Idaho couple decides to live … One step at a time

Idaho couple decides to live … One step at a time Today's modern modes of transportation pass by Ron and Teresa McGilvrey in a blur, but they don't mind. They're content to take life at a much slower pace. Friday the McGilvreys traveled east through Vermillion on Cherry Street in their covered wagons pulled by a team of four half-Arabian/half-quarter horses. by David Lias Don't tell Ron and Teresa McGilvrey of Idaho Falls, ID that the only way to enjoy the open road is behind the wheel of a fast car sporting a powerful engine.

They're happy with a simpler mode of travel that instead of hundreds of horsepower requires only four.


Friday they passed through Vermillion in their two horse-drawn covered wagons. It was a miserable day. The temperature was only about 30 degrees, and the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour at times, making for a frigid wind chill.

The four half-Arabian/half-quarter horses weren't facing into the gale from the north, however, as they pulled the wagon east on Highway 50. In fact, Ron said, the wind was blowing at an angle to their backs, giving a bit of a boost to the horses' pulling power while the wagon partially protected them from the cold air.

The team of four horses was building up its own head of steam, too. It's hard work pulling wagons weighing over three tons.

Ron kept warm while holding the reins by wearing several layers of clothing. The Alaska fox fur hat wrapped tightly on his head was nearly the same color as the gray beard that protects his weather- and timeworn face.

The world was passing the McGilvreys by so quickly Friday. Cars, pickups, and large semis, in the scheme of things, traveled nearby with a blur of speed.

Ron and Teresa are happy just to proceed one step at a time, down a small stretch of highway each day.

Ron, 60, and Teresa, 45, were married a year-and-a-half ago, and decided there was more to life than simply living in Idaho.

They decided to adopt a new lifestyle, and began their journey in life together by discarding conventional housekeeping in favor of a horse-drawn home.

"My wife loves it. This is her idea. We left Idaho Sept. 12," Ron said as he prepared to make camp in a wooded area near the I-29 rest stop east of Vermillion. "We went over West Yellowstone into Bozeman, and from there to Billings."

The couple's goal is to reach Oklahoma, where they will spend a couple months, but the McGilvreys have no idea how many miles they eventually will travel, nor do they have any plans to stay still for very long.

"We don't have no final destination," Ron said. "We're going to do this for the rest of our lives. That's what she's says. We're going to try to break and train horses; I'll have to stop and work because I'm only 60 years old. Teresa will be 45 on Dec. 25.

"We're just going to try to keep doing this. Something about a team of wagons � people love it," he said. "Wow, everybody waves and they're honking, and whether it's snowing or the sun is shining, they love a covered wagon. What do you think that is all about?"

The couple's journey across South Dakota included stops in Belle Fourche, Sturgis, and down to Kadoka.

"We bought a horse in Gregory, because we're short a horse," he said. "And we stopped and saw a friend of mine in Plankinton."

The McGilvreys have no set itinerary. They go where the road takes them.

"We make 20 miles a day, and the weather has been excellent � I mean real good," Ron said. "It's been 40 degrees most of the time. We got snowed on four times."

One of the worst days was shortly after Thanksgiving, as the horses had to work against winds howling up to 60 miles per hour as they began crossing the state's West River territory.

"That was pretty bad," he said.

The couple's journey across southeastern South Dakota took them to towns both big and small. They stopped in Olivet, the seat of Hutchinson County, which has a population of less than 100 people.

From there, they traveled south, eventually reaching Yankton. They spent Thursday in Meckling, where they stocked up on some of the finest hay available for their team,

and began their eastward trek on Highway 50 shortly after 9 a.m. Friday.

The McGilvreys don't mind when they run into miserable weather conditions like Mother Nature provided Friday.

They're prepared to rough it � to an extent. While Ron began scouting for a place to camp Friday, Teresa kept busy, and warm, inside the wagon. She opened the small front door located directly behind where Ron sits when he's driving the team, and the surrounding air was filled with the unmistakable toasty smell of burning wood.

Ron, who is originally from Gettysburg, knows what South Dakota winters can be like. He built the couple's wagon with the Great Plains' harsh climate in mind. His wife, a retired diesel mechanic, loves the journey they are on together.

Inside the wagon is a wood-burning stove. Even on the chilliest of nights, Ron and Teresa sleep in comfort inside. Their wagon sports several modern conveniences, including a shower that the couple will use once the weather turns warm. During the winter, they count on hot baths at the homes of friends and acquaintances they meet during their travels.

"We've got water on the stove," Ron said. "We're not suffering."

He turned to see Teresa, sporting a big smile, briefly open the wagon's door and feel the cool breeze outside.

"Every day is a beautiful day when you're sitting next to that wood stove, huh sweetie?"

"Uh, huh," she replied, laughing.

The McGilvreys listen to the chatter of truckers on their CB radio, powered by electric batteries.

"I've got solar panels on the roof that keep the batteries charged," Ron said. "We've got electric lights inside, and hydraulic banks on the wagon."

Those brakes were especially handy as the wagon crossed the Continental Divide.

"We were going downhill for six hours," he said. "I wouldn't have been able to keep my foot on the brake that whole time otherwise."

During the day, the McGilvreys enjoy a smooth ride thanks to the wagon's rubber tires. Even the horse's hooves enjoy the comfort of a rubber cushion.

"I have car tires on their feet," Ron said. "I cut out car tires and used those for shoes, so they don't slip so bad. They can get a grip on the pavement."

They horses are virtually silent while on the move.

"You don't have no clop, clop, clop," he said. "It's just like they are wearing tennis shoes."

The McGilvreys usually travel about five hours each day.

"We can make about 20 miles in five hours on flat ground," Ron said.

They wait until mid-morning, to give the sun time to warm up the day a bit, before hitting the road.

"In the summertime, when it's warm, we'll start at 5 a.m.," Ron said.

Even days that are cold and miserable are tolerable, he said, because of the warm response their journey receives.

"The people have just been wonderful, just wonderful," Ron said. "We couldn't believe the reception that a horse-drawn wagon gets."

He and Teresa were especially excited, while in Yankton, to learn that a family from there is planning to put together a wagon train to travel the Lewis and Clark trail. The wagon train will mark the bicentennial of the explorers' expedition through the region.

"We're going to go down to Oklahoma probably, and spend a few months there, and meet up with the wagon train when it gets on this side of the Mississippi," Ron said.

The McGilvreys are accidental tourists, in a way. They simply wanted to travel from Idaho to Oklahoma. What they didn't realize until recently is that they've been stomping around the same parts of the country that were explored by Lewis and Clark.

"Even now, as I understand it, we're on the Lewis and Clark trail," Ron said.

The McGilvreys' last stop in South Dakota will be at a friend's place "just this side of Sioux City," Ron said. "I haven't seen him in 10 years. We'll probably spend a week there. He's got some young horses that he wants me to help him work with."

The McGilvreys made sure they were leaving no worries behind in Idaho when they began their journey this fall.

"We had an old motor home, we put all of our valuables in that, we put everything else away, we built the wagons and we left," Ron said. "So we have no reason to go back."

Eventually, the couple will return to Idaho. But there's a lot of world left to see first, one step at a time.

"We'll make a big circle, in the spring we may go up across the Canadian border," he said. "That was our tentative plan, but maybe the Lewis and Clark wagon train may do something that will change those plans.

"We're open to change," Ron said.

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