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Jessica Ballou, Published August 15 2012

Red River crossing to kick off Pioneer Days

WEST FARGO – Clayton Brennan’s grandfather crossed a bridge over the Red River with horses and a wagon in 1879, before Fargo even existed.

On Friday, 133 years later, Brennan will also cross the Red River with horses, wagons and some comrades – an event meant to kick off Pioneer Days at West Fargo’s Bonanzaville.

It’s the first time Pioneer Days will start with a Red River wagon crossing, said Julie Trotter, sales and marketing coordinator at Bonanzaville.

Officials at the history museum run by the Cass County Historical Society approached the Red River Harness and Saddle Club about a month ago to organize the covered wagon event, which quickly fell into place.

The RRHSC, which was founded in 1987, meets on the second Thursday of each month to plan drives and other events.

The club aims to hold a drive once a month, depending on scheduling, and in the summer they typically surpass that goal.

According to their website, club members make themselves available to help others when they are learning to drive, selecting an animal, harness or vehicle, training or other activities.

The club has worked with Bonanzaville for events in the past, but this is the first time a drive of this sort has been coordinated – a drive that will snake through numerous residential roads from the river to Bonanzaville’s site in West Fargo.

Member Polly Thorsness has been a horse lover since she was young, and she’s always loved mules. She will be riding a saddle mule in front of the drive’s lead wagon to help direct the other teams.

“I really like sharing that and creating memories with them,” she said about telling others about their drives.

She said one misconception people may have about the club is that you have to own a horse to be a member, but that is not the case.

The club is a perfect venue for people who want to learn how to drive, she said.

“We have kids who have learned to drive, and they actually drive huge teams,” she said.

Ken Pawluk and his team will ride behind Thorsness for the drive. Pawluk said he was born with the “equine gene.”

“I’ve had it all my life and continue to be fascinated with it,” he said.

Often drives can go up to 15 miles, he said, so the drive on Friday, which is short of 10 miles, should be no problem. Also, the wagons will be rolling on the hard surface roads, so there won’t be much rolling resistance for the animals.

River crossing facts

• The almost 10-mile drive will leave from the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead on First Avenue North at 2 p.m. Friday and navigate on back roads south of Main Avenue before arriving at Bonanzaville. To see a route map, go online to tinyurl.com/WagonRoute.

• Upon approaching the First Avenue North bridge, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern will present the group with the North Dakota state flag.

• Bonanzaville officials worked with the Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead police departments to plot the route. Police escorts will ride along during the drive to ensure safe travels on the roads.

• Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and former North Dakota Governor and Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer will speak when the group arrives at Bonanzaville around 5:30 p.m.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Jessica Ballou at (701) 235-7311