Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 8, 2003

Area man enjoys horsedrawn covered wagon trips

By Lynda Jensen

Hoof beats clattered through Howard Lake Tuesday courtesy of a pair of beautiful Belgian horses and a donkey named Smiley ­ with driver Joe Koppi at the wheel of his covered wagon.

Koppi, 73, resides in Mayer and travels the countryside in the wagon, which carries all of his necessities and horse supplies in a small trailer behind the wagon.

The wagon was seen along Highway 12, then turned north along Wright County Road 6 because Koppi planned to spend time with his son, Joe Koppi Jr., who is building a house north of Howard Lake.

From there, Koppi headed to Clearwater, where he visited a friend.

The trip took him about one week from start to finish, beginning in Mayer Aug. 29 and ending in Clearwater.

There are about 1,200 miles on the wagon by now, he said, with that many or more on Bessie, the older Belgian horse. Bessie is 15 years old and has only one good eye.

The other Belgian horse is Bessie's daughter, Josie, who is 7.

On a good day, they can cover 18 miles, Joe said.

Their travels have taken them as far away as the Iron Range, and lasted as long as three weeks.

"People are so nice to me," Koppi commented.

Traffic-wise, there have been a few close calls, and "Smiley is petrified of motorcycles," he said.

The wagon has wooden axles and was constructed by Koppi about 10 years ago. The wheels weigh about 100 pounds.

A bunk, bedroll, chuckwagon kitchen complete with pots and pans, ice box, water spigot, and other items are packed under the wagon, with bales of hay, harness parts and other supplies inside the trailer.

There is a chock of wood that Koppi throws down on a wire to set against the wheels so the wagon can't roll away. "They get away from me sometimes," he said of the horses.

Koppi also has a battery for a portable electric fence to allow the animals to graze.

Smiley the donkey comes along for company, and besides he can't bear to leave him behind, Koppi said. He's had him since he was three-and-a-half months old.

Smiley loves the horses, although this love wasn't necessarily returned at first because the horses would kick him, Joe said.

Joe tried a different tack, mixing the donkey and horses for short periods of time until Bessie and Josie eventually accepted Smiley.

A large banner is attached to each side of the wagon with the words TRUST IN THE LORD on each.

The banners were made several years ago by children at the St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Waconia, where he attends Sunday worship.

Koppi thrills the Waconia nursing home and school with occasional visits.

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