4-H Wagon Train

an adventure



Who Knew?

I’ve only been indoors the last 3 of the past 10 nights.  Tonight, the weather is cool and dry, like the nights spent in the past week with 4H Wagon Train, in the Mt. Hood National Forest.  I considered hanging my wagon train hammock in the trees on my property and going back to sleeping outdoors as often as I could manage it.  I seriously considered it.   Indoor sleeping feels so closed-in now, even with all of the windows open wide.

I learned a lot about myself in the past week on my wagon train adventure – like I love sleeping outdoors, and the comfort of sleep with forest sounds and smells around me and the treetops and clear night sky full of stars above me.  Even on the nights when I slept close to my horses who were highlined in the trees, making their noises of shuffling and snuffling and munching on their hay, I was comforted by the open air.

Even if you are someone who goes tent-camping on a regular basis, this wagon train thing is different.  It’s hard to explain, it’s not just better sleep – many new things opened-up for me when I was almost entirely without walls for a week.

Who knew?

The most surprising thing for me about my wagon train experience is how emotional I was.  I felt so connected to all of these total strangers who, like me, came to the trip carrying their individual flags of self-sufficiency, and ended the trip still not knowing much about each other but bonded under the wagon train banner.  Tightly.  And I’m not the bonding type.

Nor am I much for “Group Life” – at least I didn’t think I was.  I am a highly functioning introvert with a wide independent streak who, I think I might’ve mentioned in a previous blog, loves her personal space.  But there was no personal space on this trip, it all belonged to the group, and I sort of adopted that concept after a day or so (or, it adopted me).  We ate and slept together, worked and played together, walked and rode together, and I didn’t feel like I needed to get away from the group (except for obvious reasons).

Who knew?

Summer and camp was not much of a part of my childhood, but from what little I remember it was kind of miserable.  I easily let go of all of those “once in a lifetime” experiences, and have no memory of regular summer activities except being shuttled between my divorced and emotionally-broken parents.  It wasn’t a childhood filled with cookouts and campfires and sticky s’mores and sing-a-longs.

I came out of all of that just fine, really!  Except I didn’t know the words to any of these camp songs that everyone seems to know, and I’d never sung out-loud except alone in my car with the radio very loud so I can’t hear my own untalented voice.  But this wagon train thing is different…as the song goes, “we’re in this together…” and I discovered that when the heart is truly open and happy, you gotta sing!  I heard my own voice for the first time, I sang silly camp songs, and I wasn’t self-conscious in this group of mostly equally bad singers.  Now I can’t get those tunes out of my head!

Who knew?

Which brings me to The Wagon Train Kids.  When I started mentally preparing for wagon train, my greatest anxiety was I would be interacting with kids.  I don’t have kids, never wanted kids, and couldn’t say I related to kids.  I’ve only known a few kids who could relate to my sarcasm, directness and dogmatism, with a side-order of silly.  As I get older, this problem gets worse – kids don’t seem too relate anymore unless it’s through their electronic devices.  So I expected to be really uncomfortable and feel, as I always do around kids, like an outsider.  But this wagon train thing is different. Every. Single. Kid. On. This. Trip. Was. Exceptional.

I had actual conversations with each of them, I felt like I was magically speaking a foreign language and we understood each other.  I wondered to myself what it would be like to know each of them as adults, to watch them become who they will each become.  I looked at their dirty, smiling faces every day and wished for them to never have to grow up.  I wanted them to forever remember the experience of building relationships, face-to-face, without their devices.  I hoped that their lives would be as sweetened by my part in their wagon train adventure as mine was by theirs.

I can’t believe how much I miss them.

Who knew?

Author’s Note:

This is my tenth and final blog about my 2017 4H Wagon Train adventure.  I plan to add one more post in a few weeks to share some of my photos of the trip. I enjoyed this writing project as an opportunity to share all that I’ve learned about the history of the past and present wagon train, and about my personal journey.  Many people who read this blog in the past 5 months since it began shared their experiences and enthusiasm for the 4H Wagon Train. I was incredibly inspired by these responses.  I hope to get back to this blog in January 2018 when I’m gearing up for the 2018 4H Wagon Train and, in the meantime, I welcome your comments and I hope you will share your thoughts related to #4HWagonTrain.

