The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

June 6, 2013

Wagon train enthusiasts step back in time along country roads in Missouri, Kansas

When Patrick Goodknight was in the first grade at Irving Elementary School in Joplin, his teacher asked the pupils to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up.

“I drew a cowboy and an Indian,” Goodknight said.

He ran his own saddle business for about 10 years, but these days he is an Edward Jones financial adviser on South Main Street in Joplin, having followed in his father’s footsteps.

But several times a year, his dream does come true — sort of. The tall, slim man who prefers cowboy boots to dress shoes harnesses his quarter horses Bud, Tex, Burt and Boomer to a wagon, says goodbye to modern conveniences and hits the trail.

Sometimes it’s to church in Nashville, Mo., about five miles from his rural home. On Thursday, it was clip-clopping along with a wagon train of six teamsters on a 20-mile scenic ride from Liberal, Mo., to historic Cato, Kan.

Along the way, the men recounted stories of how they got their wagons and teams, what appeals to them about stepping back into the past, and the lifelong friendships they’ve formed along the way.

Goodknight got his first wagon when he was 10, after persuading his dad to buy it at a sale. These days, his team pulls a Springfield wagon, named after the Springfield (Mo.) Wagon Co. that produced them from 1872 to 1942.

Like the others in the group, his wagon is topped with the iconic off-white canvas tarp that is featured on what many refer to as a “covered wagon.” It’s a thrill, he said, whenever its wagon wheels are on a path once traveled by pioneer settlers and frontier military men.

Teamster Tony Stussy also is a Joplin businessman. He owns Gaylen Plumbing not far from Goodknight’s office on South Main Street. He grew up in Frontenac, Kan., now lives in Seneca, and in his off hours he, too, loves going back in time.

“It’s amazing the things you see this way that you’d never see in a car,” Stussy said as he drove his team of gray Percherons, Mary and Kate, past rolling native Missouri prairie. “That’s the nice thing about going four miles an hour.”

George Parsons, of Nashville, Mo., was the only wagoneer not in a covered wagon. His team of Austrian Haflingers, Gidget and Curly, pulled a dray, or market wagon, that in recent years was used by the Amish as a hearse.

Parsons, whose grandfather Toby Wilson was a muleskinner in the Pittsburg, Kan., area, has never been far from a farm and said he likes it that way.

“I went to school on a rodeo scholarship and wound up working for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources,” he said. “Now, I do this.”

Parsons also plays roles in Civil War re-enactments, many of them filmed — including one that shows at Branson’s Imax Theater. In past years, he was a rodeo clown.

On a rutted dirt road not fit for cars, he enjoyed a slow pace that allowed him to identify species of wildflowers in a nearby prairie, notice a wild turkey that another wagon startled up and spot a snapping turtle in a puddle near the horses’ feet.

“The most remarkable thing about this is how much you see from here,” Parsons said.

Another on the trip, Jim Bohannon, of Neosho, often uses his team — Pee Wee, a female, and Pokey, a gelding — to help Goodknight disc and mow hay. He started going on wagon trains about three years ago.

“I guess I just like the atmosphere of it,” said Bohannon, a retired Joplin School District bus mechanic. “Time don’t mean nothing. We’re in no hurry.”

Larry Osborn, a retired truck driver from Asbury, said Thursday’s ride was his maiden voyage for a trip of any distance with his black mare and gelding team, Maggie and Tate, in his Springfield wagon.

He acknowledged that it’s hard work and that there are challenges along the way, such as when one of the horses lay down on a watering stop at Arcadia, Kan., in full harness and wouldn’t get back up. She was cramping, explained the men who tugged and pulled at her to get her back on her feet.

“It’s been a long two days,” Osborn said. “I hope I have as much fun as tired as I am. But I crave it. What’s not to like?”

For Ken Brous, a farmer and horseman from Lamar, wagon rides are a connection to his late father, Jack.

“My dad did an eight-day wagon train in 1976 from Lamar to Kansas City, when I was a kid,” he said. “He died four years ago, and I inherited his stuff. It’s a way to keep him with me.”

Goodknight said he enjoys the bond he has with the men on the trip, because they, too, are dedicated history buffs whose thoughts often drift to the past.

“It’s just fascinating that our ancestors did this, and it wasn’t that long ago,” he said. “It just feels like we’re stepping back in time.”

Text Only
Top Stories
  • r041614giregabby.jpg SLIDE SHOW: Teen with cystic fibrosis finds widespread support

    When the Nevada Show Choir performs its spring show on stage, it’s impossible to pick out the student with cystic fibrosis because there are no outward clues.
    Gabby Gire, 18, is just another performer. She sings, she dances, she smiles for the audience.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

  • 041914 Wedding1_72.jpg VIDEO: Cancer patient walks down aisle in wedding thrown by friends

    A year ago, Schandera Jordan was diagnosed with a rare form cervical cancer. And months after a radical hysterectomy, doctors confirmed the worst: The cancer had spread to her lungs and pancreas.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Enrollment open for Joplin summer school

    Enrollment is now open for the Joplin school district’s summer school session, which will run Wednesday, June 4, though Tuesday, July 1.

    April 19, 2014

  • r041814capbus4.jpg Funding shortfall could hinder public transportation in Southeast Kansas

    For the past two years, Pittsburg State University sophomore Travis Cook has been using public transportation to get to and from his classes. He began using the bus his freshman year, when he didn’t have a vehicle to drive even to the grocery store — which is said to be the case for many who use the service.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bruner denied change of venue for murder trial

    Circuit Judge Gayle Crane has denied a change of venue for a defendant charged with fatally shooting an assistant football coach at Missouri Southern State University. The attorney for Jeffrey Bruner claimed pretrial publicity as the reason for seeking a change of venue in Jasper County Circuit Court.

    April 18, 2014

  • Russell family sues city, Joplin police

    Family members of a teenage girl whose suicide a year ago brought them into conflict with police officers and emergency medical technicians are suing the city and the Joplin Police Department. Kevin and Julissa Russell and their son, Brant Russell, are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Jasper County Circuit Court. The action filed on the Russells’ behalf by Kansas City attorney Andrew Protzman names the city, the Police Department and Officers Austin Wolf and Tyler Christensen as defendants.

    April 18, 2014

  • Kansas Regents stick with social media policy

    After directing a committee to study a controversial social media policy and make recommended changes, the Kansas Board of Regents appears to not be changing the policy at all. It’s left some in academia baffled by why it appointed the work group in the first place.

    April 18, 2014

  • Britain Easter Pilgri_Cast.jpg SLIDESHOW: Good Friday observances around the world Around the world, Christians are coming together in observance of Good Friday, which they believe was the day Jesus was crucified. Here are some photos from Good Friday commemorations around the world.

    April 18, 2014

  • Missouri House votes to expand sales tax exemptions

    Pizza parlors, doughnut shops and even convenience stores all could be in line for a tax break on the food that they make and sell as a result of a measure moving through the Missouri Legislature.

    April 18, 2014

  • 041714 School safe rooms4_72.jpg Joplin school district readies community safe rooms for storm season

    Thousands of Joplin residents will soon be able to stay safe during storms in some of the region’s newest shelters. Community safe rooms at Cecil Floyd, Stapleton, McKinley and Eastmorland elementary schools, which double as gymnasiums, and Junge Field, which will double as a field house, are expected to be open within the next few weeks, according to Mike Johnson, the school district’s director of construction.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos