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Wagons Ho!

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    AL ZAGOFSKY/Times News "Wagons Ho!" The wagons of the Snyder Wagon Trek are led in the first wagon by organizers Melvin Snyder and Arlene Rex as they leave the farm of Willard Snyder after stopping for lunch no the first day.
Published October 05. 2009 02:55PM

Had you been along the byways of Germanstown on the Sept. 19 weekend, you may have been one of the cars that pulled to the side of the road to let pass-a wagon train.

The convoy of 14 wagons and 60 riders formed the Snyder Wagon Trek, now in its eleventh year organized by Melvin Snyder and Arlene Rex.

This year's Trek had perfect late summer weather with the cooler morning temperatures providing a brisk start to the work of hitching the horses to the wagons.

Snyder and Rex readied to take the lead wagon position-pulled by Barney, Synder's 11-year-old chestnut standard-bred retired harness racing horse, who was eager to get hitched to a carriage and run along the roads and through the Germanstown fields on this year's Snyder Wagon Trek.

Snyder bought Barney from Stephen Burkholder of Fleetwood. Burkholder farms using teams of horses, which he also breeds and sells horses.

"Melvin's horses were ones I bough," "I do some order buying for buggy horses if somebody wants something. I buy them off the race track for carriage racing,"

"There's race tracks all over the country and the horses get raced from one track to the next. I don't follow the races."

"I buy from a fellow that does racing and other times I go to auctions," Burkholder said. "A lot of these horses are not fast enough to win races, so they get sold. Some are two-year olds, a number of three and four-year olds. Five-year olds are often on the market."

"You have to retrain them a bit because there are no stop signs-no nothing on the race track," Burkholder said. "They are well-broken because they need to be to race."

Burkholder hitched his team of Melissa and Twiggy to a Marathon cart, a Canadian-built competition carriage designed for field racing in timed events.

"It's set up so you don't get hung up in trees when you run through woods," Burkholder said. The cart has four disk brakes, with individual controls for the front and back brakes. At the rear is a platform for a rider to stand. In a race, when entering a turn, the rider shifts to the outside wheel to counterweight the rig's tendency to rise off the ground.

For comfort, Burkholder sits on a buffalo hide, which he raised, and his son-in-law tanned the hide.

Melissa and Twiggy are Percheron horses-a breed of powerful rugged draft horses that originated in the Perche Valley in northern France. The Percherons which are often 19 hands tall, were originally bred as war horses, then they were used to pull wagons, and most recently as farm animals.

With the coming of mechanized farming, the Percheron breed was no longer in demand. But farmers, like Burkholder, who love the breed and enjoy working with horses have renewed an interest in the breed. He uses therm to plow, cultivate, rake hay, seed on his corn, hay, grain and produce farm.

Each of the two days, the Trek covered about 14-miles. On Saturday, Melvin Snyder said, "Wagons Ho!" and at 10 a.m., the wagons left his farm, proceeding along the paved back roads passing mostly farmland. Outriders wearing orange safety vests led the procession, and at each intersection, would stop traffic for the wagons to pass.

Around noon, the Trek stopped at the New Tripoli farm of Willard Snyder. Willard Snyder is the president of the Lynn Heidelberg Historical Society, and he stores several items of their collection. People inspected: a horse treadmill coupled to a thresher, a dog-powered treadmill used to power a water pump, a Huckster Wagon, and a U.S. Mail Buggy.

These items will be exhibited as part of the Historical Society's Pioneer Days on Sat. Oct. 3, from at 11a.m. to 4 p.m. at Ontelaunee Park in New Tripoli.

Saturday evening, the Trek celebrated with a covered dish cookout and country music. Wrapping up the Trek on Sunday, the wagons were dismantled, the horses loaded onto the trailers and the pioneer reenactors rode off into the sunset.

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