I have been in love with trains since I was a small child - only logical considering my father, who was my idol, was a railroad man. I have ridden passenger trains, chased steam trains for photos, and toured several railroad museums in the west (the best is in Portola, California, in my opinion).
However, I don't have any good photos to share, so my train is the wagon train that arrived in Forest City last Saturday evening for the fabulous meal our neighbor there, Dale, cooked and several of us served - in 1850s costumes.
Now, I might have been romantic about wagon trains crossing the prairie during the westward expansion and especially the Gold Rush, back when I was a child. We received sanitized history accounts that minimized the hardships. As an adult married to an anthropolist, however, I have visited many museums and read dozens of accounts of the cholera epidemics, the accidents, the crosses, starved oxen and discarded possessions left alongside the trail. While everyone has heard of the infamous Donner Party, there are so many more accounts of similar struggles to come west. For some of the richest research and trail accounts, visit the Oregon-California Trails Association's website here.
I am extremely grateful NOT to have lived during that time; our lives can be much richer and happier without hardship and loss, especially if spent creatively and compassionately. I think the best way to experience the good side of wagon train travel is to take the course our modern-day visitors have - include modern amenities and enjoy the backcountry!
This first photo shows one of the lead wagons, pulled by a matched pair of Belgians, coming up the last little rise from Oregon Creek into Forest City.
The Dance Hall where we hosted everyone for dinner is in the background.
Below, this wagon is driven by the group's leader and mainstay, John of Greenwood Ranch outside of Auburn... his team is a pair of rare Cremello mules...
There was even a stagecoach, pulled by four Percherons who had won some of the events at the Draft Horse Classic in Nevada City two weeks before... they were absolutely beautiful, and our local school bus driver had me laughing when he described arriving at the school where they camped the first leg of their journey, to discover a horse looking down at him through the bus window... he said "I didn't know they MADE horses that big!"
This group of travelers, arriving with six wagons and the stagecoach, have been participating in wagon train groups for many years, as well as appearing in parades. They had their own trailer with porta-potties (more a health requirement of the areas they pass through than their own need), and their own cookie, with a stove that was unloaded at each stop (she was roasting turkeys for the rest of the trip while we served Saturday's dinner!). There is a historic wagon train re-enactment on historic Highway 50, and a few others throughout the west that take place annually, and this group wants to build an annual tour of the Heness Pass route, which ran stages between Marysville, California and Virginia City, Nevada during the Comstock Silver rush... as an aside, the Comstock strike helped fund the Union's treasury during the Civil War, and the country's history might have turned out considerably different if there hadn't been more resources on the Union's side throughout the war.
At its heyday, the Heness Pass route allowed stage travel only at night, since the freight traffic through the mining country was so heavy during the day!
The animals all got a good rest and there is even still green grass in the high country, so highlining in Forest City overnight was a grazing banquet to them.
The photo below shows one wagon parked in front of one of two remaining store buildings left in town; DH and I sold this building eight years ago, after he had spent over a decade restoring it to fully standing.
We are planning to devote the last weekend in October to working with John to map out distances, overnight stops and elevation changes in the section of the tour that they will expand to include next summer. That is, if we don't get an early snow!
The fall weather here was goreously accomodating to these folks and has continued to bless us all week... hope your weekend is wonderful.