The Last Grand Adventure FLASH BACK The Wagon
The wagon came to us in November. It was pulled into Furnace Creek Ranch by four smart and eager Welsh dark red ponies with flaxen manes and tails as a part of the annual Death Valley Forty-niner Encampment Parade. A sign on the side of it declared, “MY DESERT HOME IS FOR SALE.”
We followed the parade and talked to Bob Cornelius, the owner, about buying the miniature, green, covered wagon. He told us that Laverne Gentert built it in 1967 for a trip into Death Valley. He said he’d sell it to us for $850.00.
Every cent that we could get our hands on went into the purchase of that wagon and later that afternoon Bob’s son, Chester, delivered it, via those high-stepping Welsh ponies, right to the front yard of the fifth-wheel trailer we were renting!
I started saving up money for harness. By our anniversary in March I was able to purchase one set of pony harness from Bob Cornelius, and two sets from his friend, Bob Cleveland. Carol said “Thank you for my Anniversary presents.”
Providentially for us though all sets are different they are all close enough in looks, i.e., black leather with silver “dots,” that unless they are closely examined they all appear to be alike.
Now, we were complete with six willing donkeys who hate to stand unused in a corral, three sets of antique harness, and a miniature wagon. We mixed them all together and the wild rides began!
It was a hair-raising time. I’d load the wagon heavily with hay-bales, hitch up a span of just two burros at a time, give my wife a hand up and turn the team out into the desert sand of Death Valley. You’d think that a heavy load in soft sand would keep them slow – but not so. They would charge at full speed out through the humps and holes of the desert, swerving right, and left, as they tried to outrun the wagon.
Slow-minded Rags would just beat the front of the wagon to splinters, every time it was his turn. He would play a regular tat too drum beat on the old wood with his hind hoofs while I was thanking God for a wagon with a high seat and Carol was hanging on for dear life and praying out loud!
It wasn’t long before the burros settled down and got used to the wagon and since their training was going so smoothly, I decided that traveling with the wagon was not such a bad idea.
We could carry more water, (of course we needed more now that we had more animals) and carry hay too. I figured that we’d start this new way of traveling by going up to Virginia City, Nevada and then come straight back to Death Valley before winter.
I’m sure we discussed division of labor before we left on our journey, even though neither of us remembers the chat. I do remember that I was expected to do the driving because Carol gets nervous when she has those important six ribbons in hand (so nervous that she forgets what to do with all six of them) and because she declares that it all takes more muscle than she’s got. She would wrap the swing and wheeler’s lines around the post on the dash board and pick up the lines of the leaders and think she was in charge. The boys were good for her as long as there are no turns to be made.
I also remember that because I have a talent for camp cookery that I’d be cook and she’d do the clean-up.
As a jack-of-all-trades I had done plenty of cooking to earn my living and I had been used to driving a pair of Belgian Draft Horses four or five times a week as a part of my job wrangling horses at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, so I felt fully qualified for those jobs. However, I was soon to find out that wrestling with six lines of leather all day long is a job that stands all by itself in the category of pain and grit. Especially in desert heat where the lines are often too hot to touch with a bare hand.
In the planning stages of our trip, neither of us realized the amount of sheer hard work that it would take to keep our hitch on the road. And, maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t, because I would have been overwhelmed. As it was, we put a fresh coat of paint on our little wagon, loaded it with hay, and made our bed on top of the hay (even though Carol is allergic to alfalfa) all in a dither of happiness!