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Traveling the back roads with Doc, Bill, and BobPosted Friday, December 18, 2009, at 10:57 AM
Bob Skelding travels through Advance with Doc and Bob pulling his converted wagon/RV, while Bill walks behind. They camped out by Mario's barn, two miles south of Advance last night.
Earlier this summer, a mule-drawn wagon with a gigantic JESUS SAVES sign came through, traveling north. Yesterday, as I was leaving town, what should I see but another wagon, headed south.
I parked in the Blimpie parking lot and trotted alongside, snapping pictures, but I had to abandon the foot chase and take to the Jeep to catch up with them across from Town & Country Supermarket.
Taking my life in my hands, I parked by the highway and ran alongside.
"Hey! Hey!" I yelled at the driver. "I'm from the newspaper! Can I get your story?" (That always stops them in their tracks!)
"I can't talk long. I have to find a place to camp within the next three miles, before it gets dark," said the driver.
I racked my brain for a likely spot.
"Two miles south, you could stop at 00 Highway. Mario's Pizza place would be a good spot," I said. A phone call to Mario confirmed it.
Thus, Bob Skelding, his girlfriend Denise Jacobs, two Belgians, one Percheron, and a scruffy little dog made camp beside Mario's barn.
They made a temporary pen in the large, grassy courtyard, and Bill the Belgian celebrated by rolling on his large back in the grass.
Though the temperatures dipped down to 22 degrees overnight, the two humans, who are from Michigan, seemed well-prepared with a propane heater in their cozy homemade RV. They even had Christmas lights strung around the roof.
Actually, Bob is originally from Rhode Island, where he was an instructor at a nuclear power plant before he hit the road "for the fun of it."
Denise, a horse enthusiast, followed his exploits on the internet (wagonmaster.com), and when Skelding came to Michigan, she went to meet him. They hit it off, and she left her office job to travel the U.S. with him.
"I've barely been out of Michigan, so I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the U.S. - especially the southern states," she explained.
The couple and their menagerie are making a 4,000 - 5,000 mile trip, down to Texas, then up through southern New Mexico and the western Rockies, the South Pass, Wyoming, across the Plains, and then back to Indiana, where they started on Nov. 14 of this year. The trip should take them a year.
When he is asked about whether his horses can handle the Rockies, Skelding says that the grade of the hills is less than some in the East.
"It's a good way to travel and meet nice people," Denise said. "The truckers are the nicest. They've helped us a lot, keeping traffic slowed down."
The trip is not without its dangers. Last year Skelding was rear-ended by a tanker truck in Mississippi. Two of his mares were killed, Doc was wounded, and Skelding spent a month in the hospital recuperating. He said the trucker didn't even look up.
However, he was back on the road this year, traveling 1100 miles this summer.
When asked about his wagon/RV, Skelding reveals the humor that must make the trip entertaining.
"I bought the wagon from Bernie Harbord, a fellow teamster, who was going south with one mule. I paid the dastardly price of one biscuit. He wanted gravy, too, but that was too high a price."
If Skelding and Jacobs meet many people like Amy Dembowski, who brought them over a plate of steak and salad, it's no wonder they like the life of vagabonds.
They expect to get back on the road about 7 a.m. this morning, and, traveling at 15-25 miles an hour, they should reach Dexter in time to camp overnight.
I pray a safe journey for these adventurers and their beautiful animals.
Postscript to this story posted 12-18-09
To follow Bob and Denise as they travel to Austin, Texas, go to his website at http://www.wagonteamster.com. The website has several neat features, and you can see his comments from each stop. Advance, Aquilla, and Dexter are on there.
From the frosty hills of Tillman, Mo., this is your rural reporter Madeline, celebrating the diversity of life along Highway 25 in Southeast Missouri.
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Madeline DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She can be contacted at email@example.com or by phone at 573-722-5322.