Draw a line on a piece of paper to represent the course of your life. For most of us, that line is not straight at all. There are curves and turns happening at the events in our lives, and decisions to do or not to do something, which alter the trajectory. Whether forced or intentional, change is constant. The only thing we know for sure is that you just never know where the next segment of your line may be going.
Now add dots along the line to represent the people in your life. New people usually arrive as part of those curves and turns. Going to school, getting a job, expanding your family, making friends, perhaps even going on a wagon train adventure – every dot resulted from a change in your life or caused it to change.
Whether you are a fatalist, or you believe everything is an accident, or you believe there is a God with a plan, your line and the dots that connect you to it are what makes you, you. Your formative experiences and relationships are what shape you, and the things that make your line different from every other are tragedy and opportunity.
Since tragedy, by nature, is unexpected and mostly unavoidable, the only thing we control is opportunity – something you have to be open to, or seek out.
Becky Jarnagin was seeking an opportunity for a vacation with her two pre-teen boys, Chris and Cory (13 and 11 years old). They had done some camping and loved being outdoors, but they needed an adventure. Then one day in 1982 Becky saw an advertisement in the Hillsboro newspaper for the very first 4-H Wagon Train. It sounded like just the thing she and her boys should be doing.
Chris wasn’t excited about the trip for the first couple of days on the trail, but Cory was immediately fascinated with the draft teams and started working with a Teamster, Ike Bay, learning how to care for the horses. Chris didn’t want to be left out, so he picked another Teamster, Morris Everude, and started working with Morris and his team. Ike and Morris told the boys, as long as they were willing to do the work and wanted to learn there would be an opportunity for them. So, they both worked hard – fed and watered the horses, shoveled poop, brushed and helped hitch the team to the wagon, and got their first driving lessons.
Becky watched the boys apply themselves to their assigned duties as helpers to the horsemen. They carried equipment and bales of hay, learned about harness and horse behavior, and earned their place with the Teamsters on the wagons as “Swampers.” Becky fought the urge to protect them, seeing them leading horses into streams to be watered, being lifted off their little feet by gentle giants, and becoming giants themselves.
Instead of worrying about Chris and Cory, Becky became the Head of Family for the family assigned to Ike Bay’s wagon including her youngest son, Cory. She kept things organized inside the wagon and on-schedule outside the wagon. Her other duty was “Brakeman” – Ike had no brake on his wagon, so it was Becky’s job to jam a log under the wheel when they stopped. All of this suited Becky – a “working vacation” and a break from everyday life.
Little did Becky and her sons know how much that first trip would alter their lives. Neither Chris nor Cory had any experience with horses prior to that, but they spent years on the trail with the 4-H Wagon Train after that first trip with and without their mom along. They joined their Teamster-mentors at the Washington County Fair every year as part of the crew who helped with all of the Draft Horse events and took every chance they could get to spend time working with horses beyond the wagon train. Even after both boys served in the armed forces in the 90’s, they returned to the trail with the 4-H Wagon Train when they could.
Cory got a riding horse that he rode with the wagon train riders. And, at some point, many years after his first wagon train, there came a time when Cory wanted to sell that riding horse. And a young lady came along to buy the horse, who later became Cory’s wife. Are you starting to see the lines and dots?
As for Chris, well… on the second year of the 4-H Wagon Train there was this girl named Rhonda who was the helper for her grandpa, a Teamster named Charlie Jensen. Chris thought she was a snob and Rhonda thought he was stuck-on-himself, and they really didn’t like each other at all.
Rhonda and Grandpa-Charlie had a rough line just to get to their first 4-H Wagon Train. Rhonda’s dad proposed the adventure to Charlie who did his farming with his beloved dappled grey Percherons.
The family started making preparations for their first trip with 4-H Wagon Train, but Rhonda’s dad died before the trip happened. Charlie decided they were still going and built his own wagon for the occasion. Rhonda, a passionate 4-H event rider who grew up sitting on top of one of the plow horses as her grandpa plowed his fields, would not be left behind.
If Grandpa and his team were still going on the trip, she needed to be there. Rhonda loved that first trip, but she was shy and kept to herself and stayed close to Charlie and their team and the wagon.
The next year, Rhonda rode her own horse with the wagon train riders. Grandpa-Charlie drove his wagon. Chris and Cory were back with their Teamsters, Morris and Ike, for their third 4-H Wagon Train. Then, I bet you guessed it, something was different – Rhonda and Chris kinda liked each other.
Fast forward through quite a few adventures on the 4-H Wagon Train and scrapbooks-full of lines and dots: Cory met his wife through a love of horses, Rhonda and Chris
have been married 26 years and have 2 teenagers of their own, and Becky still participates in the 4-H Wagon Train as helper-extraordinaire (all-purpose support volunteer). Becky says the first years of the 4-H Wagon Train were the best experiences, and the toughest, shaping the course of the lives of her and her sons.
Becky continues to volunteer with the 4-H Wagon Train because every year is a new adventure with new and returning participants, and kids like Cory, Chris and Rhonda, discover themselves somewhere along the trail. The unique experience of the wagon train opens pathways of connectivity and opportunity for all who seek it out.