“I Splurged on Socks, and Other Tips and True Confessions of Packing for Wagon Train”


At a wagon train packing demo a couple of months ago a seasoned wagon train adventurer told us she brings 16 pairs of socks for wagon train. 16! Whoa! Since then, I’ve asked around, and all of the seasoned folks are the same, sock-crazy! I still don’t know why I’d need 16 pairs of socks, but I became obsessed with finding “good socks.”IMG_0758 I inventoried my outdoor-adventure socks (the ones without holes) and came up way short…and my disposable socks from Costco were not worthy of an adventure. So I sock-shopped, I gagged at the prices (OMG!), shopped for bargains and then splurged. Now I have 10 pairs amazing adventure socks!  (Yes, I will run them all through the wash once before I pack them – cuz’ new fabrics have loose fibers that cause all kinds of problems, especially when shoved into boots.)


I have to make a deal with myself to wear a seatbelt in a car, but I always wear a helmet when I ride or drive horses. I’m from the east coast, I grew up riding English where helmets are part of the outfit and it’s as automatic as underwear. My helmet has saved my skull more times than I can count.  I don’t wear a helmet because I am fearful, I wear it because I am fearless.  

I think wearing a helmet is cool. I have no idea why anyone would scoff at wearing a helmet, but I don’t judge others and I don’t preach about it. Apparently, not wearing a helmet is a west coast thing and when you turn 18 you are magically invincible and no longer “required” to wear one. But, I don’t preach. Kids under 18 years old on the wagon train are required to wear a helmet to ride in the wagon or ride a horse, and helmets are provided.

I’ve collected a few helmets over the years, and I have a few in different sizes so I can always offer one to a guest who is riding or driving with me. None of my hard hats are fashionable or expensive, I was never trying to make a statement and I was not one of those girls who cared about how my hair looked. Still don’t care. If my hair looks like I was wearing a helmet, well, that’s because I was wearing a helmet and doin’ fun stuff and how cool is that?

I don’t need a new helmet, but I used wagon train as an excuse to buy one. Not an expensive one, but, even less expensive helmets have come such a long way in comfort and features since I was a kid (when plastic was first invented). My new helmet is lightweight, perfectly padded, has a one-handed clasp and easy adjustability – oh Baby! I love my new helmet! I want to sleep in it! It makes me want to do more fun stuff and I feel totally cool wearing it!
So, I confess: I wear a helmet and I love it.


I confess: I like sleep. I’ve worried about not sleeping on wagon train, so that’s another thing I asked a lot of questions about. Sleep is critical to how you will feel all day long. Will you be exhausted and grumpy, or refreshed and ready for adventure? I wanted to be refreshed and ready!

Sleep is also very personal – everyone needs something different. I won’t bore you with my own sleep-picadillos, but I want to set myself up for success so I’m mostly following the advice of one well-seasoned wagon train adventurer, Leslie McLeod.  Leslie describes her bed roll, fashioned after “The Old Time Capriola Bed Tarp,” as follows:

img_3148“Components are sleeping mat, wool blanket, 0 degree or better sleeping bag, pillow, bivy sack, large laundry bag. Put wool blanket in bottom of bivy sack, sleeping bag on top of it, roll and put in laundry bag.

A small tarp, piece of sail cloth or tyvek also works really good in place of bivy sack.”

Leslie is also the author of a few very helpful documents found on

What to Pack:

What to Expect:


Guidelines for Securing Equines:

Packing for the Weather

I’ve asked a few people about what the weather might on this adventure. Here’s how I summarize all of the answers: roll a pair of dice. Whatever two numbers come up on the dice could be the high and low temperatures for the day. For example if you roll a one and a six, the low will be 16 and the high will be 61. OK, well that’s a slight exaggeration, but it would be a mistake not to be prepared for anything. What I’m taking is wool and flannel as an option for sleeping, a warm coat for cool mornings, and T-shirts for hot afternoons, a knit hat and gloves for cold, a brimmed hat for sun/rain protection and a raincoat, obviously, for the inevitable rain shower. I confess I might be over-packing (and over-thinking) but I’m also bringing my longjohns and I’m not rolling the dice on being comfortable.

