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Rolling, rolling, rolling

May 21, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

WASHINGTON COUNTY - These days, it takes a police escort to hitch your wagon and ride along the National Pike.

But there's a lot less dust.

Nearly a dozen wagons and a whole lot of horses are meandering through Washington County this weekend to commemorate one of the most significant events in the region's transportation history - the development of the National Pike. The road eventually would run from Baltimore to Ohio, the edge of the western frontier at the turn of the 18th century.

Now in its 18th year, the National Pike Festival marks the event with an annual wagon train, giving participants a taste of what the trek from Clear Spring to Boonsboro was like before gasoline and engines - not to mention pavement.

"It's been an exciting time," said Liz Hand, a writer and substitute teacher from Pennsylvania. "They let me sit in front and drive for a while. It's very different from horseback riding when you're driving two Belgians and have traffic on the right."

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The festival kicked off Friday in Clear Spring, with participants gathering at the American Legion for an overnight encampment. Early Saturday, the legion hosted breakfast before the travelers started their journey to Wilson's Store, across the Wilson Bridge and on to Huyetts Crossroads for lunch. By midafternoon, the wagon train had arrived at City Park in Hagerstown.

"The park is always a big stop for us," coordinator Laura Bowman said.

All along the way, the wagon train attracted onlookers. "I wouldn't even begin to be able to estimate how many," Bowman said.

The onlookers had lots of questions, too.

"They ask when we started, where we started, how far we're going," she said. "It really enthuses the young and the young at heart. A number of senior citizens come up to us and share their experiences with horses and mules."

Cruisers from the Washington County Sheriff's Department accompanied the wagon train as city police cleared the route down Wilson Boulevard to the final stop for the wagon train. And as if to prove Bowman's point, both the young and the young at heart watched from front porches and sidewalks as the caravan snaked down the thoroughfare at a steady 5-mph pace.

Paul Holley, his son, Austin, 11, and his friend, Mason Guillory, 9, watched the wagon train amble through their neighborhood and followed it to Ag Center Inc., the final stop, for a closer look.

Austin declared the horses and wagons "kinda cool" and "awesome." His father was just as enthusiastic.

"There should be more things like this," Paul Holley said.

Austin said he would like to learn to ride a horse someday, "if my dad would let me," he added, casting an imploring glance at Dad.

Mason had no such interest.

"I like motorcycles better," he insisted. "They're faster."

But a horse-drawn wagon ride isn't so bad, said Josh Osborne, 28, of Keymar, Md. Riding in the wagon train for the first time, Osborne said he likes "having the whole road to myself."

And it's not particularly bumpy, he added, "unless there are dips."

Today, it's off to Boonsboro, with stops at Ravenwood Lutheran Village, Auction Square Complex and Shafer Memorial Park.

"We'll start working on the 19th (festival) next week," Bowman said.

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