smoking is on the decline (allegedly the only crime in an otherwise “peaceable, quiet, and law-abiding” community). A sort of Chinese credit union offers loans to the immigrants at exorbitant rates. Joe Wah Lee is named as the community’s best English interpreter, the wealthiest local Chinese person, and the shrewd owner of Bon Ton Restaurant. Leo Mun, head of Quong Wah Co. is named the community’s most educated in Chinese but lacking in English skills.“Henry” Hong Sling is noted as affiliated with the community but based in Chicago where he is a railroad passenger agent.


Omaha has 53 Chinese residents.*

January 1912

Gin Chin opens the Mandarin Cafe at 1409 Douglas St.

Nov. 22, 1916

The Omaha World-Herald reports on the opening of a “new hall” for the Omaha Chinese Merchants Association at the first known site of the On Leong Tong (111 N. 12th St.). Leo Wing is president and Chue Fing Sue is secretary. The report claims there are 150 Chinese living in Omaha.

The former home of the On Leong Tong, photographed in 2018


Omaha has 126 Chinese residents.*

Sept. 16, 1920

Gin Chin opens the King Fong Cafe near 16th and Harney streets.

Photo from the September/October 2007 edition of Encounter Magazine


Omaha has 147 Chinese residents.*


Following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a city directory is not printed in 1930. The 1931 Omaha City Directory lists at least eight Chinese laundromats remaining in Omaha (six are included under a “Chinese Laundry” category, two are listed as hand-laundries). Omaha has 147 Chinese residents.* “When the Depression came in, there was no more business,” says Jeanette Chin, wife of Carl Chin (Gin Chin’s son). “If families could save some money, they could go back (to China) and live like royalty.” She came to Omaha in 1942 from a prominent family in New York City’s Chinatown. Local Omaha papers claimed her 1942 marriage to Carl was the city’s “last arranged marriage.”

July 16, 1938

The Omaha World-Herald reports on firecrackers and festivities involved in the dedication of the relocated On Leong Tong at 1518 Cass St. The article notes that the tong is raising funds for China’s fight against Japan in the war effort.


Omaha has 69 Chinese residents (44 native-born and 25 foreign-born).***


The year after the Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed (1943) during World War II, Gen. Albert Wedemeyer takes command of U.S. forces in China, relieving Joseph Stillwell. Wedemeyer was born in Omaha in 1897. He was likely familiar with Omaha’s ethnic Chinese community as he attended Creighton Preparatory School (when the school was located near downtown on the Creighton University). In 1919 he went to West Point Academy. Upon graduation, he was assigned to Tientsin, China, where he learned to speak Mandarin and gained a deeper understanding of China’s turbulent political climate with the consolidation efforts by the Nationalists and the rise of the Communist movement.


The 1946 Omaha City Directory lists one business under the category “Laundries—Chinese” (Louie Chas at 209 S. 13th St.), and the name disappears in the next year’s directory. The Chinese laundry category vanishes from record in subsequent city directories.


Omaha has 106 Chinese residents.*


Omaha has 130 Chinese residents.****


Omaha has 186 Chinese residents.****


Joe Kuo and his wife, Alice, open the Great Wall Restaurant at 72nd and Farnam streets. The restaurant’s success will spawn other Great Wall restaurants downtown (at 11th and Farnam streets), near 84th and Center streets, at Oak View Mall, and in Council Bluffs. Kuo had graduated from Fort Hays State University in Kansas with a mathematics degree in 1972, but with a new family decided against doctoral studies to enter business as a restaurateur in New York City and Chicago before coming to Omaha. The Kuos were founding members of a Christian fellowship of Omaha Chinese (established in 1977), which started as a bible study group (officially renamed the “Omaha Christian Chinese Fellowship” in 1980, and again renamed as “Omaha Chinese Christian Church” in 1986). Kuo’s restaurants host bible study gatherings. The church’s founding minister, Pastor Job Lee, is married to Joe’s elder sister (Grace). The church fellowship serves as a center for Chinese language and culture education. The Kuo family will sponsor local Chinese cultural events, leading to the creation of the Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association.


Omaha has 374 Chinese residents.****

The Omaha Chinese Christian Fellowship rents space at First Presbyterian Church. A few years later, in 1983, the fellowship will relocate to First Christian Church on 66th and Dodge streets.


The Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association forms with the goal of bringing all Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese together, regardless of regional origins or political affiliation. The organization’s board includes Dennis Chin (a Bellevue Public School educator and Gin Chin’s grandson), his wife Betty Chin (a research organizer at Creighton and UNMC), and UNL engineering professor Bing Chen, among others. The association will eventually discontinue as political tensions mount and the community shifts to a predominantly mainland Chinese orientation.

From left: Dennis Chin, Betty Chin, and Bing Chen (at the Nebraska Chinese Association in 2018)


The Metropolitan Omaha Chinese American Association’s Chinese New Year celebration moves to UNO’s Milo Bail Student Center for a Chinese meal cooked by UNO chefs under the watchful eye of Joe Kuo followed by music, acrobatics, and dance performances at the Strauss Performing Arts Center. During its years of operation, the group also participates in the Omaha Ethnic Festival at the Civic Auditorium and hosts Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and Dragon Boat Festival gatherings.


The Omaha Chinese Christian Church purchases its own building at 81st and Blondo streets.
Omaha has 553 Chinese residents.****


Mainland Chinese in Omaha are believed to organize local community events, including Lunar New Year gatherings. (Individuals known to be involved did not respond to Omaha Magazine’s request for comment.)


Omaha has 1,155 Chinese residents.****
In 2000, UNMC begins a formal faculty exchange program with Shanghai University. It is the first time the Chinese government has “awarded and funded a faculty exchange program between a Chinese medical school and [a] U.S. medical school.” In subsequent years, UNMC’s exchange programs with Chinese medical institutions continue to develop. By the year 2018, UNMC’s Asia Pacific Rim Development Program will have established partnerships with more than a dozen Chinese medical schools.


Creighton philosophy professor Jinmei Yuan begins annual student trips to China, supported by the Rev. John Schlegel (president of the university) and Soong Ching-Ling Foundation in China.  


Omaha-born filmmaker Alexander Payne is part of a group that buys King Fong Cafe from the Huey family that has managed the restaurant in the years following Gin Chin’s passing. Also in 2007, the Confucius Institute (which operates around the world teaching Chinese as a second language) opens at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; the institute will become a key sponsor for holiday celebrations with the UNL chapter of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, Lincoln Chinese Cultural Association, the Asian Community Center in Lincoln, and the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association/Nebraska Chinese Association.


In 2008, Creighton’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions establishes a three-month Rehabilitation International Summer Program. By 2014, the university will establish the China Honors Interprofessional Program for medical students and health care professionals in China. Partner schools will include 10 universities across China (along with universities in five other countries).

May 2008

The Omaha Chinese Culture Association establishes in the wake of China’s tragic 2008 Sichuan earthquakes. In China, more than 69,000 are confirmed dead and 5 million people are displaced. Bellevue University’s director of global partnerships in Asia, Julie Verebely, was born in the area devastated by the quake. Verebely knew her home was affected, but she didn’t know how badly. She couldn’t contact any friends or family in the province. “She called me up and said, ‘We need to do something. It’s my hometown,’” recalls Linda Steele, who works with Verebely at Bellevue. With a core group of more than 30 Chinese-Americans and Chinese expats, they arrange several fundraisers that accumulate more than $30,000. During their fundraising efforts, Ping Ye (a systems analyst at HDR) suggests to fellow volunteers that they organize as a continuing Chinese association. Ye is the Omaha Chinese Culture Association’s first president, followed by Mae Keith, and then Steele. John Zhang is the association’s first chairman of the board, followed by Hong Zheng.

Linda Steele


The Omaha Chinese Christian Church moves to its current location at 4618 S. 139th St.


Omaha has 1,437 Chinese residents.****

Feb. 3, 2009

The first Lunar New Year Gala is hosted by the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association at Christ Community Church. Locations will change in later years: Millard North High School in 2010, Burke High School in 2011-2012, Westside High School in 2013, Westside Middle School in 2015-2017, and Burke again in 2018.

April 2009

In April, an Omaha delegation visits Yantai (in Shandong province) at the invitation of the mayor of the northeastern Chinese city. In October, Yantai officials will visit Omaha to sign a letter of intent to become “sister cities.” In June 2010, Omaha’s Mayor Jim Suttle will visit Yantai, China, in a trip to establish Omaha and Yantai as “sister cities.”

