By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, MEEKER COUNTIES, MN Anyone who’d like to experience life as a 19th-century traveler will have the perfect opportunity Thursday through Sunday, June 16-19.
“You can follow the route; you can come join us,” Best of 12 committee member Harlan Lewis said.
A “train” of covered wagons, horse riders, and other horse-drawn units will be parading through the six “Best of 12” cities along the Highway 12 corridor, from Dassel to Delano.
“Join for a day, or for the entire weekend,” Lewis said.
He encourages saddle clubs, history enthusiasts, and other interested members of the community to contact volunteer wagon train coordinator Clay Christian at (763) 561-0100 if they would like to participate.
All meals will be provided throughout the event.
If possible, volunteers should try to wear old-fashioned clothing and shoes for the event.
“The more authentic we can get, the better,” Lewis said.
The Best of 12 was formed in 2010 in an effort to market local cities in an efficient, united manner. Since then, representatives from each community have been brainstorming ways to draw attention to the area.
With the help of local Lions Clubs and professional wagon train coordinators, the area’s first major event is taking shape.
The wagon train will assemble in Dassel the evening of Thursday, June 16. The group is planning to have folk singers around a bonfire that night, and a Lions Club-sponsored breakfast in the morning. At 8:30 or 9 a.m., the train will leave Dassel and travel on county roads for five miles. The horses will take a short water break before heading into Cokato.
At noon, the group will stop in Cokato for an hour-and-a-half lunch break. Historical dress-up and games might be part of the rest stop.
“We’ll have little contests similar to what they might have done on a wagon train,” Lewis said.
At about 4:30 p.m., the train will arrive at the Wright County Fairgrounds in Howard Lake.
The Howard Lake Police Department will monitor the fairgrounds and escort the train through town. Traditional contests are planned for the evening’s entertainment.
At about 9 a.m. Saturday, June 18, the train will head east once again.
The train will arrive in Waverly about noon, stopping for food and photo opportunities with the public.
“We’re trying to do that at each community,” Lewis said.
About 4 p.m., the group will arrive at Lions Park in Montrose, next to the fire hall.
The next morning, Sunday, June 19, is Fathers Day, and the Lions Club is planning to have a pancake breakfast for the volunteers and the public.
After the meal, the train will head to Delano, with one water stop in between. They will arrive about 1:30 or 2 p.m., and parade through town to Central Park.
Participants have the option to stay overnight in Delano.
Any service group or business that would like to organize an activity in any of the six communities as part of the wagon train is encouraged to do so. Lewis said it would be fun to have several attractions for community members throughout the weekend.
“We plan to spend a half-hour to an hour-and-a-half in each community,” Lewis said. “In each of the communities, we’ll be teaming up with the local Lions Clubs for food and entertainment.”
It takes a great deal of preparation to make a successful wagon train, according to Lewis.
A trailer will follow the train at all times, in case an animal becomes fatigued or injured.
“We also follow with what we call a ‘pooper scooper,’” Lewis said. “We clean as we go.”
For the convenience of the wagon train riders, a handicapped-accessible portable toilet will also be available throughout the journey.
The train is trying to stay off Highway 12 as much as possible to avoid traffic, but it will need to cross over it about nine times.
Each time, the police will block the road.
“Drivers shouldn’t have to wait more than five minutes,” Lewis said.
Railroad crossings also require planning.
An hour before the group is expected to cross a railroad track, a call will be made to the railroad company. Fifteen minutes before, another call will be made to make sure the path is still clear.
If a train is nearby, the operator will be directed not to blow the whistle.
“Whistles and horses don’t always work out well,” Lewis said.
Ahead of the group, a vehicle will display a large “wagon train ahead” sign.
“Nobody really sees it, but everything takes quite a bit of time to coordinate,” Lewis said.
One pitfall organizers encountered is that three other wagon trains in Minnesota are scheduled within three weeks of this one. As a result, there haven’t been as many people signing up to participate as planned.
“We didn’t realize we’d have competition from other wagon trains,” Lewis said.
Even with fewer participants, the wagon train planning has been a success overall, according to Lewis.
“These communities haven’t really talked to each other before on a planned event,” he said. “I see a lot of cooperation happening, and even that makes it worthwhile.”
To learn more about becoming a wagon train volunteer, contact Christian at (763) 561-0100 or wagon master Jon Olson at (763) 323-5789.
All ages are welcome to participate. Horses must be either mares or geldings (no studs), with papers.
The cost per family is $15, or $10 per individual. Organizers are not paid for the event, but the cost helps cover the rental of a trailer with portable bathrooms.