Stephanie Rosenbalm, a well-seasoned youth wagon train adventurer and Swamper-Who-Is-Really-A-Teamster on a mule drawn wagon, tells me this about her packing plans:

“I pack all my clothes in a back pack and plan on wearing a single pair of jeans for 2 days. Shirts I pack one for almost each day. I pack a couple coats/sweatshirts and socks for everyday plus a few extra. I pack a swim suit for the days we will be swimming and I pack a pair of sneakers, wear my boots, and also a pair of water shoes.”

“Wagon Master Tips for Packing and Being Prepared For Wagon Train”
… the final word on packing, from our Wagon Master, Jeannie Rosenbalm

Sleep, especially the first few nights as you are getting used to new/unfamiliar noises, can be hard to come by. Some people bring sleep aids, like Benedryl or Melatonin, and sleep with ear plugs. (We will have some extra ear plugs if you need some.)

Being warm enough is important to sleep, so you can put an extra flannel sheet inside your sleeping bag to add another layer and bring a knit hat to help keep the heat in.  If you use a cot, make sure to have equal layers underneath as well as on top of you to keep warm.  A foam/inflating pad can also help w/ comfort and warmth.

Bedding and other gear can get dirty with loading and unloading so having a garbage bag or canvas bag helps to keep out the dust and dirt. Who likes a dirty pillow? Not me!

I like Leslie’s plan for rolling up your bedding so you just unroll one piece/unit and you’re done!  I keep my pj’s in the sleeping bag so I don’t have to dig for them in my stuff.

I like tie my bedding items together with baling twine; it’s easier hold and carry, load and unload.  Marking your bags uniquely to help distinguish it from the other black canvas bag that someone else packed and brought.  Think luggage pickup at the airport.

A hat is mandatory for sun protection and you’ll also need sunscreen – a sunburn is not only painful, it could ruin your trip and it will make it hard to sleep!  

Bring swimsuit/towel/water shoes – there will be water around and you need the water shoes/old pair of tennis shoes on for safety!!!

Leave one set of clothes in your car that you will wear home on Friday.  This way you don’t pack it around, it doesn’t collect dust along the way and it makes it easier to make stops in civilization on your way home and you won’t smell and look like you just stepped out of the woods without a real shower for a week.

A day pack, like a back back, is a good way to pack your snacks and other things you want on the trail.  You’ll need a water bottle – you can put it in your day pack or put it on a string/strap to hang it and keep both hands free.

Bring the snacks you like to give you some energy on the trail. Peanuts, trail mix, M&M’s can take care of the chocolate craving and they don’t melt like other things because they have the coating….just don’t squish them. There is no shortage of snacks and food, so if you need something, let us know.

Pack LIGHT! You will only need a few days worth of pants/shirts and then you can do washing/laundry on layover day.

Use your bucket to sit on and pack stuff like your mess kit – so I grab my bucket and I have all I need go to the breakfast or dinner chow line. You can also pack a camp chair, but make sure it’s LIGHT – you pack it in, you pack it out. A note from Leslie here: “pack everything need for morning (mess kit, toothbrush, etc.) in your bucket to put on the truck last so you can pack up everything else before breakfast.”

Staying clean and fresh is a challenge, so bring Babywipes for freshening up.  You can also bring a solar shower.

Bring a flashlight for those late night trips to the biffy, and a few extra batteries.

If you are bringing a knife – which can be helpful – make sure it is SHARP; dull knives are dangerous.

Have a lightweight raincoat just in case.  Pen or pencil for journaling.

Pack your curiosity and a sense of adventure!  Bring Pioneer clothing if you have some OR at least have the spirit to wear some for “family pictures.” Start thinking of skits, hidden talents you have to share with the group as we have a “variety show” one evening.

This Trip Is Going to Be Amazing!

