November 3, 2005
Tift County -- More than a hundred years ago, wagon trains helped make it possible to settle America's west, carrying people, supplies and hope for a good life. But not many people know that we have a wagon train that moves slowly through southwest Georgia.
You might ask yourself: Why would anyone want to travel the old fashioned way?
Ask Wallace Turner or any of the 94 people ready to get the train going.
"Wagons Ho," shouts Wallace Turner, the train's trail boss. Suddenly, out of nowhere, comes horse drawn wagon after horse drawn wagon, 17 in all pulled by horses and mules.
Some have modern rubber tires, while others have wheels made of wood. Some have covers that look like wagons seen in western movies. Some have no cover at all. One wagon had a recliner in the back. Another one has two red bucks filled with water for the animals to drink along the way.
After all the wagons rolled, 58 horses and riders followed. They had started a carefree journey of 104 miles, off the beaten path of life, living life in the slow lane, leaving the cares of the world way behind.
"It's a family reunion. Everybody wants to know what you've been doing and how you've been," says Wallace. Five days of companionship. "That's why it takes a good horse to put up with most humans," says Wallace as the wagon train made a left turn on to a dirt road.
It was Don Walter's first time on the Georgia ride. He traveled from Center, Alabama. "Love it. Couldn't be better," says Don as he drove his surrey with fringe on top.
The hypnotic sound of a horse drawn wagon ride through the country, on a beautiful day, with not a care in the world seemed unreal. "Lay the seat back, take a nap and they (the horses) walk right on down the road," says Don as he reclines his seat.
The horses know from experience to follow the wagon in front. A wagon train doesn't get in a hurry, traveling maybe four miles per hour, and on a good day, they will ride 20 miles together. They have camp sites along the route.
Bob Edwards of Danville, Illinois likes the Georgia ride. "This is the fourth year I've been on this ride down here with Wallace," says Bob as he rides past a peanut field. He finds the traveling rather easy. "Nice sound, easy on the horses. Kind of hot and dry this year, but that's part of it, too," says Bob.
People love to stop what they are doing and watch the wagon train go by. Drivers often pass slowly because they want to see each animal and each wagon. Time seems to stand still.
"We love to see them come through every year," says Shelby Moore as she stands in the edge of a cotton field with her video camera recording the procession. Wallace Turner has organized 15 wagon trains with one purpose.
"You see things you don't see flying by in a truck or in an automobile," says Wallace, a commercial truck driver, who often goes to other states to ride in wagon trains. "I've probably have a total of four-thousand miles of riding in trains on one horse," says Wallace, who says his new horse will have 950 miles on him at the end of this week's ride.
His wife, Jennifer, got the high mileage horse. History repeats itself in modern form with 94 people, 58 horses and 17 wagons meandering through the back roads at their own pace, looking forward to seeing what awaits them around the next curve.
The wagon train ends at Mule Day in Calvary on Saturday.