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Tough Start

6-2-14, Paisley, OR - At 8 am, with Doc and Bill hitched, we pulled out of the driveway and headed north.  As many times as I have loaded up the wagon and set off on adventure, it never ceases to amaze me how much work and preparation is required beforehand.  But once we’re underway, all that is over and it’s pure fun (with the occasional glitch to keep things interesting).


The lads, ready to get underway.

For the first part of the journey, we have a 150 mile, 8 or 9 day run to La Pine, OR, our first chance to resupply.  To compensate for that, I had to load both the wagon and trailer with quite a few supplies, bringing the total weight of the wagon and trailer to 7,500 to 8,000 pounds.

This is a small portion of the people supplies.  The cabin gets a little crowded when you add personal effects and two weeks of food for two people.

The first three miles of the trip were through the grasslands of Valley Falls. After taking a short break, Doc and Bill pulled through 10 miles of Salt Flats, which is an ancient lake bed covered with thorny saltbush (about the only thing that will grow in alkali sand).  The lads made good time and trekked 15 miles by lunch.

Pulling across the Alkali flats, just north of Valley Falls.

Half a mile short of our lunch spot, we stopped to let a lady take a few pictures. When I went to pull back on to the highway, Bill said, “That’s enough, I’m not pulling anymore”. When I tried to force the issue, by first having him back up, then go forward, he locked up all four legs and an irresistible force (Doc) met an immovable object (Bill). When this occurs, something is going to break, and it did. The neck yoke snapped in two and Bill’s pole strap broke on his harness.  I had spares for both of these items, so it wasn’t a show-stopper, but I hated to use them on the first day of the trek.

After swapping Bill out for Bob, and replacing the broken items, we were on the road once more. It was only a few mile up to our camping spot, on a wide piece of right-of-way, with good grazing.

The dogs, sniffing out the best spot to do their business, at a roadside break.

In the next few miles, Billy managed to break his halter by stopping and refusing to walk behind the trailer.  I had three spare halters, so again, this wasn’t a show-stopper.

After checking out the camping spot we had under consideration, I saw that it had a dry irrigation ditch running through it. When I tried to turn the wagon in the space provided, I misjudged the amount of room I needed (by about one foot.  After unhitching the team, I disconnected the trailer and used a chain and the evener to back and turn the wagon.  After rehitching the team, they completed the turn with a couple of feet to spare.  We had some friends stop by that night, so I waited until then to reconnect the trailer to the wagon.

The lads, enjoying good grass at our roadside camping spot.  We were over 100 feet from the road, so it was a pretty good place.  With good friends, good food and a few drinks, it was a nice evening.

6-3-14, 9 miles west of Paisley, OR - Jacquie and decided to forego the highway leading north to Summer Lake and Silver Lake, and instead take the back way on National Forest Service roads.  This would add about a day to our trip, but the water, grass and scenery are all great in the forest. We would also be avoiding a winding road with very few places to camp.

After reaching Paisley, we turned west into the forest, following the Chewacan River.  9 miles from town, we knew of a really great camping place with plenty of grazing, alongside the river.

This was a good steady pull for Bob and Doc, as the road gains about 1000 feet in elevation in the nine miles up to the campsite.

Over the next few miles, Bill managed to break two more halters, leaving him wearing the last remaining spare when we pulled into the campsite.  At this point, Jacquie and I did some serious sole-searching and came to the conclusion that there was no way that Bill was going to make the Trip. And in order for us to make the trip with the two remaining horses, I would have to trim about 2,000 pounds off the weight of the wagon.  This would mean leaving the trailer behind and rebuilding the shelf on the back of the wagon to allow us to carry the minimum supplies we would need to cross some of the high desert on our route.  Along with a couple of other minor equipment failures, the odds of making a successful trip were rapidly stacking against us.

Apparently, Bill is suffering from the aches and pains of his later years (he’s seventeen).  Having a mule-headed temperament, his response to being sore is to slam on the brakes by leaning back.  and setting all four feet. When I bought the Belgians, prior to Trip #2, in 2009, they were 11 and 12 years old.  Right now, they’re 16 and 17 years old, which to a draft horse is the equivalent to being late middle aged.

Parked in a pretty little meadow with a riparian view for a couple of days.

We’re currently camping alongside the river for a couple of days.  The game plan is for us to return with the team to Valley Falls.  I still plan on making horse and wagon journeys, but first I’ll have to find a younger team to travel with Doc. The Belgians will have a great retirement home, as I believe in rewarding good service. Pulling 9000 miles through all sorts of terrain and conditions, while hauling 7,000 to 9,000 lbs is my definition of “pretty good service”.

If things work out all right, my friend Geren will pull Bill home in his horse trailer, while Bob and Doc pull the wagon home.

The grass is sweet and the water is cool - not a bad place for a day off!

6-4-14, 9 miles west of Paisley, OR - I’m enjoying my day off and have already gone for a horseback ride on Doc and took the spinning reel down to the river to try my luck (the fish weren’t biting). If Geren’s trailer is big enough (it needs to be 7 feet high for a draft horse) we’ll load Bill on the trailer tonight and run him back to Valley Falls.  While Geren and I are gone, Jacquie plans on cooking up some curried chicken and rice for supper.

I’ve been giving Bill some Bute for the last 24 hours, and he looks a lot more comfortable.  As I was walking by Bill, I thought I heard him say, “Bob, it isn’t the age, it’s the miles”. I reflected on the time I hitched up the Belgians and left my grandfather Jake’s farm back in ‘09.  He looked at the Belgians and said, “He’s going to walk your damn-fool legs off”. Turning to Billy I said, “Bill, I couldn’t agree with you more.”

I’ll blog again in a couple of days.

I currently don’t have any cell signal (it’s at least 7 mile away) so I’ll have to wait until I get to town to publish this blog.

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