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Friendship Wagon gears up for trek

By Laura Gossman

lgossman@postbulletin.com

BYRON — On Monday afternoon, Mike Dengler was preparing his two blond Belgian horses for a week-long trek across southeastern Minnesota.

While visiting with his friend John Davis, Dengler’s horses impatiently clopped their hooves in the dirt.

They were ready to go.

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The two rural Byron men got to know one another after Dengler bought his first team of horses from Davis several years ago.

Dengler has been participating in the Friendship Wagon train for the past four years and will be beginning another 126-mile journey today, when the wagon train leaves Camp Winnebago near Caledonia.

Davis is the wagon master. His wife, Monica, and son Dustin also participate in the wagon train every year.

Davis formed the wagon train 21 years ago, and he and Monica surprised everyone and got married during the wagon train in 1994.

A group of wagons and horseback riders will again travel the back roads of southeastern Minnesota gathering donations for Camp Winnebago, a camp near Caledonia for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Last year, they raised more than $31,000 for the camp. Davis said camp fees are $850 for a week-long stay, and the donations ensure that low-income campers receive scholarships to attend the camp.

This year’s wagon train will start at the camp today and make its way west to Austin.

To prepare for the ride, Davis and Dengler have been checking on their planned routes to make sure there’s no road construction or fallen trees on their paths.

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"Last year, a tree fell down on a rustic minimum maintenance road near Whalen, and we had no place to turn around," Davis said. "Luckily, Paul Vickerman came to the rescue with his logging team. It was no problem for the workhorses."

Of course, the group always hopes for good weather.

Rain or shine, they trot down the trail, then camp out in city parks and rural farms.

"If we’re not trotting, we’re in the rain," Davis said. "Each year I say I’ll never do it again, but once you meet the folks we’re helping at Camp Winnebago you know why we do it."

Davis said meals are often lined up by 4-H groups, churches and Lions groups.

"It’s hard to make breakfast at 4:30 a.m. when you need to get your horses ready to start off the day," Davis said.

So far, 33 wagons have pre-registered to join the wagon train this year and a few others have said they plan to come.

Dengler said people often line up to watch the train pass through town and business owners often hand them donations.

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The public is welcome to stop at any of the campsites to make donations and visit with the trail riders.

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

Camp Winnebago

http://www.campwinnebago.org

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