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Wagon train riders step back in time

By Kevin Bonham Herald Staff Writer BINFORD, N.D. -- It was just about high noon on a near-90-degree day, as covered wagons, pulled by teams of Percheron and Belgian draft horses, climbed a small bluff overlooking a crystal clear lake, two miles ...

Wagon train
Todd Rook of Tipp City, Ohio, rests against the back of the wagon after stopping for lunch near Binford, N.D., on Friday afternoon. It was Tipp's first time on the Fort Seward Wagon Train. The wagon train started on Monday at Fort Seward near Jamestown, ND., and ended in Binford on Friday. Grand Forks Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

By Kevin Bonham

Herald Staff Writer

BINFORD, N.D. -- It was just about high noon on a near-90-degree day, as covered wagons, pulled by teams of Percheron and Belgian draft horses, climbed a small bluff overlooking a crystal clear lake, two miles south of Binford, forming a circle for one last chuck wagon dinner on the last leg of a five-day, 75-mile journey from Fort Seward, near Jamestown, N.D.

About 150 people, including staff, from 22 states stepped back into time for the 40th annual Fort Seward Wagon Train. About 20 rode horseback. The rest were part wagon families, about 10 per wagon, sharing the heat, the workload, the meals and the fun.

"My girls were little when we started. Now our grandchildren are part of it," said Delno Kleinknecht, a Pingree, N.D., farmer who has been the chief organizer of the Fort Seward Wagon Train for the past 38 years. His wife, Phyllis, is the wagon train registrar.

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The wagon train takes a different route every year, usually ending in at a community celebration in a small town. After lunch Friday, the wagon train rolled into this Griggs County town of 200 for a Wagon Train Parade to kick off the weekend's activities, culminating in a Professional Bull Riders bull-riding event at 8 p.m.

"We get all kinds of people, from all walks of life," Kleinknecht said. "But by the end of the week, it's all one family. And the family keeps growing, year after year."

Fran Hailey was looking for a pioneer event in which she could wear period clothing when she joined the wagon train last year.

"After the first year, I just had to come back," said the semi-retired freelance photographer from Deerpark, Wash., near Spokane. "Part of it is just walking on the land. It's just a different pace of life."

Hailey has a connection to the region. Her family lived in Grand Forks for three years in the mid-1970s, while her husband was stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Two of their eight children were born in Grand Forks.

It was the first Fort Seward trip for Warren and Arlene Longnickel, Carlotta, Calif., and their two grandchildren, Robert and Michela Yates.

"It's outstanding, a chance of a lifetime just to realize how our forefathers lived," Warren said.

"A slight taste," his wife piped in.

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Becky Clough smiled as she listened to her 13-year-old daughter Morgan talk about a trail ride poem she wrote with her new friend, 16-year-old Kelly Cucchi, from Tampa, Fla., and Morgan's 8-year-old sister, Kathryn.

"We're city folk. This is a totally new experience for us," said Becky Clough, whose family lives in Memphis, Tenn.

The Cloughs were looking for a family-oriented vacation, when they found the Fort Seward Wagon Train on a Web search this spring.

"There's such a community feeling here," Becky said. "We found some rest on the prairie. Work awaits us, but we're enjoying every minute of this experience."

As they waited for the chuck wagon meal, the Cloughs and Cucchis chatted with Mike Manley, a 20-plus-year veteran of the wagon train who serves as one of the teamsters.

"You've got to see the North Dakota Badlands," George Cucchi told the Cloughs. "You'll like them much better than the Badlands in South Dakota. They're more in line with your trip."

"I used to bring my horse. Now I bring my kids," said Christina Pikula, wagon train president, who grew up on a farm near Jessie, N.D., just a few miles from here. "It's just a great experience, especially for the kids. It's exhilarating."

Sandi Kerley said she meets new friends every year.

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"This is my 17th trip," said Sandi Kerley, a Dallas, Texas, resident. "It is wonderful. Out here, I can make a 360, all the way around, and not see a building,"

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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