Sleighs aren’t the only carriage with bells a-jinglin’ in Laramie

 

By IKE FREDREGILL

Jingling through Laramie’s historic downtown district, Wyoming Wagon Works blends past with the present, allowing passengers to tour the area in true Western fashion from the back of a horse-drawn wagon.
“It something different than a lot people don’t get to do,” Wagon Works co-owner Ty Blake explained. “I enjoy making the experience available to people who’ve never done it before.”
Blake and his wife, Vicki, founded Wagon Works about 15 years ago out of a love for historic wagons. Eventually, they bought a pair of draft horses to promote their endeavor, but the horses soon became the star attraction.
For approximately a decade, wagon works has contracted with the Downtown Laramie Business Association, which was absorbed by the Laramie Main Street Alliance in January, to offer visitors and community members free wagon rides twice a year — during the summertime Laramie Jubilee Days celebration and throughout the shopping season between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.
“The horses and the jingling bells are the perfect audio and visual for what our town was before gas-driven vehicles permeated the roads,” said Trey Sherwood, Main Street’s executive director. “They are living breathing thank you note to the community from the downtown businesses and Main Street.”
For Blake, driving the wagon is an opportunity to introduce people to a mode of transportation used for hundreds of years before automobiles replaced the wooden wagons so iconic to frontier expansion.
“Most people we see, both kids and adults, have never ridden in a wagon, and for many, this is their first up-close encounter with a horse,” he said. “It’s a big hit with the kids. We have a pair of Percherons pull the wagon — John and Jessie — and they’re brother and sister. The kids’ favorite question is, ‘which one is older?’”
For the record, John is the oldest at 21 years old, Blake said. Jessie is 20.
Starting the first Saturday after Thanksgiving Day, the Blakes tow shoppers in a loop around the downtown district. They run the route every Saturday until the weekend before Christmas.
Lacking most the comforts of modernity, Blake said the ride can be frigid at times and advised potential riders to prepare for the weather.
“We’ve only canceled a couple trips because weather over the years,” he said. “If it’s Zero (degrees Fahrenheit) or below with the wind or otherwise, we don’t do it. Otherwise, the horses don’t mind. They’re working and keeping warm.”
Mixing horse-drawn wagons and motorists might seem like trouble, but Blake said the majority drivers are extremely considerate.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, most drivers are excellent — even more so than they need to be,” he said. “People don’t have experience with horses, so they tend to be overly cautious.”
While a nod to the Gem City’s historic roots, Blake said his wagon isn’t entirely antique, featuring rubber wheels and upholstered seats, which enhances the experience for riders not used to the roughshod lifestyle of the Wild West.
In addition to complimenting Laramie’s history, Sherwood said the wagon rides tie into Main Street’s vision for the district.
“As part of our efforts to revitalize downtown Laramie, we are embracing experiential memory making,” she said. “At the end of the day, we want Laramie to be the place people come to create authentic memories with their families.”
Catch a ride with John, Jessie and the Blakes on Saturday as they complete their final wagon tour of the year. The wagon picks up passengers near the First Street Plaza starting at 11 a.m.
Visit www.wyomingwagonworks.com or call 742-6074 for more information about the wagon rides.