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A Trail Marker Of The Past

The Early Show - EHAS, Gordon Howard
CBS/The Early Show
Sometimes when CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman tells people he gets his stories completely at random, they tell him nothing ever happens by chance. And though he is a skeptic by nature, he admits Gordon Howard was for him a Godsend.

"Maybe it's because I do have a story to tell," Howard says. His story begins and ends at the monolith in his backyard.

"Chimney Rock was the most outstanding rock formation on the entire length of the Oregon Trail. It was what they looked for when they left the Missouri River. I used to climb up there and imagine that I could see those wagons going up that trail. And sometimes it was so real, it was scary," he says.

A passion was born.

"I could even here the jingle of the chains," he adds.

Howard began devouring books.

"It's the greatest migration on this earth!" he exclaims as he discovered old wagon trails and listened for the jingle of the chains every step of the way.

For Howard, there is no need to fantasize about being able to go back in time and really see what it was like: "I have seen what it is like. I have experienced it. So I don't have to," he says.

Fact is, no one alive has spent more time in a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail than Gordon Howard. He has footage of his wagon train, his business for 30 years.

"And we tried to build 'em as rustic as we could," he says.

People from all over the world came to bump around the prairie.

"I created an experience for people where they could understand history rather than try to read it out of a book or have somebody behind a lectern trying to tell you what it was about, that don't cut it," he says.

Howard and his wife Patty sold the business two years ago. Though their lives are not as adventurous as before, Howard says, he does have one last lesson.

Not long ago a housing developer threatened to buy and build around Chimney Rock, but Howard bought the land instead, donated part of it for a visitors' center and now wants to make the rest a national park.

"To preserve it, so younger people will know what it took to create this great land of ours," he says.