(Cover Photo:  Johnny and June on The Horner Schooner, with Curt Herman, Swamper, in the driver’s seat)

It has been awhile since I sat down to write an entry for the 4H Wagon Train Adventure Blog. My time and attention focused on conditioning horses (and starting my garden) as soon as we started having semi-reliable sunshine, and I’ve been making lists and preparations for the trip. I’m obsessive about list-making and plan-making and being ready has been on my mind, non-stop, for months. I’ve been making lists and plans in my sleep!

My obsessive preparations were put to a mini-test for the “4H Wagon Train Tune Up” last weekend at Flying M Ranch in Yamhill, Oregon. This is a weekend designed to introduce the participants to the logistics and traditions of life on the 4H Wagon Train, test our gear, and enjoy a small taste of the food and activities and friend-making we can look forward to on the 7-day Barlow Road trip July 8-14. All the details I’d been churning in my head finally got to come out and play – in sports this would be like running plays in your head and practicing some of your moves before you finally get to take the field and see what your team can do.

Lemme tell ya, Oh Boy, my team CAN DO!

In this case, my team is Johnny and June, full-sibling Percheron crosses. I’ve had them since they were 2 & 3 years old and they are now 8 & 9. We’ve done a lot together in that time and I am always looking for new opportunities and adventures, which is how I got hitched up to the wagon train (pun intended). My team has proven themselves to be able to go-anywhere-do-anything and they do it all with a gusto for the work and affection for the people around them. In all of my little-girl dreams of the horses I would have when I grew up, I could not have dreamed-up these two horses.   I am constantly in awe of them, not for their beauty (yeah, I guess they are kinda pretty), but for their work-ethic and what they put into everything they are asked to do.

Saturday was only their second time hitched to the wagon and really only my first time driving it!  There were a few hiccups and one near-tragic moment that was the driver’s fault (that’s me). But in spite of the driver’s learning curve and the rain and sloppy trails, and wet, low-hanging limbs crashing into the wagon (and them, and me), and some seriously crazy new terrain (like water-crossing stream bottoms with basketball sized boulders), they hardly seemed to notice they were pulling a 2,000lb wood box, rolling on primitive wheels with zero suspension and a big flapping canvas behind them, draped 10-feet over their heads.

The first 30 minutes were a bit of a shock from the deafening clatter of the wagon and the rough ride. I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into (and asking myself how I was going to get out of it). My body was jolted and bounced, like I was riding a jack-hammer. Then, we stopped for a break and I focused my attention on the horses, wondering, if they could, would they ask the same question – what are we doing out here?

My answer came back to me through their body language – relaxed, ears forward, eyes soft, heads-up, scanning the trail ahead and ready to move out. No stress, no resistance, just quiet anticipation and willingness. During each break, while fallen brush and trees were being cleared by the trail Scout and his helpers, and then, turn by turn, over the next 5 miles or so, over trail you would never imagine you would take in this rig, the answer came to me: this trip is going to be amazing!  This is a dream team for this adventure and they are totally into it. Yes, it’ll be rough, but, it’ll be so worth it. When we have conquered 80 miles together in this procession, we will all be changed forever for the better.

On Sunday morning, after a fabulous breakfast (something I will definitely be looking forward to on the trip), the wagon train covered another 5 miles or so. The sun shined, and the trail presented beautiful vistas to us around every corner, and the rhythm of wagon and the hoofbeats and the happy voices of kids just filled me up.

Ultimately, I was prepared for everything except the range of emotions I experienced in my first 10 miles with the wagon train…and, at the end of the The Tune Up weekend, all doubts about the trip and our readiness and commitment to this adventure had vanished.

Conditioning Horses For The Wagon Train

Two weeks ago this blog was about getting yourself in shape for the wagon train adventure.  If you are planning to participate in the 4-H Wagon Train, I know you’ve been getting active and putting some miles on those hiking boots!  Hopefully you’ve been keeping track of your miles for the 200-Mile Challenge, too.

On my own hikes I’ve been making a plan – if I want my horses to be in the best condition possible for the wagon train adventure I need a plan for their fitness too, and a timeline and some resolve… because when I get home from work every evening, I’m too tired to think about it.  I just gotta go do it!  If your horse(s) will be participating in the wagon train, you may want to create a similar outline with your own plan of action.  There are only 9 weeks until the Tune Up Trek, and only 13 weeks until we hit the trail for the big “Barlow or Bust” Trek!

