By Starrla Cray
MEEKER, WRIGHT COUNTIES, MN The weekend for wagons, horses, and old-fashioned excitement is approaching at lightning speed, and the “Best of 12” cities are ready and waiting.
“Follow the signs on Highway 12 that say ‘Wagon Train,’” Best of 12 committee member Harlan Lewis said.
Thursday through Sunday, June 16-19, the “train” of covered wagons will travel from Dassel to Delano, crossing the cities of Cokato, Howard Lake, Waverly, and Montrose.
“Each of the communities has something unique going on,” Lewis said.
Local Lions Clubs will be providing food for wagon train volunteers throughout the weekend.
Depending on the number of participants, meals may be available for the public, as well.
The wagon train will assemble in Dassel the evening of Thursday, June 16 in the Summit Hills Addition (located on Summit Cove off of Fifth Street North). According to Dassel Area Chamber of Commerce member Elisabeth Schmieg, The Prairie Fiddlers and Aani Onnen will perform beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The public is invited to bring lawn chairs and a picnic supper, and spend the evening enjoying the music and a bonfire. The next morning, at about 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. The Meeker County Mounted Patrol might lead the procession to the end of Meeker County (about three miles).
The next stop on the journey will be at Peterson Park in downtown Cokato. The wagon train will arrive about noon, and stay until about 1:30 p.m. “We’re going to circle the nursing home and the elementary school,” Lewis said.
Volunteers from the museum dressed in old-fashioned attire will be on-hand for photo opportunities.
From there, the group will take backroads to the Wright County Fairgrounds in Howard Lake, arriving at about 4:30 p.m.
The Howard Lake Police Department will monitor the fairgrounds and escort the train through town.
Traditional contests and a bonfire are planned for the evening’s entertainment.
The Howard Lake Business Association will provide breakfast for the volunteers, and 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 two blocks south of Highway 12.
After lunch (about 1:15 p.m.), the train will pause briefly near Railroad Park.
About 4 p.m., the group will arrive at Lions Park in Montrose, next to the fire hall.
“Montrose has really stepped up to the plate,” Lewis said, explaining that fun and games for children are planned for the entire afternoon.
The wagon train will be served stew at the Montrose Community Center in the evening. The next morning, Sunday, June 19, is Fathers Day, and the Lions Club is planning to have a pancake breakfast for the volunteers.
After the meal, the train will head to Delano, with one water stop in between.
At about 1 p.m., it will come down Buffalo Street to Bridge Avenue, cross over Highway 12, cross over the bridge, and turn north on River Street, ending at Central Park.
According to Lewis, the route will provide great photo opportunities.
Delano Lions Club will have activities at Central Park Sunday afternoon.
Until about 4 p.m., the public will be able to check out the wagon train, as well as the equipment horse owners use for transportation.
“The wagon train people have pretty extensive units,” Lewis said. “They are really putting in a lot of effort and expense to be part of this.”
A unique plan
The idea for a wagon train developed from the Best of 12 committee, which was formed in 2010 to market local cities along Highway 12 in an efficient, unified manner.
Creating a wagon train event takes a large amount of planning and cooperation, 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 a total of about nine times.
Each time, the police will block the road, but drivers shouldn’t have to wait more than a few minutes.
“I think we’ve got great police cooperation,” 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.
“We actually have to lay down rubber mats for the horses to walk on,” Lewis said.
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.
“. . . everything takes quite a bit of time to coordinate,” Lewis said.
To learn more about the wagon train, contact Christian at (763) 561-0100 or wagon master Jon Olson at (763) 323-5789.
For more information about wagon-train events, contact the city hall in the community of interest.