Rawhide and go seek
Pulled by two mules, Darwin Young and his wife Betty enjoy their covered wagon at trail rides across the state. When Darwin decided that he wanted an original covered wagon he realized that the best way to get one would be to have his very own custom made. (Gazette photos by Bruce Campbell)
By: ELIZABETH WEST
L’ANSE AUX PAILLES — Before steamboats began providing a way of transportation and railroads stretched across the United States into the West, it was the covered wagon that provided individuals with the opportunity to explore, settle, and transport goods to the portion of this country that had yet to be completely populated.
As other modes of transportation became a faster way to travel, the use of the covered wagon declined. But, it’s comeback could be right around the corner because of individuals like Darwin Young.
Young, who says he had always had a fascination with this popular 19th century way of travel, invested in his first covered wagon, which had rubber tires, in the year 1980. He then, in 1984, bought a second wagon that was closer to the ones early settlers were traveling on, which consisted of wooden wheels.
After years of enjoying his covered wagons at trail rides, Young and his wife Betty decided to get rid of them and stick with riding mules.
Fast forward to 2011, and Young says he “was ready to get back into wagons,” but the covered wagon that he wanted “had to be just like an original.”
The decision to purchase the perfect wagon, according to Young, came when his “wife could not longer ride mules at trail rides,” because riding became too difficult for her.
Wanting to still take part in what they loved, Young and his wife began their hunt for the most original covered wagon they could find, and the best way to do that according to Young was to have an original one built.
Young said, “You see a lot of wagons like this but they have rubber tires, and I didn’t want that. I wanted an original but those are hard to find, so I started searching for someone that could build one for me.”
The best place to go, Young realized, to have an original covered wagon built was the place that they had the greatest historical impact, the Midwest.
“As hard as it is to find an original covered wagon, it is just as hard to find someone to build one,” Young said. “But, I eventually came across an Amish guy named Victor from Montgomery, Indiana that could build one for me.”
Victor began building the wheels and running gear in November of 2014, and by March the following year, Young hopped in his modern form of transportation, his pick-up truck, and began his journey to pick up the first portion of what would become he and his wife’s new but classic way to travel.
Young said, “The crazy part is that when I called to order the wheels and running gear I asked the guy if I needed to pay a down payment, and he said no. Those people are very trust worthy, and honor their word.” He then joked, “I tell people that if we were in business with Victor over here, we’d all go broke.”
Arriving back home with the wheels and running gear, it was time for the next step in building his dream wagon to begin.
Young said, “My friend Ronnie Francois from Mamou is very good with wood work, so I brought the running gear to him and had him complete the wood work part of the wagon.”
The work that Francois did consisted of building the box that holds the bathroom, kitchen area, and cabinets, which were also built by Francois.
To finish off the covered wagon, Young had to find a top that fit his wagon perfectly, which he did by purchasing a top made in Ohio from another Amish guy from that state.
Since completing his original version of this popular 19th century way of travel, Young and his wife have enjoyed riding in style in trail rides across the state during the Spring and Fall.
This wagon has become a popular item on these trail rides, too. Young has won trophies for Best Wagon and Most Original Wagon on trail rides like the Western Heritage Week Long Trail Ride, and it is that ride that today Young considers his favorite.
Young said, “The Western Heritage Week Long Trail Ride from Gueydan to Lake Charles has become my favorite because you get the full experience of traveling for days in a covered wagon, and you meet a lot of great people along the way. I have made lifetime friends that are horse people, through trail rides that I would have otherwise never known.”