Need a lift? If so, you might consider going by covered wagon.
The ride-sharing company, Lyft, and Travel Oregon will provide free wagon rides in downtown Portland from Aug. 28-31. The wagon will travel a predetermined route from the Oregon Historical Society on Southwest Park Avenue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. The event commemorates the 175th anniversary of the Oregon Trail.
Two Umatilla County wagon drivers, Vickie Leonard and Brian Cook, will navigate Portland streets with Leonard’s wagon and Cook’s mules, Mary and Jean.
When Lyft called Leonard in December to engage a covered wagon, Leonard was confused.
“I was sure it was a wrong number,” said the Pendleton horsewoman.
Turned out Lyft Portland and Travel Oregon wanted to hire her and Cook’s company, Wagon Train Adventures, to ferry people in a covered wagon as a way to pay tribute to the historic Oregon Trail.
Leonard’s wagon is a reproduction built by an Amish company, though she and her husband Randy have built other wagons with their own hands. The couple now has a fleet of 14 wagons and a pasture full of mules and horses to pull them. Insurance requirements, however, mandate using a commercially built wagon for such events. The wagon includes features not seen on covered wagons traveling the Oregon Trail so many years ago. This prairie schooner has roller bearings, hydraulic brakes, improved suspension, metal steps and hazard lights.
The Portland gig was an outgrowth of another one in 2016. A production company from the Netherlands hired Leonard and two other local teamsters to drive a wagon for an episode of the Dutch reality show “Wie is de Mol?,” where Dutch celebrities earn prize money by accomplishing assorted challenges. The subtitled episode retraced the Oregon Trail and was shot at the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds, local ranches and on Battle Mountain.
Both Leonard and Cook experienced driving wagons on the streets of Portland when they appeared in the Portland Rose Parade. Leonard said Wagon Train Adventures to her knowledge is the only carriage company licensed in Portland.
“It wasn’t easy to get a permit,” said Leonard, who added that she even had to take a pedi driver’s test.
Neither Leonard nor Cook seem worried about taking a team of mules to busy Portland streets, though they said anything can happen. The mules must stay cool as cars and the occasional skateboarder whoosh by.
“Our horses and mules have to trust us and we have to trust them,” Leonard said. “We desensitize them as much as we can. There are always things you don’t expect.”
Cook, who lives in Irrigon, expects his pair of six-year-old mules to weather the experience just fine.
“They are so obedient and willing to listen,” he said. “They have great minds.”
Both animals pulled wagons during the Portland Rose Parade. Cook said he worries more about people than he does his mules. A child, for example, once ran underneath one of the mules.
“Every time I’ve had an incident, it’s been because people weren’t thinking,” he said. “It wasn’t the animals.”
Leonard said she spends a lot of time preparing horse and mule teams for the unforeseen, systematically desensitizing them by taking them to downtown Pendleton, rolling balls underneath them, exposing them to loud noises and other such techniques.
“I get them jazzed up and then calm them down with my voice,” Leonard said.
She looks forward to giving people the experience of a covered wagon ride. Usually, the team gets rock-star treatment. A typical reaction is one of awe.
“They’re just enthralled,” she said. “We get mobbed wherever we are.”
Lyft customers can get a free ride (up to $10) to the Oregon Historical Society by going to the Lyft app, clicking on the face icon in the upper lefthand corner, clicking on “promo codes” and entering OREGONTRAIL175. For a wagon ride, sign up outside the Historical Society. The Historical Society will offer free entry to anyone who takes a wagon ride, which lasts approximately 15 minutes and travels through the park blocks.
Leonard and Cook will preface the four days in downtown Portland by giving mule-drawn wagon rides at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0810.