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National Pike Festival makes its final stop

May 20, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

For Tom and Maria Wetzel, the annual excursion with the wagon train satisfies a yearning for the past.

The Funkstown couple has been participating in the National Pike Festival for the last five years, an event that relives the history of National Pike and what it was like to travel by covered wagons and horseback.

The train began in Clear Spring Saturday morning, made stops in downtown Hagerstown, headed to Funkstown and concluded Sunday afternoon in Boonsboro at Shafer Memorial Park.

About 100 people made the trip.

Onlooker Bertha Martin of Leitersburg said she followed the train from Funkstown to Boonsboro because she likes to see the wagons and horses.

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"I love to follow them. It reminds me of the old-time days," Martin said. "I'd like to go back to those days."

National Pike, also called U.S. 40, played a part in the westward expansion of the country, when Baltimore bankers wanted the route extended to Cumberland, Md., in 1797.

President Thomas Jefferson authorized the funds to extend the pike farther from Cumberland to Ohio in 1806.

Tom Wetzel said he takes part in the event that was started in 1989 to relive the times when transportation wasn't so easy.

"We're spoiled," Wetzel said. "And we're trying to preserve our heritage. That's why I do this."

He said while the wagon train excursion gives a feel for what traveling at low speeds and being partly exposed to the elements was like, the wagoners of years past faced tougher trips.

"We're traveling on good roads - on blacktop," Wetzel said. "We went over bridges. We had a police escort."

Travelers in the olden days had to navigate on unpaved roads and through fields, without the assistance of the police.

Wagon train organizer Laura Parrish said the wagoners kept in contact with the Washington County Sheriff's Department through two-way radios and cell phones during the two-day trip. The department escorted the train.

"We had a wonderful trip," Parrish said. "We had beautiful weather. The horses and mules all felt good. Everything went on without a hitch."

She also said CSX and Norfolk Southern railroad companies agreed to discuss schedules and possibly hold trains to prevent frightening the horses as they passed under bridges.

While some new faces join the excursion every year, Parrish said many on the trip have been participating for years.

Rhonda Carbaugh of Greencastle, Pa., said she's been traveling with the wagon train for about 12 of the 14 years it's been in existence.

Other than cold weather, she said the trip went well this year.

"We do it because my grandfather likes to do it," she said. "It's a family thing."

Carbaugh said eight people traveled in their covered wagon.

"It was a little crowded, but it wasn't too bad," she said, adding that she plans to participate again next year.

The Wetzels said they also plan to take part in the event next year, which will be held during the third week of May.

Tom Wetzel said two guests who traveled with them this year told him they gained an appreciation for those who lived in earlier times.

"Now they see what our forefathers went through," he said. "It makes you appreciate those people from the yesteryear."

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