Oct. 3, 2009

The Omaha Chinese Cultural Association hosts the first annual Mid-Autumn Chinese Cultural Festival at Zorinsky Lake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

June 4, 2011

The Omaha Chinese Cultural Association hosts its first annual Dragon Boat Festival on a Missouri River cruise.


Bellevue University establishes a partnership with Guangzhou College of Commerce in 2012. The first group of Chinese students will arrive in 2015. Also in 2012, the UNO College of Business Administration begins annual study trips to China.

August 2012

During a visit to China, Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman announces the state will open a trade office in China.


The UNO College of Business Administration hosts a China Conference focused on US-China economic relations and business partnerships. The conference continues for a second year in 2014.

March 18, 2013

Ceremonies in Nebraska and Shanghai are held to announce the opening of the Nebraska Center China in Shanghai. Upon taking office in 2015, Gov. Pete Ricketts continues to foster China-Nebraska trade relations with trade trips in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The Omaha Chamber also participates in overseas trips to China on an annual basis.

May 2014

An estimated 1,000 Chinese investors visit Omaha for the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. In China, the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett is known as “the God of Stock Investing.” The number of Chinese visitors to Omaha during the shareholder meeting will continue to grow every year. An estimated 2,000-3,000 Chinese investors will visit Omaha for the shareholder meeting in 2016.


The Nebraska Chinese Association replaces the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association under the leadership of local Omaha businessman Hong Zheng (owner of the Asian Market) and its president Linda Steele (an adjunct professor Bellevue University).

Hong Zheng

April 2016

Lion Dancers help the Nebraska Chinese Association celebrate the grand opening of the Nebraska Chinese Center in the site of a former church at 8206 Blondo St. The center offers language classes, cooking classes, a farmers’ market, tai chi exercise programs, and other cultural events.


King Fong Cafe closes “temporarily.”

May 2017

The annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting continues to draw more Chinese visitors every year. Buses take Chinese tour groups to Warren Buffett’s home in Dundee for photographs. In 2017, Linda Steele estimates that there are 3,000-4,000 Chinese visitors. A gala dinner hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association introduces overseas investors and local businesses. Steele expects 5,000 Chinese visitors for the Berkshire meeting in 2018.

June 14, 2017

Forty boxes of beef arrive in China from Greater Omaha Packing Co. The Omaha-headquartered business has emerged as an industry leader in reopening U.S. beef exports to China. It is the first shipment of U.S. beef to China since 2003 (following a mad cow scare that halted imports).

November 2017

The National Register of Historic Places recognizes the historic status of the On Leong Tong at 1518 Cass St.


In the 2017/2018 academic year, Bellevue University has 258 overseas Chinese students; UNMC has 96 students from mainland China; UNO has 124 overseas Chinese students; Creighton has 36.

March 3, 2018

The 10th anniversary of the Lunar New Year Gala hosted by the Nebraska Chinese Association/Omaha Chinese Cultural Association takes place at Burke High School. Of the approximately 200 volunteers organizing the gala, 100 are overseas Chinese students. The association’s members include close to 800 people.

Nebraska Chinese Association board members from left: Grant Wu, Hong Zheng, May Yap, Jun White, Linda Steele, Li Li, Sarah Luo, Qiuming Zhu, Ping Ye, Jenny McAtee

*Source: U.S. Census data provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society

**Source: An Almanac of Nebraska: Nationality, Ethnic, and Racial Groups (published in 1975)

***Source: U.S. Census data provided by the Nebraska Library Commission

****Source: U.S. Census data provided by University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

See other Omaha-Chinese content from the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine:

A Family Masterpiece

May 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some childhood memories stick with you. Dave Carroll, a retired Union Pacific manager, holds onto the memory of one fateful childhood leap that dented his grandfather’s prized 1950 Mercury.

“I’ve got so much of my life in this car,” Carroll says. When he was about 6 or 7, Carroll was playing with cousins at a tree house on his grandparents’ farm in Fullerton, Nebraska. His grandfather John Carroll’s out-of-commission vehicle sat under the tree house.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. Instead of going down the rope ladder, I jumped out of the tree house onto the car and I caved the roof in.”

