By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, MEEKER COUNTIES, MN Twenty covered wagons, 60 horses, and 75 people dressed in 19th-century attire this summer promises to be unlike any other for the six local cities along the Highway 12 corridor.
The third weekend in June, a “train” of covered wagons will travel from Dassel to Delano, crossing the cities of Cokato, Howard Lake, Waverly, and Montrose.
“It’s a cooperative effort of the Best of 12, the local Lions Clubs, and the wagon train coordinators,” Best of 12 committee member Harlan 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.
The wagon train is one of the many ideas that’s gaining momentum.
“We need to get the backing of the community,” wagon train coordinator Clay Christian said.
Plans are to ask city councils, highway departments, and law enforcement agencies for permission to travel through each city. Help is also needed throughout the event such as fire departments to provide water for the horses, street maintenance to keep the route clean, and high schools to share their shower facilities with the wagon train volunteers.
“This is bigger to organize than most people realize, but it’s well worth it,” Christian said. “This is to celebrate the communities, honor their heritage, and provide historical education.”
When it comes to wagon trains, Christian is a long-time expert. He’s been involved in 23 wagon trains for Camp Courage fundraisers, and he also organized the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Wagon Train.
“It was just fabulous,” he said, smiling as he recalled the day’s excitement. Christian, who considers history his hobby, first became involved in wagon trains through a friend of his who restored covered wagons.
“It just fell into place,” Christian said. “I always wanted horses, but I couldn’t have them, since I live in Brooklyn Park. This was a chance to be around horses, meet some wonderful people, and fulfill a childhood dream.”
During wagon train events, Christian ensures that everything runs smoothly and safely. He’s in charge of things like making sure water stops are set up, redirecting the train if there’s an unexpected roadblock, and keeping loud noises away from the horses.
“We will have a veterinarian on call, a farrier at every night stop, and a horse trailer following at all times in case a horse turns up lame,” he said.
Christian also organizes the volunteers, who come from all over Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin.
“They all bring their own horses and wagons at their expense,” Christian said.
Participants wear either authentic or handmade clothing that represents the covered wagon era.
Several volunteers from past wagon trains have already committed to the June event, but Christian said he plans to recruit locally, as well.
Covered wagon caravan
The wagon train route hasn’t been finalized yet, but it will definitely pass through each of the “Best of 12” communities, Lewis said.
It will start in Dassel, stopping for the night at the Wright County fairgrounds in Howard Lake. The second night will be spent in Montrose, and the final night will be in Delano.
After the horses are in for the night, participants will drive to pick up RVs and tents for sleeping.
“We travel at 3.5 miles per hour, going a maximum of 20 miles per day,” Christian said, adding that he’s aiming for less than that, making each day’s journey about 10 to 15 miles long.
Every five miles, the horses typically stop for a water break. There will also be a 1.5-hour lunch break, so that the horses can be unhitched for awhile.
Rick Schaffer, the Lions Club coordinator for the Lions Clubs in each of the “Best of 12” communities, is hoping that there will be food and other attractions in each city during the event.
“We’re looking for as many excuses as possible to get people to spend time in the communities,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer plans to form one central committee from all the area Lions Clubs, in order to coordinate fundraisers, dinners, campfire sing-a-longs, and other activities.
Local businesses are also encouraged to participate, Schaffer added.
The wagon train is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, June 16 through Monday, June 20.
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, Christian said. 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.