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Friendship Wagon Train raises over $36,000 for Camp Winnebago

Thu, Jul 3rd, 2003
Posted in Features

The Friendship Wagon Train made it to Preston on Friday, June 27, where it ended its week-long trek to raise funds for Camp Winnebago.

Rains kissed our cheeks, winds echoed our enthusiasm, the suns rays warmed sullen times . . .

As individuals, our lives are but fleeting images through destinys doors. But, uniting as a family to help others, we have been molded into a permanent fixture throughout eternitys travels. We are the Friendship Wagon Train.

The constitution guarantees the right to pursue happiness. It does not, however, guarantee that all will achieve it. Sometimes folks need a little extra help, like the staff, families, and campers that come together at Camp Winnebago. Thats where the Friendship Wagon Train steps in - literally-traveling mile upon mile, shod horses and mules making their way on blacktop and gravel roads under the suns warmth or through pelting rains.

The Friendship Wagon Train celebrated its 15th anniversary this year as its teamsters and outriders brought in more than $36,000, a record figure. The money was turned over to Camp Winnebago on Saturday, June 27 at the Fillmore County Fairgrounds. The train is the largest contributor for the camperships and the day-to-day expenses of the facility that is located in Houston County. It will be celebrating its 35th anniversary in September.

The 116-acre area provides opportunities in hiking, fishing, canoeing, swimming and much more. A new building is in the process of being constructed and will include a dining area and large kitchen on the first floor, and house offices on the second floor. Funds for the $600,000 structure received a surprise boost when a $200,000 donation came in from an estate settlement.

Wagons Ho!

The week-long event started out in Goodhue, MN on Friday night, June 20, where participants came from Minnesota, Iowa, Alabama, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, and Wisconsin. Its Wagon Master, John Davis, of Byron, and his wife, Monica, the Registrar, welcomed all and gave a brief rundown of the weeks activities. The Traffic Officer in charge of getting the train down the road each day was Nathan Mueller, of Calmar, IA, a 2001 Fillmore Central graduate.

A typical day started out with a truck horn sounding off at 5:00 a.m. Each trailer is responsible for cleaning up after their horses or mules. Trailers and campers were moved ahead at 6:00 a.m. The trains privately owned bus would bring drivers back to camp, where a breakfast, prepared by a local business or organization, was served. Depending on the miles to be covered, the teams and outriders pulled out between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. at a pace of 3 to 3 1/2 miles per hour. Breaks were taken approximately every two to two and half-hours. A support rig carrying a thousand-gallon water tank and pulling a trailer that carries four port-a-potties met the train at each break. Dinner stops usually ran an hour. The Peddlers Wagon was open for business, selling T-shirts, sweatshirts, bandanas, pins, hats, suspenders and camp items. Chances on a quilt made by a train member were raffled off at the end of the week. A second quilt was also donated for raffling.

Safety down the road

More than a dozen orange vested traffic riders were staggered out between the "front and back door" and the "chute", putting themselves between oncoming traffic and the 23 to 26 wagons each day. Bright red flags were used to catch an approaching vehicles attention. Handheld radios sent messages back and forth, with an occasional joke or story hitting the airwaves. The train has had an excellent safety record with motorists and continually strives to work with local law enforcement agencies, alerting them to the trains route.

When entering any break or evening camp, all teamsters and outriders wait for the call "riders down" before stepping out of the saddle or off the wagon. This is a safety feature to assure that no one is floating about getting in harms way of another wagon as a stop commences. Following the last "riders down", the watering, feeding, and bathing of animals as needed is done. A pickup horn sounds off again to announce the start of a daily evening meeting. The agenda includes discussing the days events, concerns and or questions, how the funds are coming in and what the group can look forward to the next day. Its a time to relax and enjoy each others company.

The caravan made its way through Goodhue, Wanamingo, Zumbrota, Pine Island, Douglas, Byron, High Forest, Stewartville, Sumner Center, Fillmore, Wykoff, Carimona and finished in Preston, covering approximately 100 miles. Campers were brought out to various stops to catch a ride on a wagon or share a meal with those who rode for them. This is the first year the train hasnt completed its trek by ending in the camp or at the Caledonia Fairgrounds.

A final meeting was held Saturday, June 28 at the 4-H foodstand in Preston. Awards were given out to those who did a little extra to ensure a good week. Quilts were raffled off, final comments were given, and the $36,000 was turned over to the Camp Winnebagos director, Brian Swerine. All the director could say was, "WOW, Winnebago owes Wagon Train!"

The trains fall meeting will be held the third week of September at the Pine Island Saddle Club arena. Preparations for the next year will start once more as friends and strangers come together to ride for a great cause.

If you have a question about the camp or wish to make a contribution call 724-2351 or write Camp Winnebago, 19708 Camp Winnebago Rd, Caledonia, MN 55921.

Juliann Mueller can be contacted at

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