Parade recalls horse-drawn days

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, August 5, 2013

CLINTON--Tom Collins stood astride a horse-drawn delivery wagon, dating to the late 1800s, that carried his father, Gene, to his final resting place.

A fancy enclosed carriage with glass windows and red velvet curtains flanked the front of the wagon. Behind it stood a small buggy, the kind that Doc Adams drove in the classic TV series “Gunsmoke.”

Gene spent a lifetime collecting 19th century wagons, carriages and buggies.

He pulled them, rotting and rundown, from fields and sheds.

Then he had them restored to tip-top shape with the help of an Amish craftsman.

“My Dad always thought we would have the biggest auction in the world when he died,” Tom said, surrounded by his father's treasures in a storage shed near Clinton. “But we're never going to sell these things.”

Once a year, Tom brings out one of the antique wagons or buggies for a homegrown parade like no other that gives people a glimpse into the past. Tom's father and Dorothy Case of Clinton began the event 17 years ago to showcase the way people traveled before the age of the automobile.

This year's annual Prairie Days Parade through downtown Clinton is Sunday, Aug. 18. Last year's parade had more than 40 entries. All kinds of horses, ponies and mules pulled old-time wagons, carriages and farm machinery.

There was one exception: A girl wearing a 19th century bonnet led a well-behaved sheep pulling a cart with a doll in it.

Spectators also saw Percherons hitched to a spindle-back surrey; miniature horses lugging a small covered wagon; and a team of tamed burros, adopted from the Bureau of Land Management, in front of a stagecoach.

Several people rode their favorite steeds, including a spotted mule named Picasso.

Some horse folks from Illinois even made a day of it. They hitched their teams to wagons and drove to and from Clinton for the no-frills parade.

“There are no bands,” Tom said. “No fire trucks and no politicians.”

Before and after the parade, plenty of food will be served.

Tim Pogorelski of Boxcar Pub and Mark Peterson of Cougar Bowling Lanes are teaming up to provide a cowboy cookout with pulled pork, pork chops, beans and potato salad.

Agnes Lee of rural Clinton is on the organizing committee with Tom and has been in every horse parade since it began. She owns six Norwegian Fjord horses, a storied breed ridden by the Vikings and almost destroyed by the Nazis. During World War II, the Germans in Norway ate many of the tawny-colored horses with thick manes. But people hid as many horses as they could in the mountains. Today, some 3,000 exist in the United States alone.

Every year, Agnes looks forward to the rustling of the harnesses and the clopping of horse hooves on pavement.

“It's beautiful to hear those sounds,” she said. “They take you back to the 1800s.”

She and Tom support the parade as a way of preserving history.

“They're not making these carriages anymore,” Tom said. “We're trying to keep the past alive.”

As a child, Tom remembers helping his father pull old carriages out of junk heaps. He also helped his dad, who had arthritis, hitch up the horses. One day, he hopes to pass on his love for the 19th century wagons and carriages to at least one of his six children.

“We want this parade to continue long after Agnes and I are gone,” Tom said. “I hope we can pass the torch.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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