National Pike Festival recalls simpler times

May 14, 2001

National Pike Festival recalls simpler times


Pioneers didn't have matches in the 19th century as horse teams pulled them along the National Pike. So, this weekend, Scott Lowe isn't carrying any either.

Lowe is trying for an authentic experience during the National Pike Festival and Wagon Train, an annual old-time wagon convoy from Clear Spring to Boonsboro.

So, here's how he makes a fire:

He takes a piece of steel in one hand, and a piece of flint and a bit of flammable cloth in the other. The flint strikes the steel, which spits a spark, hopefully onto the cloth. The cloth glows red hot where the spark lands.


Lowe drops the smoking cloth into a clump of flax fibers. He blows on it as he covers it, hoping for a flame.

It's quite an effort - five steps, Lowe figures - and it hearkens back to the harder living of that era.

Other weekend wagoneers cruised into the parking lot next to the Clear Spring fire company's activities building late Friday afternoon in a small caravan of pickup trucks and trailers. They stopped in the field and unloaded their wagons.

Norman Mason, a carpenter from Martinsburg, W.Va, acted as a winchman as he eased his wagon to the ground. His muscles were taut while he slackened the harnessing rope. His wife, Peggy Mason, and their grandsons, David Cole, 11, and Daniel Cole, 10, of Jones Springs in Berkeley County, helped.

Norman Mason said he's ridden with the Wagon Train since it first swept down South Mountain 13 years ago.

He used a smaller wagon then, pulled by a single horse. The larger one he has this weekend is built for a two-horse team. He bought the wagon in Kearneysville, W.Va., about nine years ago and figures that it's at least 100 years old.

"I just like going and driving," Mason said. "Everybody respects it."

Harold Talbert, of New Windsor, Md., has also been with the Pike Festival from the start. For the fifth straight year, he brought his niece, Georgia Hayden of Virginia Beach, Va.

"Just getting back with the horses" is a thrill, said Hayden, a bookkeeper, "because I live in the city. This is my vacation."

Lowe, from Shepherdstown, W.Va., is rolling with the train for the first time this year. He heard about the event from Mason.

Lowe and his father, John Lowe Jr., brought a reproduction of a circa 1805 "cutaway" wagon. The wagon gets its name from a gap in the frame that allows the front wheels to turn sharply.

Next to a lean-to where he and his father slept, Scott Lowe had set up a "washtub bass," a string tied to an upside-down metal basin that he plucked for musical entertainment. A harmonica was attached, too.

The Wagon Train will move out Saturday morning along U.S. 40 and reach Boonsboro, about 36 miles away, on Sunday. It will stop in Hagerstown and Funkstown. Activities are planned along the way. The public is invited.

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