Pioneer spirit: Trip by covered wagon evokes days gone by for Prairieton resident, 8 others

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TERRE HAUTE, Indiana — For three nights, nine men traversed the back roads of communities along the Wabash River in covered wagons, with luggage in tow and food for the journey.

After meals and sharing life experiences around a campfire, some of them slept under the wagons despite the chilly fall air.

The year wasn't 1816. It is 2014.

This weekend, Prairieton resident Larry Sample, his son, Jason, and relatives and neighbors, made their way through parts of three counties in two covered wagons. One of the vehicles was horse-drawn, the other pulled by a truck.

Sample, who made a similar tour 20 years ago, may not have wanted to say it aloud, but one of his relatives and fellow traveler, Randy Healy, said the tour was actually on his bucket list. So his family and friends worked together to make it happen.

But for Sample, the purpose of the tour is to bring his family and friends together, "take you back to basics, take some time off from our jobs and our work and spend some family-friend time together," he told the Tribune-Star (http://bit.ly/144fN7e ). Many in the Wabash Valley know Sample for providing carriage and wagon rides through his business, P&T Carriage Rides.

As the group set up camp Saturday near the Bridgeton covered bridge in Parke County — their second overnight stop of the journey — the travelers shared some of their experiences.

The group started their journey at Sample's hometown of Yeddo in Fountain County around 10 a.m. Friday. They went "real slow and easy," Sample said, and it took them nine long hours to travel the estimated 30-mile distance to their first overnight stop at Billie Creek Village, also in Parke County.

"On a tour like this, you really have to keep moving because you're not going very fast," Sample explained. "So you can't stop for very long periods of time."

They took a longer route than the "normal, straight streets," ostensibly trying to find the best path for a horse-drawn wagon to travel. But the route was also scenic and some of the sites held significant memories for Sample and others on the trip.

The journey wasn't all just sitting in a wagon and sitting around the fire. True to the pioneer experience, there was also some walking involved.

"They're walking up the hills like our forefathers did years ago (to) take pressure off the horse," Sample said. With nine people on a wagon, that's quite a bit of weight uphill, he added.

"He trained us really well. When we saw a hill, we all just got out," Healy said with a laugh.

Aside from the exercise from walking uphill, the pioneers also encountered other challenges.

For example, on Friday, the travelers got to their destination so late, Sample said, that some of them did not have time to set up tents. So after vegetable soup for dinner, some of them slept wherever they could.

One of Sample's relatives from Granger in northern Indiana, Healy, slept under one of the wagons. Despite the tarp installed under the wagon, which he said kept the cold overnight wind from coming through, Healy still found it hard to sleep.

Finding sleep during the bitter cold Friday night was his biggest challenge, he said. Other travelers shared a similar challenge, he added.

The experience of traveling just like the pioneers did "can be hard work" for a "city boy like myself," Healy said as he laughed. "The weather is a factor, too."

But there were no regrets for the city boy because of the rewarding experiences he had on the trip, and time well-spent with family.

Not everyone slept under the wagon, though.

Those who were able to set up tents slept in them. Sample slept in the white covered wagon, which was pulled by his registered Percheron draft horse "Pete" during the trip. Another traveler, Fred Wilson said he slept inside the sheep herder's wagon, which he built about three years ago.

The next morning, the travelers left Billie Creek Village and traveled 10 miles to Bridgeton. That journey took them four hours.

Soon after the early afternoon arrival, a campfire was already burning, lamps were being lit, and tents were being installed. Pete, the horse, was given food and drink.

The sheep herder's wagon contained the sleeping bags, clothes and other supplies. Although they made an effort to travel sans modern gadgets, the sheep herder's wagon offered some modern conveniences, such as a stove, chair and a small bed.

Just as they had done the night before, the campers sat around the campfire and exchanged stories.

"The first night I really enjoyed sitting around the campfire and talking about childhood (memories)," Sample said.

Joining the Samples, Healy and Wilson were other adventurous travelers including local residents Mark Bennett, a Tribune-Star columnist, and his sons, Paul and Graham. One person from Peru, about 75 miles north of Indiana, and another from California also joined the tour.

Sample said they brought different kinds of food, which his wife and mother helped prepare. Lunch meat sandwiches, eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, were among the pickings. On Saturday, the group heated up some bean soup in an open fire.

After the night at Bridgeton, the group made their way to Coxville Sunday morning, where they planned to eat at the Rock Run Cafe & Bakery and camp at the nearby covered bridge. That trip was, again, about four hours. Some travelers stayed the entire four days and three nights, while others did only parts of the journey.

After logging a total of 80 miles on the wagon, Sample and his companions planned to head home to Vigo County Monday.

Despite the challenges, the trip offered a unique opportunity for the travelers.

For Wilson, a resident of southern Vigo County who loves the outdoors and is no stranger to camping, it was a great opportunity to see what it was like for traveling pioneers — what conditions they faced, what problems they had and the decisions they had to make on the road. He said he has a pioneer ancestor who traveled across the Great Plains.

"People in the past went through some pretty tough times," Wilson said, and he wanted to "appreciate and honor" what they have gone through. The tour participants recognized that the pioneers went through tougher terrain and harsher conditions than the group did over the weekend.

The trip was also rewarding, Wilson said. He enjoyed the camaraderie of good friends and the opportunity to experience a slower pace of life and a renewed appreciation of the little things in nature, such as a flying eagle and a coyote running, he said.

"A trip like this makes you realize what niceties society has today," Wilson said.


Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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