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Wagon Days
For the week of August 30 through September 5, 2000

More than a parade, it’s a ‘defugelty’ buster, too

The old ore wagons have captured the public’s imagination


Somebody—not even Stricker knows for sure who—hit on the idea of reviving the old ore wagons that had been stored north of Ketchum for so long the building had fallen down around them. Why not get the wagons rolling again and have a parade?


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

No doubt, the birthday of Aunt Kate Lewis, daughter of Ketchum founding father Horace C. Lewis is a worthy reason to celebrate Wagon Days. But ask a longtime local, and you’ll find out there’s more to it than that.

A "defugelty" (conflict) between the Sun Valley Co. and the city of Ketchum, a "gambling holocaust," and the decommissioning of the Wood River Valley’s last major mine—all of these, says Ed Stricker, contributed to an economic and social doldrums half a century ago that had the bored and broke scheming for a way to revive the withering town.

These days, Stricker, 75, lives a quiet life at his small ranch 20 miles south of Ketchum. But in the 1950s, he was a dance hall owner.

Club 93, Stricker said during an interview last week, was the only club of 11 in Ketchum that didn’t rely on gambling to survive. So it made sense that in 1954, when the old-guard establishment in the state Legislature outlawed all gambling and the Ketchum casinos went bust, their exiled patrons converged on Club 93.

"We wondered what the devil we could do," Stricker said of the bar talk that developed then.

Somebody—not even Stricker knows for sure who—hit on the idea of reviving the old ore wagons that had been stored north of Ketchum for so long the building had fallen down around them. Why not get the wagons rolling again and have a parade?

Board by board, bit by bit, the restoration work went on for years, but still no Wagon Days took place.

Then, it hit—the "defugelty," to use Stricker’s seemingly fabricated word.

The Sun Valley Co. buses that ferried skiers from Bald Mountain to the resort had always stopped in Ketchum so tourists could shop, eat and drink. But in the mid-1950s, Sticker said, Sun Valley buses began roaring straight through Ketchum, carrying tourists and their dollars to Sun Valley.

To make matters worse, in 1958, Stricker said, the Triumph mine 10 miles south of Ketchum closed. That put the locals in an even worse financial fix.

"So, boy," Stricker said, "we had to do something."

That year, the wagons were ready to roll, but still there were no horses available to pull them. And, even if they were on hand, the 24 horses would need to be trained to handle the six-wagon rig, controlled by a single rein.

A crew of cowpunchers, truck drivers and George Flemming, perhaps one of the last living "jerk line" drivers at the time, worked for weeks rounding up borrowed horses from all over the' state and training them at the Ketchum airstrip, now the Big Wood Golf Course north of town.

"It was quite a deal getting the horses and getting them returned to the right people with the right harnesses," Stricker said.

That first Wagon Days was a huge hit, with over a thousand people lining the streets to see the spectacle of ore wagons, the Lewis stagecoach, mock gunfighters and more that paid tribute to Ketchum’s mining heritage.

The event has continued annually since then, except for a six-year break from 1970 to 1976 when major work on Highway 75 took place and interest in the event waned.

Today, the parade has over 100 entries, requiring year-round preparation, $60,000 in cash and 3,000 hours of volunteer work.

"To bring these wagons out and share our history with those who are new to the area and to celebrate our heritage with those who have been here, to share the stories—that’s why we do it," said event organizer Wendy Jaquet.

 

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