Here are some things to consider – I asked a few Teamsters and Riders who regularly participate in the Wagon Train to give me their best advice about getting horses and mules in shape for the trip:

  • Start every exercise session with warm up time and end with cool down time, increase/ decrease circulation gradually.
  • Depending on your horses current condition, you’ll need to add duration and difficulty gradually, building up to longer rides/ drives and adding hills and trails – doing too much too soon may lead to injury, but not doing enough will not lead to an increase in fitness level.
  • Mix it up – mentally and physically you and your horse will benefit from “cross training” in different activities rather than doing the same thing every session.
  • While every horse is different, horses need to be worked more than a couple of times a week over a period of many weeks to get in shape for wagon train – make time for it, all of you preparations will make for a better trip.
  • Work with your horse with not only physical fitness in mind, but also the mental-work of wagon train – walking quietly on a lead rope, riding with other horses and accepting slower paces on the trail, eating and drinking in unfamiliar surrroundings (with unfamiliar water!), high-lining, etc.
  • Look now at what needs to be scheduled over the coming weeks to make sure your horse is healthy from head to hoof – call the vet for a basic musculoskeletal exam, get teeth checked, think ahead for vaccinations, worming, shoeing or boots, etc.
  • Take a good look at the equipment you’ll be using and how it fits, then monitor how it fits as your horse gets into better condition.  Also, it has been said many times but it’s worth repeating, if you are getting new equipment, get it now and use/test it long before the wagon train!
  • Review your feeding plans and whether your horse is getting the right amount and type of feed for the work you are doing.
  • Monitor your horses body condition and be on the lookout for soreness and/or swelling.

If you have other advice about how to get a horse into the best condition possible for the wagon train, or other wisdom you’d like to share related to equine health and safety on the wagon train, please share in the comments of this blog.

May the sun shine on all of your exercise sessions!

NEXT:  A Trip To The Auction




This week, the 4H Wagon Train adventure blog was supposed to be about conditioning horses for the wagon train.  However, the sun shined in the Willamette Valley a few times in the past week, the waters receded, and this blogger elected to go out and play in the mud with her horses instead of blogging.  The good news is that playing in the mud (a/k/a “plowing”) is a great way to condition horses.

This blogger will be participating in her 4th year of the Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association Annual Plowing Competition on Saturday.  If you want to see wagon train horses and mules in action, I invite you to come out to this event, rain or shine!  If you are interested in the 4H Wagon Train, talk to any Teamster at this event – they absolutely will make time to talk to you.  There will also be a 4H Wagon Train booth amongst the exhibitors at the event – those volunteers are giving their time to talk about wagon train, so go see them too.  Please share this post and invite your friends.

More than 30 years ago the 4H Wagon Train idea was brought to life by Teamsters who had been plowing in this same competition for more than 20 years before that.  They were plowing their own fields and wanted to find and make ways to work their draft animals for the betterment of their hobby, their industry and their community.  Plowing and 4H Wagon Train are inseparable concepts, and, folks, this week it’s time to plow!

NEXT:  “Conditioning Horses for The Wagon Train”

Wagon Train Connectivity

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.

Ike and Cory
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.

Chris and Morris
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.

IMG_2907The 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

Rhonda and Chris (age 17)
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.

Rhonda with her daughter and nieces and mom-in-law, Becky

Rhonda and Chris with son, Hudson and daughter, Elizabeth (2016)

(cover photo) Look Closely!  Tiny Elizabeth backing Roger Everude’s team to the wagon

Molly Everude on wagon train with Elizabeth, Rhonda and Chris’ daughter (age 7)

Pioneers of the 4-H Wagon Train

March 26, 1981

“The time is right to unveil my dream project with you.”

First sentence of a letter from Lyle Spiesschaert, Washington County Extension Agent, to Acting Assistant Director, Duane Johnson, Oregon State University.

