Nebraskans have been telling tall tales ever since there were Nebraskans. Early newspapers record many interesting yarns, often the inventions of editors or contributors, who typically attributed them to others. Will M. Maupin’s widely read “Limnings” column in the Omaha World-Herald (July 17, 1897) is the source of a story about a fast-growing pumpkin vine that prevented a train wreck.
According to the story, a section boss on the Union Pacific Railroad’s North Platte division “started out one morning, and when about four miles from Sidney discovered that a pumpkin vine had created havoc with the track. It had grown up in the night and headed itself at right angles with the rails. Some of the vine’s tendrils had wound around the rails, and they were dragged eighty feet out of plumb.
“Of course, this made the track impassible, and the section boss prepared to straighten it out. Just as he began he happened to think that the east-bound limited was here in forty-nine minutes, and he realized that he did not have time to get the track in shape with the small force at command. He thought for a moment and suddenly recalled that he had a few pumpkin seeds in his pocket. He turned over a spadeful of the rich Nebraska soil, dropped in a couple of pumpkin seeds, and emptied the handcar water cask upon the spot.”
Read the rest of Maupin’s tall tale in a Nebraska Timeline column on the Nebraska State Historical Society website.
Ready for another pumpkin story? During the 1930s workers of the WPA Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration recorded the reminiscence of a Chase County man whose neighbor claimed to have grown a pumpkin large enough to house his pigs. Read more in “Skunk Oil and the Punkin” from Pioneer Tales in the Nebraska Folklore Pamphlets on the NSHS website.