Carroll remembered his grandpa’s large hands. “He got in the car and he took his hand and popped it out, and I thought, wow.” Some wrinkles remained in the car’s roof and would stay there for many decades. “The funny story is, years later, I paid to fix that roof,” he says.

His grandmother, Etta Carroll, bestowed him the car after his grandfather passed away. Then she accidentally sold the car for $50 to a neighbor kid, while Dave was serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Dave and his father, Jack, travelled to Fullerton to get the car back after Dave returned from overseas. The duo were quickly chased off of the property by shotgun.

“We went downtown and we found the local constable. He was having coffee at the coffee shop. My dad knew him. We told him the story and he said ‘come on, we’ll go back.’” The story ended well for Dave, who was still in possession of the car’s original title. And the car has been with him since then.

Over the years, the Mercury was transported across the United States on a flatbed trailer while Carroll worked his way up at Union Pacific, from a position on the track gang to one in management at the company’s headquarters. His career led him to places such as Sydney (Nebraska), Denver, and Cheyenne. At every new location, Carroll brought along his beloved Merc’. “My intention was to build it, but being a railroader, I didn’t have the time or the funds.”

Carroll returned to Omaha in the ’80s. He met and wed Dianne Cascio Carroll, owner of Anything Goes Salon. Soon after, he began his odyssey of fixing the Mercury. Having the roof repaired is just one of the many changes Carroll has made to his car.

“There’s so many things that have been done to this car,” he says. Over more than 30 years, Carroll says he has spent thousands of hours refurbishing the car. Some projects were finished, only to be torn up again and redone so that he could try the ever-evolving products in the industry that worked better. “That’s my problem,” he says. “I redo things.”

He has often lost track of time while working in his garage in the Huntington Park neighborhood in Omaha. “I’ve had my wife open the door and say, ‘you know what time it is?’ I look at the clock and it’s 10 after 1 in the morning and I’ve got to be to work at 6 in the morning.”

“It’s not about me. It’s about my parents, and honoring the memory of my grandfather. I kept this car because it was in the family and it’s never been out of the family.”

Carroll’s imagination has affected every aspect of the car, from the striking Candy Purple body color, to the custom purple snakeskin roof interior. The air-conditioning vents were salvaged from a 2002 FordTempo. He ordered the custom-made steering wheel from California, and the windshield from Oregon. Thanks to Carroll’s insatiable creativity, the car has a digital dash, an electrical door opener, a late-model motor with custom aluminum valve covers, four-wheel disk brakes, rounded hood corners, a smooth dash and Frenched-in (curved) headlights.

The restoration has also been helped by Ron Moore of Moore Auto Body, Rick White of Redline Upholstery, and Rod Grasmick, an antique auto restorer. Using qualified professionals means that Carroll knows his car is taken care of, but he also finds them to be knowledgable friends.

“I have a couple of friends that are helping me with this car, that’s how our [automotive] community is—everybody helps everybody,” he says.

Will the car ever be finished? “My dad is always telling that he hopes to get to ride it in when it is done, and him being 92 years old puts a lot of pressure on me,” he says.

“My wife says, ‘you’re taking forever.’ Well, look at it this way, there’s better and newer stuff coming out all the time,” Carroll says. And so the journey continues.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Java Journey

April 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like many who guzzle black gold, Sagar Gurung started downing coffee purely for utilitarian reasons.

The taste—he could have done without.

Sagar Gurung

“I started for the caffeine,” Gurung says. “When I took that first sip, I said, ‘What the hell is this? It’s bitter.’ I would add a lot of sugar, milk, and cream to it.”

Gurung has come a long way in his java journey. He is the founder and part-owner of one of Omaha’s newest non-chain caffeine joints, Himalayan Java Coffee House. It launched in June 2016 at 329 S. 16th St., across from the Orpheum Theater on Harney Street.

Not that long ago, what Gurung knew about coffee didn’t amount to a hill of beans. He has worked as a business analyst (currently for Valmont Industries) after earning a degree in computer science from Bellevue University in 2004. Gurung was born in Chitwan, Nepal, but lived mostly in India until he moved to Omaha in the 10th grade to live with his older sister. He graduated from Omaha Gross High School.