If anyone ever needs to know how the idea of the 4-H Wagon Train was conceived, there it is.  Lyle doesn’t like to take credit – he is fond of saying that if you want something to get done, you have to give it away.  In this case, once the idea was proposed, Lyle gave it away to a trio of Teamsters.  But we know from that letter that Lyle certainly proposed the 4-H Wagon Train and modeled it after other similar youth programs he researched in other states.  Then, in spite of the doubts and concerns of the academic machine behind the 4-H program, the first 4-H Wagon Train left from Hillsboro, Oregon on July 10, 1982 with 125 people and 78 horses.

Lyle says the time was right for there to be a wagon train because the tri-county 4-H was in need of an event that fostered cooperation rather than competition, was family oriented and would appeal to both girls and boys, and engendered an appreciation for the beauty of Oregon’s outdoors.  The time was also right for the draft horse community, as Teamsters were still farming with horses and those with the base of knowledge needed for the wagon train were ready for a new challenge.

IMG_2866The three Teamsters who spearheaded the effort and laid the lasting foundation for Lyle’s dream project were Lyle’s dad, George Spiesschaert, Morris Everude and George Horner.  They were the ones who designed and built the first 4-H Wagon Train event, along with input and hard work from many other people who were involved in the first and stayed involved to build the program for many years thereafter.  They figured out what it would take to outfit and supply the group, including wagons and horses and food and water for people and animals.  They planned the route and led the group down the trail.  They studied and calculated and made lists and collaborated and organized.  Their families, particularly the Teamsters wives who hosted frequent meetings, were also a major part of the effort.

It’s hard to imagine planning for that first 80 mile trip, assisted by a only few modern comforts and conveniences (but no cell phones!) along the way, much less planning a 2,000 mile trip from St. Louis to Oregon City.  It’s mind boggling to think about what those first westward pioneers had to do to make that trip, with no comforts or conveniences.  None.  “Fun” wasn’t part of it, it was all about survival.  Hauling the right type and amount of supplies made the difference between hunger and misery, if not life and death.  (I know some of you are thinking ’bout that Wagon Trail video game you played in elementary school in the 1980’s, right?  “You have died of dysentery” was the most common way to end the game.)

The first 4-H Wagon Train, according to Lyle, was not much fun.  The miles and days were long and the nights were cold.  But the adversity of that first year is what brought people together and seems to be the glue that still sticks the group together today.  And of course, every year the planning got better and the stories of the volunteers who support the 4-H Wagon Train today will amaze you – coming in future posts on this blog.

George Spiesschaert died rather suddenly of pancreatic cancer 20 days after completing his third year of the 4-H Wagon Train.  Morris Everude and George Horner carried on the tradition for more than two decades after that.  I had the pleasure of speaking to a few young ladies who were the 3rd generation of Everudes to grow up participating in the wagon train and hopefully someday there will be a 4th generation of Everudes involved in the program.  The tradition continues – in my case, with the very same wagon George Horner drove for all those years and all those miles.  The more I learn about the 4-H Wagon Train, the more I am committed to helping keep this unique tradition alive in our community.IMG_2865

George Horner, “Father, Musician, Horseman” & 4-H Wagon Train Pioneer

The first 4-H Wagon Train committee in 1982 had 80 people on 8 subcommittees and George Horner was one of the first Teamsters.  Every year he helped to plan the event and participated for an estimated 25 years.  My only connection to George is the wagon he drove for all those years is the wagon I’ll be borrowing this year, and I’ve heard a lot of stories about him. George died on January 25, 2017 at 96 years old.

In order to get a better understanding of the 4-H Wagon Train experience and meet others who knew George through wagon train, I semi-crashed George’s memorial service last Saturday.   I wasn’t fully crashing because I knew a few Teamsters who were there to honor George.  It was still a tiny bit awkward, but by the time the service concluded I felt like I knew him.  I wished I’d known him.  From the back of a packed church, I listened as a representative from every dimension of George’s life shared poignant memories of a long life, filled with family, friendships, community service, coaching, church and choir and so much more.  He was an inspiration to everyone who knew him, across the board, and he was obviously a man who knew how to bring people together and get things done.

