Riding on a horse or traveling in a horse-drawn wagon gives Brad Wessel a different perspective.
On the way to a destination, he is able to take in nature and the scenery.
Then on the way back to his home in Brownstown, he likes to take a different route so he can appreciate a new view.
It’s an interesting viewpoint as opposed to driving 55 mph down the road in a car, he said.
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This week, the 52-year-old and his father, Ivan Wessel, 73, are participating in an historic event to celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial that involves two of their passions — horses and wagons.
The Capital to Capital Wagon Ride started Saturday morning in Corydon — the capital when Indiana became the 19th state on Dec. 11, 1816 — and will end this Saturday morning in Indianapolis — the state capital since 1825.
The 130-plus-mile ride along State Road 135 follows the same route that was taken in 1824 when horses and wagons were used to haul records from Corydon to Indianapolis.
This year’s ride will end at the Statehouse, where a Hoosier Homecoming celebration is set for noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Ivan participated in a similar ride in 1971, and he and his son participated in a ride around Jackson County in 1976.
“I can look back and say, ‘We got to do this,'” Brad said of this week’s event. “We’ve done a lot of horse stuff together.”
Toward the end of 2015, Rocky Rice applied for a Legacy Project through the Indiana Bicentennial Commission to be able to organize a wagon ride this year.
As president of the Monroe County Saddle Club for 10 years, he said he had opened that county’s fair with a wagon train the past nine years. He wanted to do something a little bigger with the bicentennial being celebrated this year.
Once the project was approved, he organized the route and stopping points. He said he chose State Road 135 because it goes all the way to Indianapolis.
The ride starts at 9 a.m. each day, traveling about 5 mph and 25 miles until stopping. So far, it has stopped for the night in Palmyra, Salem, Brownstown, Story and Morgantown. It will stop in Bargersville tonight before making it to the Marion County Fairgrounds on Friday night.
On Saturday morning, the ride will travel 10 miles to the Statehouse and be joined by Indianapolis’ mounted patrol horses. That’s also when the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay ends after going through all 92 counties.
People can join or leave the ride at any time. Brad Wessel joined Monday when it came by his home off of State Road 135 south of Brownstown, while his father joined Tuesday morning when it left the Jackson County seat.
At that point, about a dozen wagons were a part of the ride along with several horseback riders. Brad said he expects some drivers or riders who had to leave for various reasons will rejoin the ride later in the week.
While the wagon ride was in Jackson County, it traveled through Vallonia, which missed being the state’s first capital by one vote in 1816, before heading into Brownstown. Several people were spotted along the road watching or taking pictures.
The Spurs and Wheels Saddle Club, of which the Wessels have been members for more than 20 years, and the Bicentennial Planning Committee of Jackson County provided food for the participants Monday night at the Jackson County Fairgrounds.
Kim and Warren Underwood of Vallonia and their daughter, Stephanie Florence of Hodgenville, Kentucky, were among the club members helping provide the meal at the fairgrounds.
That was a special moment for Kim because she remembers helping when her late mother, Dora Toppe, was among those who provided food for the participants in the 1971 ride through the county.
“They came through Vallonia and stopped and ate and spent the night there, and then they went on,” Kim said.
She said she never realized then that she would be able to see something like that again.
“It’s exciting to me since my mom did it, and now, we’re doing it,” Kim said.
Stephanie is the third generation to witness the ride and help provide food.
“We don’t want it to be a lost, forgotten thing. We would like to see it keep going,” Warren said.
“We’re just horse lovers, and it’s just keeping the old-time things alive and being able to show it to people that have never seen stuff like that,” Kim said. “There are not very many kids that have seen wagons going down the road except in a parade.”
On Tuesday morning, the ride traveled past Hoosier Christian Village, a senior living community in Brownstown, before turning onto Main Street also U.S. 50 to go by the Jackson County Courthouse, where they were greeted by Brownstown Elementary School fifth-graders.
The ride then turned onto Walnut Street and went past Brownstown Central Middle School, where some students were outside to watch, and then headed out to Slab Road to get back to State Road 135.
