HAGERSTOWN — Before “horsepower” was measured by machines as a selling point on a new Ford, it was literal.
It rippled in the muscles of Percherons and flowed in the gait of Paso Finos.
And it was an integral part of life.
On Saturday, Washington County stepped back to a time when literal horse power carried humans to and from their destinations with the annual National Pike Festival.
The festival features a wagon train — a group of horse-drawn wagons traveling together — that makes a symbolic journey each year from Clear Spring to Boonsboro along the historic National Pike (U.S. 40).
Along the way, the wagon train stops to greet the public and to rest, feed and water the animals and riders. One of its stops Saturday was City Park in Hagerstown.
“I’m amazed how much these animals can take,” said Patches Wilson of Mercersburg, Pa., as she and her horse, China, rested at the park. “I’m fascinated how they’re created, what we put them through, and yet they are just gentle giants. Amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Wilson, a native of South Africa who is now a U.S. citizen, said the event gave her a chance to partake in the history of America.
It also gives the public a chance to interact with that history, she said.
The festival is educational, a reminder of local history and the roles that horses and simple wheeled devices played in our ancestors’ lives, said Norman Mason of Martinsburg, W.Va., wagon-master for the event. At each stop, the public was invited to talk to the participants, and ask about their wagons, horses and period attire.
The event drew hundreds Saturday.
Janie Mease of Mercersburg said the crowds that greeted them at each stop and along the pike were evident of the public appreciation for the festival.
“Everyone is excited,” she said. “Old or young, everybody’s waiving, everybody’s thanking us for participating and being a part of it.”
Mease said riding in the train was on her “bucket” list and now that she has participated, she plans to continue each year.
For people who don’t have horses, the festival also provides an incredible opportunity to see, touch and even sit upon the massive, yet gentle, beasts, said Jamie Baker of Big Pool, who coordinated the train with his wife, Christi.
It was especially exciting for children.
Like Jennifer Wang, 7, of Hagerstown, who loves horses, and the young relatives of Barbara Williams.
Williams, a resident of Hagerstown, said the little ones with her at the park Saturday were able to sit upon and pet the horses thanks to her sister Martha Adams, who let her know the train was coming.
“Our little ones were even asking to buy the horses by the end,” Adams said, laughing.
All along the route through City Park, small children waived and repeatedly wished goodbye to the wagon train as it pulled out of the park.
The wagon train continued Saturday to Funkstown, where participants camped for the night.
The festival continues today when the wagon train travels to Boonsboro.
Sunday’s National Pike Festival activities
- 10 a.m. — Wagon train departs from Funkstown Community Park.
- Noon — Wagon train stops for lunch at the Auction Square Market Place on Alternate U.S. 40 in Boonsboro.
- 12:45 p.m. — Wagon train departs.
- 1:30 p.m. — Wagon train makes its final stop at Boonsboro’s Shafer Memorial Park. There will be free pony rides, blacksmith demonstration and food for purchase at the park.