Monday, August 29, 2011

The Oregon Trail By Covered Wagon: Endurance

Monday August 29 2011

Three and a half months on the Oregon Trail, another morning comes. It's the same routine every morning, rain, shine, dust, or thunderstorms.

You have to convince the mules they want to get caught. Nick usually does the catching.

Both Rinker and Buck hitch up the 3 mules.

They're all dressed and ready to hitch up to the wagon.

Nick backs the three as a team to the tongue. The men found over time it was easier to do it that way, than to hitch them up one by one.

Rinker holds the team while Nick fine-tunes the hitches.

Nick holds the team while Rinker and passengers climb aboard. Jake is always impatient to get started once he's hitched up.

And away they go.

Today the mules will travel over some of the original Oregon Trail that runs through the Langley's property near Huntington, Oregon. The ranch and the trail has been in their family since the late 1800's. Ivan has gotten out his tractor to clear a passage for the team; the family then leads the way in their truck, as some of the grandchildren come along on the wagon for the ride.

It's beautiful up here where the route looks much the same as it did 150 years ago.

There are a few grades on this part of the trail; the mules throw themselves into the traces and pull the near-ton wagon up the hill. (The 'pup', or commissary wagon that usually is pulled behind the main wagon, has a broken axle that is being fixed and will meet the wagon later down the trail. It will add another near-ton to the load.)

The Langleys tell us we'll be going by a railroad track for a mile and a half. We go right by the railroad track. We are 5 feet from the tracks.

I'm hoping we'll get lucky and not meet a train. We don't meet a train. It comes up from behind us. The rails start zinging and I hear the roar of the train coming - and of course it's on my side of the wagon.

Rinker says the mules should be fine because they've been around trains before. They haven't been five feet from a roaring monster train before. I'm glad I don't know this pertinent bit of information till the train has safely passed. With the blinkers restricting their vision, the mules hear this monster coming, but they don't see it till it's already passing them.

There's nothing to do and nowhere to go but on the path right beside the train tracks - continue as they've been doing - as the train whooshes past us, alternately screaming and roaring and thundering over the rails.

The mules spook and shy a bit - but they keep moving forward. They look up when a larger car or a louder roar sweeps past them. But they keep going. I'm floored at how well the mules handle it.

But then, these mules have seen and handled just about everything between St Joseph, Missouri and here, 1800 miles, more or less, along the Oregon Trail. Its been a true endurance feat - and not just the mileage. They still have about 150 miles to travel before their end destination of Pendleton, Oregon... and after passing the train, they do just that.

They keep traveling onward.

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