Neither rain, nor snow, nor a tired horse stopped the 63rd annual Highway 50 Association Wagon Train as it began its trek this week from Nevada to California.
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Members of the Wagon Train gathered last Saturday at Zephyr Cove, Nev., to assemble for the ride. On Sunday, they went from Stateline, Nev., to Amacker Ranch in Meyers. On Monday they started the 1,000-foot climb to Echo Summit, traveling an average of 3 mph.
Originally they were due at the summit around 11 a.m. but one of their horses became fatigued and had to be swapped out. They eventually reached the summit around 1 p.m. and then rode on to Adventure Mountain, where they stayed the night.
Monday’s weather turned out to be the biggest challenge of the day as they ran into a late spring storm. Blustery winds, rain and snow swirled around the Wagon Train as they pulled into the parking lot of Adventure Mountain and helped each other unhitch or unsaddle the horses, store away gear and look for refuge from the cold.
Merle and Jack Rouleau, residents of El Dorado, were two of them. Shivering from the rain, Merle spoke while huddled under a kiosk.
“We were going to do the trip last year but my husband had a lung cancer operation,” she said. “We were delayed (getting here) because one of the horses was fatigued. Our first concern was the horses, so whenever they needed a rest, we stopped. There were five of us in a covered wagon. but it was too much weight, so they changed out a horse and we moved to another wagon.”
Elaine Reed, 68 of McKinleyville said she was on the Wagon Train last year.
“The last half of the trail we had a good time,” she said. “We decided to come back and bring our two grandsons, Tim, 14, and Ethan, 11. Until the rain, we were having a great time. We’re still having a great time. The canvas came off the wagon while we were stopped. So we just huddled under it once the rain started.”
Inside the lodge Lee Chapman, 62, of San Jose warmed himself against the roaring fireplace.
“I can’t tell you how long I’ve been doing this. Maybe 10 years. I was here last year when we got snow. But I’ll take snow over cold rain like this any day,” he said. He said his cousin started doing it and he decided to join him. “I’ve met some wonderful people and we get to see each other once a year. They are great friends. Everybody helps everyone out.”
Vi Tara, event coordinator for the Wagon Train, said there was an accident Monday afternoon when a teamster broke his leg. A horse kicked him as he was unhitching the team. “But it wasn’t the horse’s fault,” said Tara. “Everyone went over to help him until the ambulance arrived and even held a tarp over his head to shield him from the snow. He will be back with us once he’s fixed up.”
In a phone interview on Tuesday morning, Tara said they are waiting until noon to see what the road conditions are. Currently the road is icy and the wagons have steel tires, making it too dangerous for the horses and the riders to be on them. So they plan to truck everyone down to Kyburz which is their next stop. They will be there on Wednesday as well for a layover day.
On Thursday they travel to Fresh Pond for the next layover and a barbecue. Members of the public are welcome to this and all subsequent events.
On Friday they will travel from Fresh Pond to Pollock Pines for a mid-morning “Wagons in the Pines” pancake breakfast, music, dancing, crafters and pony rides. Later in the day they will move on to High Hill Ranch in Camino. In the evening there is “Open Mike” cowboy poetry hosted by poet Jim King. There will also be music by the Stardust Cowboys and a New York Steak barbecue along with beer and wine. The ranch is located at 2901 High Hill Road and events start around 5:30 p.m.
On Saturday the Wagon Train leaves High Hill Ranch for Placerville. A variety of related activities will take place on Broadway, including crafters, food, art, entertainment, kids games, a barbecue rib cookoff, beer and a shootout. The Wells Fargo stagecoach will be there as well.
The trek ends at the lower parking lot of the Regal Cinemas on Placerville Drive. There will be an “End of the Trail Party” Saturday evening, including a barbecue, live music and dancing.
On Sunday, the Wagon Train officially disbands for another year.
The Wagon Train commemorates one of the major land routes to California in the 1850s, traversing what we now know as Echo Summit and the Highway 50 corridor. According to the Highway 50 Association, travel on this highway was often so heavy that wagon trains had to wait for days to have their turn on the road.
In 1949, a Wagon Train was formed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gold Rush and the valiant struggles of the early emigrants who found their way to California via this land route. The Wagon Train was such a success that it was brought back in 1951 and every year since. It’s become a true historical event that has been recognized as such by both the state of California and the state of Nevada.
For more information about the event and specific activities, go to their Website at hwy50wagontrain.com or call Vi Tara, event coordinator at 530-644-3761.