Kentucky couple taking cross-country trip in wagon
Posted: Friday, September 10, 2010 9:03 pm
By JOHN BRANNON
The way Chuck Reagan of Crabtree Orchard, Ky., sees it, he can do as much with one leg as you can with two.
A former motorcycle mechanic, Reagan has had his left leg amputated at the hip because of severe injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in 1990.
“It hasn’t slowed me down. I get up and down real easy. I’ve had 20 years to get adjusted to it,” said Reagan, 52.
And get up and down he did, with the greatest of ease, Thursday afternoon.
“I’m not handicapped. I still ride my motorcycle,” he said. “I can do everything on one leg that most people do on two.”
Reagan and his wife, Mary, 48, are temporary guests of Margaret Bizwell and her daughter, Malinda Burden-Council, at the family farm in the Liberty Church community in southwest Fulton County, Ky.
Nearby the Reagans’ two sorrel mules — Pearle and Pauline — and their horse, Dan, grazed contentedly. Their dog, Pete, a black lab, was asleep in their 1910 Owensboro covered wagon.
At first glance, this couple and their wagon rig seem reminiscent of an age when horse power was just that, when the internal combustion engine and the automobile were yet to arrive.
Yet here they are, doing what Reagan promised himself in 1969 he would someday do: Making a cross-country trip in a covered wagon.
And he has convinced Mary to share his dream.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, this odyssey from Crab Orchard in eastern Kentucky to Paradise in northern California near the Sierra Nevada mountains.
No pickup trucks, no cars for the Reagans. They travel by covered wagon.
“We figure it’ll take about a year to get there,” Reagan said.
No four-lanes, no super highways for them. They travel the back roads. With good reason.
They are taking their time — about 15 miles a day, weather permitting — because they want to see outback America and its colorful small towns.
Pearle and Pauline, harnessed and hitched to the wagon tongue, do the pulling. Mary, seated in the wagon seat, handles the reins. Reagan, riding Dan, keeps pace alongside the wagon. Pete rides and runs as he chooses.
They left Crab Orchard about two weeks ago. From there to Fulton, it’s a distance of 245 miles by mainline highways, more by back roads.
Their visit to this area began Wednesday afternoon when Ms. Burden-Council of Fulton spotted the Reagans and their rig in Fulton and introduced herself. Sensing they might need to rest a while, she invited them to stay over a couple of days. “It was late. I was worried about where they were going to find feed and water for their mules and horse,” she said.
She escorted them to her mother’s farm. “We’re glad to help them,” Mrs. Bizwell said. “It’s worked out well for all.”
It was a welcome respite, according to the Reagans.
Wednesday, with the September scenery of rural West Kentucky — lush, green soybean fields; shiny and tall grain silos; a big shed packed with new hay — as a backdrop, they relaxed and told their story.
Reagan said for the most part, motorists and people along the way have been kind and generous. Only nine or 10, he said, have yelled, “Get off the road!” as they sped by. He doesn’t let it bother him.
The good people far outnumber the bad. He said they’ve turned down many offers of places to camp, but have accepted canned goods and fresh vegetables.
There’s even been offers of money to help support the trip, which they usually turn down. They sell postcards bearing a photo of them and the rig for $2 to help defray travel costs.
But it’s the people along the way who have already made the trip memorable. “There’s a lot of great people here in this country,” Reagan said. “That’s part of what I’m trying to get across on my website: Get out and see your country.”
You may be surprised by what the Reagans carry in their wagon. Here’s a partial list: A generator for their laptop computer; heavy plastic containers of water; about two weeks’ supply of nonperishable food; clothing; blankets; a Coleman stove and lantern and a tent. “We carry 48 gallons of water,” Reagan said. “The mules drink 12 gallons a day, the horse drinks 10 gallons a day,
Their tool kit includes an original lug wrench for the wagon wheels and a 20-ton jack, ropes and chains, “just stuff you’d need to work on a wagon.”
Speaking of which, Reagan said they’ve had two breakdowns already — fractures of the wagon tongue and the coupler board. He takes it all in stride. What did he do? “I fixed ’em,” he said.
To the ferry
The Reagans plan to resume their trip today. They’ll go to Hickman, Ky., to board the ferry and cross the Mississippi River, and continue southwest through Arkansas and Texas.
“It’s an adventure,” Mary said. “I like it.”
“We’ve got a road Atlas, but it doesn’t show the back roads. So we buy state maps and county maps,” Reagan said.
They figure when they reach Paradise, they’ll rest a while and then load everything on a trailer and bring it back to Crab Orchard.
Their next project? Open an animal shelter for horses and mules in Crab Orchard.
Staff reporter John Brannon may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.