July 24, 2001
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

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© 2001
The Nugget Newspaper
Sisters, Oregon
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Eric Dolson, Publisher

Wagon train clanks into town
By Charley Engel

The Sisters Centennial Wagon Train rolled into town on Saturday morning, July 21, on the final leg of its seven -day trip.

From Prineville they had come, across 80 odd miles of roads and a hundred years of time.

Sisters veterinarians (and twin sisters) Sharon Sharpnack and Susan Conner drove their matched team of black quarter horses. Their rig was an antique farm wagon that they restored themselves and converted into a covered wagon.

A passenger could close his eyes for a moment and listen and imagine himself a passenger on the Old Santiam Wagon Road back near the turn of the century.

There was, first and foremost, the racket from the steel-rimmed wheels banging over the rocks in the road. Then there was the din of the metal parts of the harness clanking and clinking together. The wagon box, the canopy bows, and spring seat all creaked and squeaked as they were twisted and jostled over the bumpy road, adding to the cacophony.

There was also the rhythmic beat of eight, steel-shod, horse hooves pounding into the rocks and dirt in front of the wagon.

And, finally, add to all this racket five more wagons in front and 10 outriders behind.

Susan and Sharon were just two of 12 teamsters that took part in this little taste of history on wheels. They, along with most, wore period costumes to lend an air of authenticity to the event.

Wagon train enthusiasts travel far and wide to be with like-minded individuals and share the tribulations and camaraderie of the trail.

On this train there were drivers, passengers, and outriders from all over the West Coast: Washington, Idaho, California, and Montana. All were led by veteran Wagon Master "Lucky" Newell of Philomath, Oregon.

Their reasons for attending and time spent with the train were as varied as the participants themselves.

Tammy Ayres of Tumalo "wanted to get out with my horse and see some country." She spent just Sunday riding her handsome American saddlebred pinto pony, "Dancer."

Lucy Hilburn from Salem "wanted to do something different" to celebrate her 44th birthday. She, her husband, Dan, and their daughter, Allison, found their "once-in-a-lifetime" adventure as passengers in Forest Schmidt's 100-year-old wagon.

Gene and Cheryl Oreb of Placerville, California were driving their pair of dashing bay standardbreds, "Skipper" and "Wendy," in front of their recently built, small ranch wagon.

The Orebs have been into wagon trains for 11 years.

"They're a lot of work -- but fun" said Cheryl, who admits that it is her husband who is the true enthusiast.

Richland, Washington graphic designer, Dan Foley was in the area attending the Sisters Quilt Show and decided to join up at the last minute.

"I just tagged along today on this and am having a ball," he said as he stood in the chow line.

Dan, his wife Tina, and a few dozen others were enjoying the hospitality of the Campbell Ranch, northeast of Prineville.

Event organizers Bob Buckman and his wife, Jeri, counted on the goodwill of outfits like the Campbell and Longhollow ranches and the Prineville and Sisters fairgrounds and rodoe grounds when planning for each day's camping spot.

The grounds of these spreads were like oases compared to the dry and dusty public lands that the group was forced to camp on a couple of nights.

"Our camp near Crooked River Ranch was so dusty that I couldn't sleep at night" moaned Debby Chambers, assistant wagon master.

But dust, heat, cold, and even hail storms are all part of the experience and are part of what sets life on a wagon train apart from our modern, fast-paced existence.

"Everybody thought I was crazy this morning but I said my favorite part was the hail and the rain," related Debbie, who along with all the other outriders got soaked on Friday during a severe thunderstorm.

"I didn't have a coat and my hat was clear down around my ears but it takes you back (in time). That was the whole idea."

The long ride from Prineville was not without creature comforts however. Each afternoon a second caravan of motorhomes, camp trailers, campers, and live-in horse trailers was shuttled into camp.

Most everyone had the opportunity to enjoy at least a solar shower, some cold drinks, and a lawn chair while they waited for the mountain of food that was piled upon their plates each night.

The party was serenaded with cowboy songs one evening from Jim Cornelius, Al Herauf, and your correspondent. There was even a trick roper, Kevin Fitzpatrick, who entertained the throng Friday night.

Orchestrating all of this mayhem took most of a year of planning for the Buckmans. Because his responsibilities kept him busy all day Bob couldn't spend time on his horse during the ride.

"Just being out here in God's Country and having fun with friends is good enough for me," he said.

Joanne Shook from Tumalo probably summed up the week the best when she said "It's been wonderful. I am looking forward to the next wagon train."

For information on enjoying a taste of history for a day or a week contact Bob and Jeri Buckman at 541-548-4708.

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