He took regular trips back home to Nepal, and it was during one of those trips that he went from coffee novice to coffee aficionado. The spark was a visit to Himalayan Java Coffee, a franchise launched in 1999 by Gagan Pradhan and Anand Gurung in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

Nepal is mostly a tea-loving country, but Pradhan and Anand Gurung were changing that with a concept utilizing small coffee farmers whose harvest had mostly been going outside the country. Nepalese farmers were more likely to grow millet or maize than they were coffee, which wasn’t introduced to the country until 1938 by a hermit who brought seeds from Myanmar (then Burma).

By the 1970s Nepalese farmers were beginning to pay attention to coffee as a serious cash crop. Today, it’s grown in nearly three dozen districts, thriving in one of the highest elevations in the world.

Pradhan and Anand Gurung, according to Sagar, “introduced coffee to Nepal,” showing countrymen how it should be planted, raised, roasted, brewed, and imbibed. Their efforts resonated—today, more than 20 Himalayan Java shops have been introduced in Nepal.

On Sagar’s first visit to Himalayan Java Coffee in Nepal, “I instantly loved everything they were doing,” he says. He began to lobby the duo to let him bring their brand and their coffee to his adopted homeland. He also proposed the idea to Nepalese friends who lived in Omaha, asking them to join as partners.

Finally, the founders relented. “I think they just wanted to make me stop bugging them.”

The Nepalese founders are more like “strategic partners” than they are franchisees, Sagar says, but the Omaha Himalayan Java buys all its coffee from its Nepalese counterpart.

It’s a competitive market in Omaha, dominated by national and local chains. Sagar says such competition only gave him more reason to launch Himalayan Java here. And none of the others in Omaha can offer the distinct Arabica flavor available in his store.

“Coffee has a natural tendency to embody its environment,” Sagar says. “So the taste you get is very unique to the area you grow in.”

He appears to have picked an ideal location for the startup. Customers come frequently from the Orpheum across the street, of course, but Himalayan Java also gets employees from nearby Union Pacific, First National, OPPD, other downtown businesses, students from Creighton and UNMC, and downtown denizens.

Himalayan Java offers a full complement of caffeinated beverages—espressos, cappuccinos, mochas, lattes, and more. The No. 1 seller, Sagar says, is the “Dark Roast 4.” The menu also includes sandwiches, soups, and salads.

Sagar says customer retention has been strong and that word-of-mouth marketing has helped  Himalayan Java enjoy 15- to 20-percent growth month over month. Enough that he’s had at least preliminary discussions about expanding to a second store.

He’s also heard from enough customers that he plans to introduce some home-cooking with a menu that should include Nepalese goat and chicken curry; “thukpa,” an intensely flavored noodle soup; and “momos,” spicy Nepalese dumplings typically filled with marinated minced meat.

“I want to introduce Nepali items you can’t get anywhere else in town,” he says.

For now, though, he’s intent on making sure Himalayan Java makes a name for itself with its roasts — something customers should recognize just steps inside.

“We are a coffee house, and it is a beautiful thing to walk into a store and the aroma hits you,” he says.

It took him a while to get there, but he says the taste is even better.

“Now I like my coffee dark with no sugar, no milk, or cream,” Sagar says. “I just love the way our coffee tastes.”

He’s hoping more and more Omahans will agree.

Visit himalayanjavausa.com for more information.

This article was published in the May/June edition of The Encounter.

How Omaha Railroaded Council Bluffs

April 6, 2017 by
Photography by Provided by Union Pacific Museum

Thirteen years before Nebraska achieved statehood in 1867, a group of Council Bluffs businessmen helped establish “Omaha City.” They didn’t view Omaha as a rival to Council Bluffs; rather, they saw Omaha as a prime route for the transcontinental railroad—and a road to riches. Their efforts laid the groundwork for the nation’s most ambitious construction project, while forever forging a unique bond between the two cities and Union Pacific.

The saga begins in the 1850s, when Dr. Thomas Clark Durant and Henry Farnam partner to construct a rail extension across Iowa, called the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad. They subsequently commission Grenville M. Dodge to explore possible routes for a transcontinental railroad between the Missouri River and Salt Lake Valley.

 It’s a difficult decade for Omaha—a bank panic in 1857 wipes out investors, and the city’s population declines. Then, the Civil War ignites in 1861. Desperate to unite the country east to west, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. It OKs land grants to attract private capital for construction and authorizes UP’s origin at a point on Iowa’s western boundary, to be approved by the president.

