Wagon train makes stops in local area
Ron Gower/TIMES NEWS Gregory Solt of Ashfield, right, looks at a wagon train from VisionQuest parked in the field of his grandparents, Eugene and Joyce Solt.
It was a rare sight, indeed, for local folks.
A wagon train, consisting of three covered wagons and accompanied by about a dozen horseback riders, made its way through parts of Schuylkill, Carbon, and Monroe counties this past weekend.
The train was part of VisionQuest, a national program based in Arizona which offers intervention services for at-risk youths and adults.
In American Indian traditions, the vision quest is a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.
The VisionQuest wagon train, led by wagon master Adam Taylor of Arizona, consisted of 18 youths between the ages of 13 and 18, and 12 staff members. The youths were primarily from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and various other locations.
The travelers consisted of a colonel who does the cooking, "giving us three good meals every day," said George, 17, of Philadelphia, who gave a tour of the facilities in Ashfield. Because he's a juvenile, The TIMES NEWS won't use his last name.
Taylor said the trek started in Biglerville, Adams County and will be ending in Gouldsboro, Wayne County.
One of the obstacles the group had to overcome was extreme flooding from Hurricane Irene in Gettysburg.
The entry into the east end of Schuylkill County came Thursday when the group encamped in Snyders.
On Friday, they crossed the Blue Mountain at the Bake Oven Ridge, trekking over steep, dirt roads in a driving rain.
They arrived later in the day in Ashfield, in a field owned by Eugene and Joyce Solt next to the Dinkey Memorial Church.
On Saturday, they departed and headed with the mule-driven wagons to Kunkletown.
They travel about 10 miles a day.
The youth in the group had charge of virtually every aspect of the camp except cooking. They saddled horses, harnessed the mules, maintained the equipment, and cleaned up the campsite.
Taylor said VisionQuest was founded 30 years ago when the founder saw a wagon train and wanted to be a part of one.
"It's fun, it's exciting, and it's difficult," said George, who said he's enjoying the experience.
He explained how the six mules that pull the wagons are kept in the same pairs - Bonnie and Clyde, Sam and Jim, and Kate and John. He said John is the mule for which he is responsible.
There are 14 horses. George knows all of them by name.
A 300 gallon water buffalo also is part of the unit. The water buffalo and tents are taken ahead of the team by trailers pulled with pick-up trucks.
Jim Shoemaker of Franklin, Pa., who is horse corps manager, said it isn't unusual for as many as 100 people or more to stop by campsites when the group pulls in. Shoemaker has been with VisionQuest for 15 years, but this is his first trek on the road.
George said although he was a city boy, he enjoys the wagon train.
He said he became part of VisionQuest after getting caught in a robbery.
"This is building character," he said proudly. "It makes me feel proud that I can be out here."
He said he's amazed at the beautiful landscapes and the nice houses he has seen on the trek. Of the trip across the Blue Mountain, he said, "I ate lunch in the mountains, in the clouds, yesterday."
What is especially exciting to George is how generous and kind people can be.
"A lot of people are generous," he said. "One night we camped and Amish people came and gave us lettuce and all kinds of good food."
He said in Schuylkill County, a lady brought 40 bales of hay and food for the mules and horses.
Also in Schuylkill, a man who has a museum or collection, showed the youths different types of wagons and brought some Clydesdale horses to the camp.
"I actually see how good people can be to each other," said George.