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Wagon trek marks anniversary of trail

BAY KELLEY, Sierra Sun

Most of us begin to fume when going a few miles traveling at less than 20 mph in the plush confines of an automobile … imagine going across the country at 4 mph while sitting on a wooden bench.

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the California Trail, Morris Carter and his four daughters – Oneta, Ivy, Airian and Katrena Carter – loaded onto their four wagons and, led by two mules/horses apiece, departed from St. Joseph, Mo. en route to Old Sacramento.

The wagon train, making the trip authentic to the crossings of ’49ers during the California Gold Rush, crossed parts of 10 states (about 2,500 miles) in a little less than six months before landing in Truckee this past weekend.

The travelers parked their wagons at the Donner Memorial State Park. Isolated from all the campers, the effect of the partially circled wagons gave the distinct feeling of having stepped back in time.

That feeling was in direct contrast to the one of watching the train travel up Old Highway 40. On the winding pavement road with cars all around and dozens of people armed with cameras snapping photos, the carts were novel and somehow refreshing.

People clustered around the wagons whenever they stopped

Morris Carter, the train’s organizer, is the owner of a Casper, Wyo. business in Casper called Historic Trails West. Historic Trails, which started 12 years ago, gives covered wagon tours that last anywhere from four hours to a week.

Needing authentic wagons that were capable of carrying lots of people, Carter chose the Conestoga design, the equivalent of a freight car. The Conestoga, weighing in at about 1,800 pounds, is capable of hauling nearly 6,000 pounds of weight. The horses (Belgians, Percheron and others) labored in pairs pulling the carts.

The ability to haul weight is a necessary feature as not only does the Carter family have to carry their belongings and themselves, but one of their main sources of income comes from carting folks with them.

“They add a new perspective,” said Oneta Houston-Carter. “The riders help you remember when it was fun.”

Oneta, while tending to her two-year old son, Caimen, explained that there “was a five-year planning process for this one little trek.”

In order to make the trip, the organizers had to deal with several different agencies including the sheriff, police departments, and the bureau of land management.

“We had a 78-year-old lady ride with us,” she said. “Her great-, great-grandmother (rode in wagon trains) but she never got to. Knowing that she had always wanted to, her niece brought her to us. She rode horseback for two days and slept on the ground. She was great.”

“So we’re doing this for a reason,” Oneta concluded.

This is Oneta and her families’ second sesquicentennial train ride. The first occurred in 1993, when they took six months to travel the 2,600-mile Oregon Trail.

While the trip is supposed to be educational and entertaining, it has also allowed its participants a lot of time for self reflection. Traveling at 27-30 miles a day, perched on the bench, the drivers are privy to each passing leaf.

“I definitely get to see the country,” said Oneta. “For some reason Missouri comes to mind. People say they know Missouri because they’ve been to Branson. I’ve definitely been to Missouri.”


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