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Day Off With the Teamsters


2-2-09, Mount Erie, IL - It was a short drive to our new destination.  A couple of miles from the previous night’s camp, we met up with a crowd of local teamsters at the local fertilizer plant. These folks are a week away from harnessing their teams of horses and mules up to their wagons and taking off on a week long adventure to the Shawnee National Forest.

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Throughout my travels, I’ve often met with members of different local driving clubs. Two or three times a years, these local clubs harness up and take their wagon trains on extended drives, sometimes lasting several hundred miles.  These are great organizations and help keep alive the skills and knowledge of our pioneer ancestors.

Across town from the fertilizer plant, we stopped at the grain elevator for some oats. While there, ‘Doodle’ Hart dropped us off some hay and extended an invitation to rest the team at his place.  As the team had traveled the previous 8 days without taking a day off, we readily accepted.

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We’re now camped at the Hart farm, a few miles west of Mount Erie. Doodle and his wife Sissy have been fantastic and we’re really having a great time. The horses are doing their best to polish off a large round bale of hay, while Denise and I are being royally entertained.

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Last night’s entertainment included a fine American tradition - the garage party.  Mix a garage, wood stove, supply of beer, and any old excuse, and the next thing you know, friends and family gather and everyone has a great time.

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The way I have been traveling for the past couple of weeks provides plenty of physical rest for the horses.  Every third day, each horse gets to walk along behind the trailer without working.  Even with this arrangement, I still need rest days for two reasons, first, to give the horses a psychological break and allow them some time to just be horses, and also time to get some extra feed in them.  When we’re traveling 10 hours a day, the team doesn’t have enough time to sleep and get enough hay in them to replace all of the calories they burn in a day.  I can fill in most of the calories by feeding concentrates. Three times a day, each horse gets about 5 pounds of oats and corn for each feeding.  This fills in the calorie gap and allows them to hold their weight.  On top of this, they still need a large amount of grass or hay to keep them healthy and their digestive system working properly. Without concentrates, our pioneer ancestors must have had a hard time keeping flesh on their animals as they traveled.

The next few days will see us moving through southern Illinois.  I now plan on crossing the Mississippi River in the town of Chester.  After talking with some of the locals, I decided this was the best route.

It’s a rainy day today; a good day to get some rest and do a little writing. Tomorrow, we’re headed west once more.