When did George have time for all of this?  Where did he find the energy?  How did he so completely connect with every person in his life?  Then I remember, he made things happen before cell phones, texts, emails, and the proliferation of Facebook and all the other social media.  When George joined the first committee organized to plan the first 4-H Wagon Train, a long distance call was to the next county, meeting minutes were handwritten and letters were typed – maybe the typewriter was electric – and if you wanted to make a copy you used carbon paper.   The way people connected was directly, by spending time together, having face-to-face conversations, in a world that did not measure itself by bandwidth and megabits.  Anyone under the age of 45 probably thinks I’m kidding – no cellphone phones!

The last group to speak at George’s service was the “horse people,” who were all seated together, front and center of the church.  I see these guys working horses and mules on a fairly regular basis, wearing mostly dirt, so I was immediately moved by their dapper appearances.  They also got to the church early, judging from the place they were sitting.  They were indeed there to show their greatest respect to George as one of their own.

It was clear from all that was said about George during the service, before Lyle Spiesschaert stepped up to speak for the Teamsters, that George’s passion for horses was known but not well-understood by the non-horse people in attendance.   This wasn’t a room full of horse people – we even didn’t make it onto the program for the memorial.   But George so thought of himself as a horseman that he penned his own gravestone, “Father, Musician, Horseman.”  Of all the connections in the room, the Teamsters were the outsiders.  So, when Wayne Beckwith joined Lyle at the pulpit and told the attendees he was going to lead us in singing “The Garbage Song,” I held my breath.  Wayne explained that George led the singing of this song every night of the wagon train – George changed the verses to tell the story of all of the adventures on the trail each day and the group faithfully sang the chorus.

Uh oh, I thought, this isn’t going to go well.   I wondered how many people actually knew the chorus or would sing it and I thought it would fall flat.  Wayne sang the first verses he’d written to honor George… then there was one beat of silence… and then many, many, many voices joined in the chorus,IMG_2854

“Roll on you wagons roll on,

Roll on you wagons roll on,

We’re in this together and we leave at dawn,

Roll on you wagons roll on.”

That was a magical moment for me – proof that George had indeed connected everyone in the room, to himself and to each other, in life and in song.  George Horner will live on in the many connections he created, a lesson for me and anyone else who wonders about their place and purpose in this crazy world.

In the early years of 4-H Wagon Train, the trip was a unique opportunity for outdoor appreciation and adventure, but spending time together on the trail was a natural extension of everyday life.  Today, particularly in Oregon, outdoor appreciation and adventure is an extension of our everyday lives and the quest for respite from the frenetic pace we set for ourselves.  The unique opportunity of the wagon train today is for the connections, and the singing still inspired by George, and that’s definitely something I’m looking forward to on my wagon train journey.

Next Week:  Other Pioneers of 4-H Wagon Train

Wagon Train Past & Present, And “How Did I Get Myself Into This?”

“I had known long before I rode a covered wagon to Oregon that naïveté was the mother of adventure.”  Rinker Buck, “The Oregon Trail”

Love that quote. It sums my feeling about this journey.   I’m moving forward in spite of the unknowns, asking questions, making lists, and working horses when conditions permit.  I’m getting into the pioneer mindset with all of the information I can find about the trip as it is now and as it was 170 years ago when Barlow used axes and hand saws to blaze an 80 mile trail through Mt. Hood’s virgin timber.  The rest, I am leaving to faith in myself and my horses. After all, isn’t that what an adventure is all about – faith in oneself?

In 1845, when Samuel K. Barlow’s family lined up wagons on the Oregon Trail and headed west, loaded with a few worldly possessions and as many food provisions and necessaries as the wagons could manage, they knew very little about the adventure they would face across the next 2,000 miles.  Their journey into the unknown has been compared to the first moon landing, only it turned out to be much more treacherous.

