The genuine article
Swanner interprets ore wagons, history
A group of barflies struck on the dubious idea of resuscitating some
old ore wagons that had been neglected for so long the building they were stored in had
fallen down on top of them.
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
When Ivan Swanner declares from behind his two-inch-tall handlebar
mustache, his perfectly blocked cowboy hat riding low, that mines in the Wood River Valley
are "scattered from hell to breakfast," you would swear hes some
miraculous anachronism zapped through time to spread the Old West gospel.
And Swanner is not the only awe-inspiring anachronism in the valley.
Witness the half dozen Paul Bunyan-sized ore wagonswith their 7-foot-tall wheels,
keg-like hubs and two-dozen, road-rumbling draft horsesthat have been thundering
through the local mountains and towns for over a century.
Swanner, 66, the Wood River Valleys self-proclaimed research
historian, says that naturally, "people ask questions" about the awesome
behemoths, and Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m., hell be available with answers.
His "interpretive sessions," as he likes to call them, are
scheduled to take place at the Ketchum Ore Wagon Museum on the corner of Fifth Street and
East Avenue, where the wagons are on display.
Swanner will also give an evening tour of the museum tonight from 6:30 to
8:30 p.m. Friday at 5 p.m., hell be one of several old-timers to spin yarns at the
Ketchum Heritage and Ski Museum.
"My basic story will be the beginning of Wagon Days," Swanner
said during an interview. "
why it was formed, how it was formed and why we
decided to keep it as a celebration."
In 1958, the events first year, the valley was different from the
way it is today. Swanner was a 25-year-old cowpuncher. The Bigwood Golf Course on the
north end of Ketchum was a rustic field that served as an airstrip, a rodeo ground, and,
well, an arena for chariot races. Most roads were dirt. People still built cabins in town.
Locals, some say, rode their horses through bars just for the thrill of it.
When conservatives in the state Legislature outlawed gambling in 1954, not
only did the local economy plummet, but people were bored.
To make matters worse, the last major local mine, about 10 miles southeast
of Ketchum in Triumph, closed in 1958.
Perhaps with too much time on theirs hands in the slack town of Ketchum, a
group of barflies struck on the dubious idea of resuscitating some old ore wagons that had
been neglected for so long the building they were stored in had fallen down on top of
Why not fix up the wagons and drive them down Main Street to celebrate the
towns founders? And if it drew in a few tourists, too, well, that couldnt
Swanner said he spent two weeks driving around the state borrowing draft
horses from farmers for the event. Then there was the complex job of training the beasts
to pull the wagons.
"Theyd never worked together before," Swanner said, which
was significant considering there were 24 of them, all being controlled by the unusual and
antique "jerk line"one jerk, the 24 horses and six wagons go left; four
jerks, the rig goes right.
"As far as I know, we didnt have any runaways, or anything like
that," Swanner said.
For over four decades, Swanner has participated in the annual event,
except in the 1970s when highway roadwork dampened almost everyones enthusiasm and
the event stopped happening for a few years.
Swanner said he gives his free "interpretive sessions" because
of his love of the event and because he feels "history is an important part of the
valley. I feel its something people should know about."