Motivated by his large interest in the M&M, Durant is determined to link his Iowa rail extension with the transcontinental initiative, says Patricia LaBounty, collections manager at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. By Oct. 30, 1863, Durant is elected UP’s director and vice president, taking nearly complete control of the enterprise. He appoints Peter A. Dey as UP’s chief engineer (Dey had surveyed the M&M with Dodge) to further explore four possible connections alongside the Missouri River, including Omaha and Bellevue.

Durant lobbies Lincoln, who’s also inundated with requests to fix the origin at locations stretching from Sioux City, Iowa, to Kansas City. Judge John P. Usher, Secretary of the Interior in Lincoln’s cabinet, recalls Durant’s advice: “Now, the natural place for this terminal point is at the mouth of the Platte River, but Omaha is the principal town in Nebraska; the wealth of the territory is there, and the energies of the people radiate from there, and I think they ought to be considered, and the best thing is to start it from Omaha.”

After consulting with Dodge, on Nov. 17, 1863, President Lincoln writes his first executive order on the subject. To ensure the railroad builds a continuous rail line and bridge surmounting the Missouri River, he sets the starting point on the Iowa side, across from Omaha. But his language is somewhat ambiguous, and Durant seizes the opportunity to plan an elaborate ground-breaking ceremony—in Omaha.

Held in early December 1863, near the ferry landing at Seventh and Davenport streets, and featuring bands, cannons, and fireworks, the event attracts throngs of citizens. Writes David Bristow in A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha: “And so it was an act of great faith—right there in the middle of a bloody civil war—to begin the most ambitious and expensive building project the country had ever attempted. It began in Omaha—it was a day, as the Omaha Nebraskian put it, ‘to thank God and take courage.’”

On March 7, 1864, Lincoln pens a second, more formal executive order, again specifying the origin on Iowa’s boundary opposite Omaha. Construction languishes due to lack of financing during the war, so a second Congressional Act on July 2, 1864, creates additional land grant incentives. A map detailing the railroad’s first 100 miles west from Omaha is filed with the Interior Department later that year, which President Lincoln approves.

And then, amazingly, Durant flip-flops. Despite two presidential orders, the UP Board of Directors’ approval of the Omaha route and his initial support, he changes his mind. A new consulting engineer, Silas Seymour, has identified steep grades surrounding Omaha, so he and Durant seek to move the origination point to Bellevue.

“Just like Omaha, Bellevue has already authorized land grants to UP, provided it begin the railroad there,” LaBounty says, “and Durant continues playing both sides of the fence. By May 1865, he requests surveys on the Missouri-Bellevue route and the best location for mechanical shops at Bellevue or Fremont.”

Omahans are outraged. The anger is apparent in telegrams exchanged between Durant and Edward Creighton, president of First National Bank and founder of the university that bears his name. Due to the reroute, Durant says no buildings are needed in Omaha. He’s had “enough of interference” and threatens to “make application to the President to change the terminus.” Responds Creighton: “Omaha must be the only point of connection with the Missouri River. Without this, there will be trouble.”

The issue is resolved Sept. 23, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson approves an amended location in Omaha that addresses the grades through a circuitous route, and construction to the west finally begins. But the drama doesn’t end there.

Given Lincoln’s presidential orders, it was assumed the Missouri River bridge would be constructed between Council Bluffs and Omaha. But UP’s board of directors rumors otherwise. In March 1868, a prominent Omaha delegation, including Nebraska Gov. Alvin Saunders, businessman Ezra Millard, and Omaha Herald publisher Dr. George L. Miller travel to UP’s New York City corporate office to settle the issue. They are appalled, writes Bristol, when Dodge announces the board has selected Bellevue. Using a tried-and-true strategy, Omaha and Council Bluffs unite to offer the railroad land, rights-of-ways and money. The railroad accepts, and the $2.5 million iron bridge is completed in 1872.

Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court settles the argument over the railroad’s origin point, establishing Milepost 0 in Council Bluffs. Both cities become transportation and business hubs, with a major rail yard and passenger transfer hotel in Council Bluffs, and Omaha home to UP’s operational headquarters and mechanical shops. Today the bond continues, with more than 4,000 Union Pacific employees in Omaha and Council Bluffs proudly serving the state and the nation.

