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WAGON TRAIN

Uncle Billy hauled fruit and garden produce to the towns of Wallowa County with a train of two or three freight wagons. All of the produce had to be transported up out of Imnaha Canyon by pack horse via the Corral Creek Trail and transferred to the freight wagons kept at the Buckhorn cabin. The trips were made during summer and fall when the garden and fruit harvest took place. Sometimes an entire trainload would consist of watermelons, cantaloupes, and muskmelons. Other trips would carry apricots, peaches, squash, tomatoes, and pumpkins.

When the wagons arrived at their destination, a camp would be set up just outside of town where the crew lived while selling the produce. W.K. did not sell to wholesalers but the three wagons separated and each driver took a different section of town, selling directly to the householders, driving slowly through the streets, the tinkling bells on the hames acting as an attention getter. The driver called out his wares and stopped on each block while his assistant, one of the younger boys went door-to-door carrying buckets of produce to show as samples.

W.K. drove the lead wagon, with the older boys or sometimes hire hands driving the other two. Uncle Billy was quite an attention getter himself--a giant of an old man. His white, shoulder-length, curly hair topped by a flat-crowned plainsman's hat, his forked beard tobacco stained, he strode along ramrod straight, driving his team from beside the wagon, pants tucked into his leather boots, bellowing, "Git yore wartermillions and mushmillions, hyar!"

These trips were about the only vacation or diversion enjoyed by the boys away from the canyon country. They were expecially delighted when their paw allowed them to buy ice cream or candy-licorice whips, jaw-breakers, chewing gum or sen-sen. They liked to gaze in the store windows at the marvelous things displayed there. Sometimes they were allowed to buy a pocket knife or a dollar pocket watch. One hardware store window they always looked into because it displayed against a velvet background a nickel plated, lever-action, twenty-two caliber rifle.

Occasionally when a a pair of work shoes or boots was worn beyond W.K.'s ability to make further home repairs on them, the lucky owner got to buy a brand new pair, thus becoming the envy of his fellows for weeks.

Having lived in wilderness areas all of their lives, Uncle Billy's sons, even though they had to camp on the outskirts (this was not an unusual thing in those days), were exhilarated by the sight and sounds of "city life" in La Grande. One of their favorite sights was watching the trains come in at the railroad depot. Mickel in later years often said, "I allus wanted to be a steam train engineer."

The family lived in tents during their stay since the wagons were filled with produce and covered with canvas. On the trip itself much of the camp food was supplied by shooting game and fishing. In the long trek along the beautiful Wallowa River, game was plentiful: ducks, geese, grouse, and partridge. Even red pine squirrels made a tasty dish. The river abounded in trout and salmon.

Instead of returning to Imnaha empty the freight wagons often hauled back supplies for the ranch - blacksmith supplies, nails, fence wire. Hauling in supplies for other ranchers was also a profitable venture.