Wagon Train tradition continues this week
June 1, 2011
History moves slowly with the Highway 50 Wagon Train Association.
Annually, with a mission to recreate the trek taken by thousands of treasure seekers to the gold fields of California, it lumbers out from Lake Tahoe.
This Sunday, June 5, dedicated re-enacting cowboys, cowgirls, dandies and soiled doves once again commit themselves to living the life of the 49ers until June 11 and journey across Highway 50 from Stateline to Placerville.
2011 marks the 62nd year of the event and the public is invited to join.
In 2009, I was fortunate to yell, “Westward ho.”
I considered it the opportunity of a lifetime, as the 1960s television series “Wagon Train” had been a favorite, and my childhood dream was to blaze exciting trails out West.
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However, a major glitch existed as I am a city child. My sole equestrian experience was riding the Bronx Zoo’s ponies.
A loved one gave little reassurance. Also an Easterner, and lacking horse sense, his advice was to bring air freshener.
Soon I was face-to-muzzle to massive horses.
Towering black shires and percherons, with necks the size of mini Coopers literally chomped at the bit, eager to hit the road.
At the sight of horsetails festooned with red ribbons and neckerchiefs, my equine ignorance was displayed when I mentioned their nice attire.
“It is not a decoration,” I was told by a passing participant in a coonskin hat. “It means they kick.”
I swear the Russian curly, grand with his coiled coat, snorted in disdain.
Resplendent in fringed leather and mounted on a massive palomino, the smallest detail did not escape Wagon Master Dianna Newborn’s notice. Ultimately, it was her responsibility to safely transport both beast and human, including one ignorant journalist, over the towering peaks. Unlike theme park rides, a series of potential dangers lurked on the asphalt ribbon of road.
Her husband, Rick, served as lead hitch teamster. Weaving between eight horses with positions of back wheelers, swing team, pointers and leaders, he hitched them while whispering soft commands, like “you two be nice this morning.”
Blooms of brown dust, shouts and sounds of snapping leather soon joined groaning wagon wheels and the sharp click of hooves to herald our start.
I scrambled aboard an authentic 1860s wagon – authentic as in no cushioned seats. Within minutes my posterior appreciated the hardships pioneers had suffered.
Yet as assorted wagons, stagecoaches and buggies joined the slow moving trek along south Highway 50, once known as the “Roaring Road” due to the deluge of humans traversing it, my elation grew.
I was surrounded by happy people in 19th-century garb and those stuck in traffic by our progression. None of the latter was resentful. Instead they whooped, applauded and took hundreds of images with cameras, phones and camcorders thrust out of windows and sunroofs.
Enthusiastically, I waved back and I realized a few things.
The Wagon Train members’ dedication to history was thrilling.
How fortunate I was to live where a rich history was celebrated.
And-always keep a blow-up pillow in my trunk.