Although Union Pacific is headquartered in downtown Omaha, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is located in Council Bluffs. Visit uprrmuseum.org for more information about the railroad’s history.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Bringing the Community Together

August 19, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tom Pettigrew was working as a banker at Wells Fargo in the summer of 1989 when his boss approached with a proposition: Would he help coordinate a new public service project?

The plan was to paint houses for low-income elderly and permanently disabled residents. Pettigrew and his team set a goal of painting 10 houses in the Omaha area. But after gathering a group of volunteers, they ended up painting 50 homes that first year.

“It wasn’t being done by anyone,” Pettigrew says. “We said it was like a barn raising, and people came out to help.”

The Brush Up Nebraska Paint-A-Thon is entering its 27th year this summer. Pettigrew, now age 72, remains the program’s co-director alongside his wife, Sheila, 69. The community-wide activity will culminate on the third Saturday of August, with the help of more than 1,800 volunteers.

It’s a project the couple feel passionate about. They started a program in Omaha and have been asked to start programs in South Dakota, in Wisconsin, and across Iowa from Atlantic to Cedar Rapids.

In the U.S., there are 22 million low-income homeowners, many of whom live on social security or an income of less than $1,000 per month. Many of these people are concerned about paying for groceries, not repainting their homes.

“There’s no way they’re going to get this done if someone doesn’t help,” Tom says.

The work builds confidence and makes the homeowners happy, but it also helps them financially.

“In order to get insurance, a lot of times a home has to be painted and in good shape,” Tom says.

Pettigrews1The Pettigrews and their board work with the Department of Health and Human Services to collect the names and addresses of people who need help having their homes painted. They coordinate the volunteers and hand out housing assignments a month before the event.

“That way they have the time to evaluate what they need,” Tom says. “They go to the homeowners, who pick out their paint color.”

The Pettigrews coordinate the donation of supplies and hold a training session on how to scrape, prime, and paint a home. They instruct volunteers on how to properly remove lead paint if they encounter it.

Then, they stand back, and have faith that their volunteers know their jobs.

“On paint day we drive around and see as many houses as possible. The people will be busy, and happy,” Sheila says. “We are not a repair project, yet we find a lot of them will repair things like windowsills. They plant flowers, rake leaves. It’s wonderful.”

“Hal Daub came to paint one year,” Tom says with a smile. “A boy from the neighborhood came over to see what was going on, and Hal taught him to repair screens.”

The couple are astonished and humbled by the way their passion project has grown through the years.

Tom says, “to have teams come back year after year is impressive. We have people who do this year after year, and we’ve gotten to know many of them.”

It isn’t just the individuals that come back. Tom no longer works for Wells Fargo, but the company still puts together teams and paints six homes each year. Other corporations, such as Union Pacific, participate each year. The paint is always donated by Diamond Vogel.

All this work has added up to the brushing-up of 2,724 homes, while building a network of extended friends bonded to their community.

“We get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from this,” Tom says. “We enjoy putting people together to get this done.”

“We meet wonderful people,” Sheila says. “We have friends that we’ve known for 20-some years through this project.”

A Functional Lake House

May 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Erin and Steve Albers always envisioned building a lake house “someday,” and three years after making that dream a reality—they say their Valley home has proven to be everything they hoped for.  

“Living on a lake has been a blast. It’s like a vacation every day,” Erin says.


The couple, who are originally from Harlan, Iowa (Erin), and Beaver Lake, Nebraska (Steve), say they enjoy the small town feel of their Mallard Landing neighborhood. It’s a manageable commute for Steve, who works downtown at Union Pacific, and an easy drive for Erin to her west Omaha workplace, Home Instead Senior Care. 

Their home boasts five bedrooms and four bathrooms in 3,078 finished square feet, but the family actually downsized when they moved. Erin Albers says with son Luke, now 10, and daughter Piper, now 8, getting older the toys they play with change. This means changes in the need for space.

“All their toys go away, and all they have are these little electronics. We don’t need all that space.”

Erin Albers says the house they have now is not very large, and the family is extremely minimalistic. The Albers use the space they have in the most effective way possible.


