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Wagon Train Set to Journey to California

by Maggie O'Neill, Appeal staff writer

DAYTON — When wagon master Diane Newborn gives the signal this morning, a train of eight or nine wagons will pull out from Dayton’s Nevada Rodeo Grounds to travel to Carson City for a flag ceremony today and then on to Placerville.

The wagon train started in 1949 as a way to recognize the discovery of gold a century before. The journey starts early this morning and continues at a pace of 3-1/2 mph into Carson City, where participants will camp at Fuji Park.

Period clothing is required, and even soda cans are disapproved of on the trail because they sport logos from today’s era.

“It’s easy to get caught up in re-enactment without really thinking about what the pioneers went through,” said George Alger, president of the Highway 50 Association, which oversees the wagon train event. “What they’re romanticizing is that era when your word meant something. I think people sort of yearn for an era when you don’t have to get everything notorized.”

The train consists of eight or nine wagons. The lead wagon and wagon number three are supplied by the Highway 50 Association. Money for the event comes from sale of memberships, T-shirts and booklets.

The spirit of the event comes from people like Red Wolverton, of Tucson, Ariz., who comes back year after year to participate. In 1982, Wolverton first supplied horses to pull the lead wagon. This year his son and grandsons came with him, and 14 horses. Ten of those horses will pull the lead double-hitched wagon.

“We get quite a kick out of it,” Wolverton said.

Michael “Abe” Ray, who resembles Abe Lincoln, was brought to the wagon train by his girlfriend, Alice Tripoli, of Diamond Springs, who has participated for seven years.

“We’re a living history,” Ray said. “What better way to learn it than to experience it.”

Current U.S. flags adorn many of the wagons, but an 1864 U.S. flag tops the left corner of the lead wagon. The flag is representative of one that flew during the Civil War and, Alger said, shows solidarity of purpose.

“After 9/11, I think it’s important to show we’re continuing on,” Alger said. “That’s basically what the pioneers did. We’ve been doing this for over 50 years, and we’ll continue to do so.”

Following the end of the wagon train is Dave Smart, of Cool, Calif., who collects hats and spurs and anything that falls of the wagons or is dropped while in motion.

“They’re not allowed to stop,” Smart said.

In 1980, the wagon train was declared California’s only moving historical event. Nevada declared it a moving historical event in 1982.

“All you need is a desire to get involved,” Alger said. For a fee, anyone can register for the event and ride on a wagon for a day or throughout the event, according to Alger.


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