Brad said it was nice to see people along the route as it passed through the county.
“I love the public,” he said. “The kids’ faces and the people, they don’t see stuff like this, which I’m around it a lot because we do this. But I enjoy doing the rides.”
Brad said he and his father have been around horses for most of their lives. Ivan still used horses to help with farming up until a couple of years ago, while Brad has 11 horses at his home.
“(Ivan) retired 20 years ago, and that’s when we started doing everything with horses,” Brad said. “He was on a fixed income, so he would take his horses and wagon and come into town and get whatever he needed, and then go back because he had the time in the day and enjoyed it and didn’t have to spend money on fuel.”
Brad said they used to participate in a lot of wagon rides and special events, including weddings and parades.
As part of the Spurs and Wheels Saddle Club, they meet monthly for rides, cleaning up trails, camping and cookouts. At Christmastime, the club buys gifts for a less-fortunate Jackson County family.
“We eat good every month. It’s like a buffet once a month,” Brad said. “And we get to meet new people because we get new ones that join. Some of them drive up to three hours that are members that come on out.”
The Wessels also have raced horses, and Brad and a couple of his children have been involved in rodeos.
Nowadays, though, Brad said it’s difficult to get groups together to go on rides.
“Until five years ago, we did it a lot,” he said. “Then just a change in activities to do, we don’t do it as often.”
Brad said horses are his hobby, while his full-time job is at Jackson County Water Utility, where he has worked for 31 years.
Brad’s three horses on the Capital to Capital Wagon Ride — Mike, Nick and Alby — are Haflingers. Each stands about 15 hands tall and weighs more than 1,000 pounds. A hand is how horses are measured, and one hand is 4 inches.
His horses are pulling a wagon that weighs more than 2,000 pounds. He has had it for 15 years. Most of it was built by him, but a part of it was made by the Amish.
The red wooden bed has a storage area underneath it for water, firewood and spare parts. The seats are from an old van, and the back bench folds out into a bed. Five people can fit in those seats, but a few chairs can be added to the back if needed.
Brad placed American flags and bicentennial banners on the outside of the wagon for the ride, and he has an old Indiana license plate with “Wessel” on it.
He refers to the wagon as “The Cowboy Cadillac” since he has Cadillac hubcaps on the tires and a Cadillac hood ornament on the front of the wagon.
Ivan has a smaller wagon with an orange wooden bed and an enclosure, and two smaller Haflingers are pulling it during the ride.
Their wagons are quite different than the ones used in 1824 when the records were moved from Corydon to Indianapolis. Brad said the wagons would have been made of steel and had wheels with wooden spokes, which would have made for a rough ride. They also would have sat on a wooden bench and traveled on gravel or dirt roads.
Now, the wagons have hydraulic brakes, rubber tires and customized seats and travel on blacktopped roads.
Plus, while the original ride took two weeks, it now can be done in a week.
Brad said it’s great for his family to be a part of a historical event.
“It’s just something neat for the kids to remember and grandkids or even me to say, ‘Yeah, I got to do it.’ My grandkids can say, ‘Papaw went on this 50 years ago and Great-Grandpa went on it,'” he said. “A lot of us are hoping that our kids will want to do this in 50 years and just keep the tradition going.”
The Capital to Capital Wagon Ride will end Saturday at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.
From noon to 5 p.m. that day, Hoosier Homecoming, the signature event of the state’s bicentennial celebration, will take place at the Statehouse campus grounds in downtown Indianapolis.
Free activities and entertainment will provide opportunities for Hoosiers of all ages to celebrate the family while they watch the culmination of the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay at the new Bicentennial Plaza. Families can enjoy free tours of the Indiana State Library and Statehouse, including a behind-the-scenes tour of a few agencies.
Food trucks will provide different ethnic tastings, highlighting the diversity of Indiana. The entertainment, including a large group of reenactors, and exhibitions also will provide a way to highlight the diversity and rich history of Indiana.
For information, visit in.gov/ibc/2334.htm.