We use every inch of it. So everywhere is very functional,” Erin Albers said. “We wanted to create a space where we could all be together. The four of us, and our dog Bella, are always together in the same space, and this house is perfect for that.”


She says visitors describe the home as open and happy, adding that it reflects the family’s outgoing nature and fun vibe. The interior colors are neutral, but the furnishings and décor incorporate bright hues. This is intended to create a “coastal” feel enhanced by white car siding on the vaulted ceiling. “I wanted it to look a little cottage-ish,” Albers says. “It’s all grays and whites, but it has lots of orange and turquoise and lime. Lots of color.”

The home features unexpected accents throughout such as a lively piece of custom art by local artist Sam Vetter, vividly colored damask accent chairs, lime-green metal bar stools, a versatile Junkstock piece that serves as a sometimes-bar in the lower level, and even a one-of-a-kind reclaimed-wood table made by a retired shop teacher in Kearney who had to painstakingly remove hundreds of nails by hand. 

“It’s a 10-foot long, custom-made table from old barnwood. It is gorgeous,” Albers says. “It has two long benches, and you can fit like 12 people at the table.”


Lake living hasn’t been without its challenges, however. Wood floors proved to be no match for the site’s environmental moisture and had to be replaced with tile. The family also had to consider how to keep sand at bay, and find storage for their recreational items.

“We did have to figure in what we call a ‘lake room’ under the house,” Albers says.

Complete with an outdoor shower and year-round storage space, the transition area helps keep the house up to acceptably tidy standards for the self-confessed “complete neat freak.”

“Our house is perfect for us,” Albers says. OmahaHome


A Track’s Trek Through the Garden

January 8, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed by Jerry Paladino

A train’s song is iconic, and with the flip of a switch, Jerry Paladino’s garden railroad roars to life. When not in use, the cars and engines live on shelves that line the walls of his garage. From there, they chug through a tunnel in the wall, out to the backyard and on to elevated tracks.

“I had to do a lot of talking to knock a hole into a brand-new house,” Paladino says. “My wife is very understanding.”

Trains run through Paladino’s blood. His own father was an employee of Railway Express Agency and Union Pacific, and Paladino fondly remembers riding the California Zephyr in the 1960s.


Today, rather than riding his father’s magic carpet made of steel, he operates N-scale models. Perhaps it was natural he became enamored with garden railroads when he was invited to see the layout of a track run by the Gold Creek Railroad. It included hand-cut ties, hand-spiked rails, and a painted background.

“It just kind of blew me away,” he says. “It was just amazing. Museum-quality.”

Paladino started with his garden railroad hobby in the early 1990s. Indeed, garden railroading is a popular hobby across the country, and Paladino is a member, and serves as the current president of the River City Railroaders Club.

An outdoor railroad with tracks of brass and UV-resistant plastic ties curves through the garden. Trains with classic looks from U.P., Burlington Northern, and other railroads run along a track laid around the edge of a raised concrete planter. The planter, measuring 15 feet by 50 feet, houses a garden of miniaturized plants and model buildings.


The model buildings are both scratch- and kit-built and the layout features figurines of people and animals. There’s a water tower, a gazebo that lights up at night, and a golden spike where Paladino laid the last of the track. Many buildings sport signage and name tags noting Paladino’s family members, including his wife and grandchildren.

It takes tender care for these trains to roll past houses, farms, and fields. Paladino can’t use weed killer for the health of the garden’s miniature evergreens, roses, chrysanthemums, and other plants. The trains can run in all weather and temperatures so long as they have traction and the rails are clean and clear, but the track requires rebalancing from time to time.

“You gotta trim, you gotta prune, you gotta pull weeds,” Paladino says. “There’s always something out there to repair.”

For Paladino, the building and construction is his favorite part of the hobby, although he does enjoy conducting the trains for his grandchildren, who in turn enjoy racing toy cars along the track.

Some enthusiasts like to make their tracks adjustable, but Paladino prefers to keep his permanent.

“I put the tracks and the main lines up against the outside edge of the layout,” he says. “It’s completely flat, there’s no grade to it at all. That’s how I like it.”

One thing is certain—that constant clacking of the wheels on the tracks take him to far away places.

“I just turn it on and sit in a lawn chair and watch it run.”

And then the rhythm of the rails is all he feels.