Festival rolls down National Pike

May 18, 1997


Staff Writer

Hitching teams of horses and mules, an art older than the National Pike, America's first federally-funded highway, was displayed many times over Saturday as 30 teams of horses and mules pulled heavy wagons along U.S. 40, an east-west route still called the National Pike.

Saturday's route went from Clear Spring to Funkstown. The original National Pike linked the Eastern United States with what was then the frontier, the settlements west of the Ohio river.

The wagon train camped for the night in Funkstown's Community Park. It heads to Boonsboro today stopping in Shafer Park.

Communities, church groups and granges on the old National Pike in Washington County held commemorations and festivals in honor of the annual National Pike Festival. It's always held in the third weekend in May.


The biggest local celebration was in Clear Spring, where the wagon train joined a community parade along the town's Main Street. St. Paul's Church in Clear Spring celebrated its 250th anniversary and a dance was held Saturday night in Clear Spring High School.

Members of Pomona Grange, a conglomeration of Washington County's three Granges - Leitersburg, Hancock and Wacohu - again seized the opportunity to run its annual bake sale, flea market and food concession to raise $1,000 for its scholarship fund. The wagon train stopped at Wacohu Grange at Huyetts Crossroads for lunch before heading to a stop at Hagerstown's City Park. It reached Funkstown at 4 p.m. for its night encampment, more food and more live music.

Ray Kline, 63, of Myersville, Md., was wagon master. His wagon was pulled by Fred and Barney, his matched set of black mules.

"This is the biggest year yet for National Pike Days," Kline said. "We have 30 wagons this year. Usually we have 15 or 18. We have about 30 outriders too," he said.

Many of the wagons on the journey are a century old or older, Kline said. His is 21 years old, built in Tennessee in 1976 for the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration National Wagon Train that crossed the country that year.

Wagon owners take their rigs to Amish wagon makers and wheelwrights for repairs, Kline said.

A few wagon owners have given in to tradition by adding padding to their hard wooden seats. One owner bolted a car radio under his seat. The antenna was camouflaged by the buggy whip.

Thurman Cline, 74, of Sharpsburg pays the price tradition demands. His wagon has its original seat. "I have the sore butt to prove it," he said.

Cline grew up with horse and mules. He bought jack and Kate, his pair of matched light grey mules, from Kline. "They're a real pair of mules. You can do most anything with them," he said.

Kline and Cline can hitch their teams in less than 10 minutes. They say it's an art lost to history. "Few people can do it anymore," Cline said. "I grew up using a wagon just like this. I've been hitching teams since I was a kid."

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