I’m a decently trained outdoor survivalist – I know how to start a fire and build a warm, dry shelter out of nothing but what I find in the woods, navigate with and without a map and compass, and I know enough first aid to handle a crisis.  While these skills increase faith in oneself when setting out on the trail, I’m certainly hoping none of it will be necessary on this trip.  In fact, the 4-H Wagon Train has been operating for more than 30 consecutive years and, for the extensive committee of folks who organize the trip, there are very few unknowns.  Aside from the possibilities of broken equipment, a blocked route, injuries, or mishaps with animals (domestic, not wild), my fellow Teamsters tell me this is not rocket science.

That’s not saying I’ve been promised an easy trip.  I’ve been promised nothing except the opportunity for a great experience with some good folks who know how to take care of each other on the trail and meet any challenge it brings through cooperation and hard work, just like those early pioneers.  I’ve been promised that if my horses are properly conditioned for the trip, my team will graduate to a level of training and experience that could not otherwise be achieved.   I’ve been promised that I will not starve on this trip (but I’m a vegetarian who subsists on fast food French Fries) and there will be adequate sleeping, bathing and alone-time (but I’m an introvert who has very little experience with kids and I take my alone time seriously).   I’ve been promised all of the support I need, and so far this has been more than true – not only have I received a constant flow of support and encouragement since I decided to take this trip, I feel I’ve been adopted into the 4-H Wagon Train family with open arms.

My new family doesn’t really know me, they are accepting me on faith, but the people who have invited me to participate are my other family, the horsemen and muleskinners of the Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association (ODHBA).  That’s a fancy title for a bunch of like-minded people, called Teamsters, who spend all of their free time having fun with mules and draft horses, driving, plowing, logging, showing and anything else that can be done for fun with our teams.   This family knows me and my horses, and I trust them to know my abilities and not to get me into trouble.  After all, isn’t that what an adventure with other people is all about – trusting each other?

As a member of the ODHBA family for a number of years, I’d known of the 4-H Wagon Train from the Teamsters who regularly participate in the trip.  Without these Teamsters, there would be no wagon train, and every year they are looking for commitments from teams to pull wagons.  Every year, I say “no.”

But you know, when someone asks you to do something enough times, with that sparkle in their eye like “don’t worry, it’ll be great,” and you love and respect the people doing the asking, and your heart is open to an adventure, and the stars and planets seem to align in favor of saying yes, then, you finally say “yes.”  Actually, I said “maybe,” but once I let in a little bit of the possibility of this adventure, the rest came like a flood and there was no denying to myself that I was all in.

All in – doesn’t mean no doubts.  There will be times in the next few months when I’ll ask myself, “self, how did you get yourself into this?”  I will credit (or blame) two muleskinners who I love and respect, Neal McCool and Wayne Beckwith, with finally persuading me to say “yes.”   Neal, Head Teamster for the 2017 4-H Wagon Train, is responsible for recruiting Teamsters for this year’s wagon train.  He is 77 years young and he estimates he has been on the 4-H Wagon Train 20 times.  Wayne is 70 years young and he estimates he has been on the 4-H Wagon Train 19 times.  He was Wagon Master, the leader of the event, from 2008 through 2010 and two of those years were on a similar route to this year’s route on the Barlow Road.  They are both passionate about their wagon train experiences, and both are delightful story-tellers.   They are the Teamsters I can count on to tell me the good, the bad and the ugly, who will answer my millions of questions with patience and kindness and, most importantly for this adventure, give me wagon-driving lessons.

A mule is hybrid between a female horse and a male donkey.  They are sure-footed, less prone to injury and exhaustion, need less frequent forage and water, and pound for pound they are stronger than a horse.  No offense meant to my fellow draft-horse-horsemen, but mules and their handlers are smart – “muleskinner,” a person who drives mules, means smart enough to outsmart a mule – and they and their animals are the most sensible, colorful, fun-loving and hard working members of the equine family.   Teams of mules (and oxen) were preferred over horses by Oregon Trail pioneers.  So, if a muleskinner adopts you, encourages you, offers to mentor you, or asks you to be a part of his wagon train, you say “yes.”   It’s the next level in your education as a horseman.  Ultimately, I think that is what this adventure will be all about for me, having faith in myself and others, and getting one step closer to being the best Teamster I can be.

Next Week:  George Horner, and the Pioneers of 4-H Wagon Train

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