LA GRANDE — Time is a bandit, a thief two Union County history buffs recently stopped dead in its tracks.
Dale Counsell and Ronnie Allen have worked together to restore a wagon that was in danger of being lost to age. The wooden ride closely resembles those the Oregon Trail pioneers used in the 1800s. The wagon was delivered to an Oregon Trail interpretive site on Hot Lake Lane on Monday, Feb. 8.
Willie and John Myers of Fossil donated the wagon, which was remarkably fragile when Counsell and Allen received it.
“Its wood was rotten, it was almost like powder,” Allen said.
This was before Counsell went to work, replacing its wood with 120-year-old barn wood in his shop near Hot Lake Lane. The process took about 145 hours during a span of 46 days.
Allen, who provided Counsell, a rancher, with the materials, was struck by the quality of the work he did.
“He is a genius. I could not have done it,” Allen said, praising Counsell’s welding, woodworking and metal fabrication skills.
Allen noted Counsell restored the wagon to a likeness of those used by pioneers without a blueprint or a guidebook.
“All he had were photographs,” said Allen, the creator of the Oregon Trail interpretive site, which is about 2 miles west of Hot Lake.
The wagon’s features include a number of attachments such as a wood water barrel and a wooden toolbox with a leather strap. The toolbox is empty, but Allen said Oregon Trail travelers filled theirs with axes and knives.
No actual wagons in which pioneers traveled across the Oregon Trail still exist, Allen said. He explained by the time pioneers made it to Oregon, most wagons were in terrible condition. Those that were functional were used for farm work until they were worn out. And after about five years of farm work, he said, “they were useless.”
Gail Carbiener of Central Oregon is a member of the Oregon-California Trails Association, which previously recognized the local interpretive site with a plaque. Allen provided him images of the wagon. Carbiener is among those lauding the work of Allen and Counsell.
“They have gone a long way toward helping people visually see what pioneers went through,” Carbiener said.
The interpretive site is a mile from the base of Lower Ladd Canyon Hill along Hot Lake Lane. Allen said Oregon Trail pioneers came off the hill directly to where the interpretive site is located.
The addition to the center complements a wagon already there. It was a farm wagon Counsell renovated to resemble an Oregon Trail wagon. That wagon’s features include a front seat like the ones pioneers sat in during the 1880s.
Allen said having a second wagon at the interpretive site gives it more of the look of the mid-1800s, when Oregon Trail pioneers made many overnight stops at the location. He estimates that from 1843 through the early 1860s, between one and five wagons were at the site continuously during the summer.
“We want to make it look like it did then,” Allen said.