Here in Indiana it seems we have our share of unusual sights. It was early Sunday morning when my friend Renee’ Kinney called. “Hey John, there is a guy travelling across the United States in a covered wagon being pulled by three draft horses,” she said. “He is headed west out of Kokomo and I was wondering if he could spend the night at your place since you have the room for the horses,” she continued.
Admiring someone who would take on this type of adventure, I agreed. One night turned into four which gave him time to rest, regroup and resupply. It also gave me the opportunity to visit with someone who has the motivation and commitment to fulfill such an arduous lifelong dream. Accomplishing a goal of this nature has to come straight from the heart and soul.
It was an hour later, while on my way ice fishing, I came across Lee the Horselogger headed west along Indiana Highway 22. His team of three horses pulled a large covered wagon laden with bales of hay and barrels of water as he crept along the road. It was like a modern day throwback to the 18th century. Cars jockeyed around him while others pulled over to snap pictures.
Lee the Horselogger is the only name he uses, abandoning his surname, something he hopes to make legal within the next year. At the age of 55 he has no plans of slowing down. He is making his way to Minnesota where he will earn money pulling logs with his horses before moving on to Alaska where he hopes to travel before settling down.
Mr. Horselogger’s journey of literary proportions began in 2006 after a cancer diagnosis prompted him to take a different look at life. Unlike what many people may first believe, he has no agenda, no religious mission and no governmental protest. He just wants to live his life to the fullest on his level. “So many people die regretting not accomplishing certain things,” he explained. “My goal was to travel the United States by wagon and it is something I did not want to regret later.” And to think it all began with a team of horses, $75 and a dream.
Lee has been travelling across the Unites States for nearly 10 years. This is his fourth time to cross the country, never travelling the same route twice. But with only three horsepower it’s easy to understand. “It takes about a year for me to go coast-to-coast,” he said. “And that’s if I don’t have many logging jobs along the way.” Some people prefer pulling logs out of the woods with horses rather than machinery. Horses can sometimes maneuver into tighter areas while providing less damage to the ground.
He usually travels about 10 to 12 miles a day at three miles per hour depending on weather conditions and terrain. His homemade Conestoga style wagon is pulled by three Suffolk draft horses, Alice, Fey and Dink. He prefers this particular English breed because of their toughness and brute pulling strength.
After spending four days with his horses I was amazed at their power and beauty. They were well taken care of and fed a steady supply of hay, oats, alfalfa and beat pulp. Lee cared more about his horses than himself, making sure they were fed before him. Even though he was offered to bed down in a heated home, while the outside temperatures dipped well below freezing , he chose to stay in his wagon next to his 1,800 pound companions.
His travels have propelled him to near celebrity status with people from across the globe following his journey. Fans have started Facebook pages where those interested can track his routes and progress.
Lee has never had much to his name. In his early years he chopped wood in upstate New York. He later worked on a PhD in comparative religion from Northwestern University, leaving after five years. He then moved to a remote section of Montana, a mile-and-a-half from his closest neighbor. Since moving to Montana he has never had running water, never paid an electric bill and never lived above the poverty line.
Even with no full time job, college degree or permanent residence, Lee has come a long way, literally. He and his team of horses have logged over 14,000 miles and have met hundreds-of-thousands of people.
He has braved temperatures as high as 116 degrees to a low minus 30. His heat source consists of a tiny propane heater and small woodstove. This doesn’t factor in the occasional hail and lightning storms compounded by dangerously steep hills. Some may think this type of adventure is all fun and games but it’s just the opposite. Caring daily for almost six tons of horses is a chore not taken lightly. It is also stressful travelling with traffic especially through the center of cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Oklahoma City to name a few. “It can be challenging, that’s for sure” said Horselogger. Even during his travels through Kokomo he was seen on Markland Avenue, Washington Street and Sycamore Road, some of our town’s busiest thoroughfares.
For Lee, home is his wagon and his horses his family. The inside of his makeshift carriage is protected from the elements with sheets of plywood and canvas roof. He can store enough supplies for only a few days.
Several years back while on the road, Lee learned the lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks the immune system, had returned. He treated it holistically while maintaining a positive attitude toward the disease and appears to be doing fairly well physically. In September he suffered a stroke while in Pennsylvania. “Yet every time something drastic happened, a friend,” as Lee calls those he meets on the road, “showed up to help or take me to the hospital,” he added thankfully.
From the beginning, Lee has relied on his faith of our country’s good natured people for support. “When you go at the behest of other people, you get to see the very best in human nature,” he said. “I never worry about where to sleep or dangers on the trip because people are always there to help,” he explained one evening while we fed his horses.
Seeing Lee on the road is like a glance back in history. “I feel like I’m part of the Beverly Hillbillies,” he said with a laugh. But others see it more like a journey more akin to Lewis and Clark. But instead of mapping geographical locations he is documenting the people and personalities that make up our great country. “What I like most is meeting new people,” he said.
Since the beginning the travelling horselogger has been documenting his adventure. In the end he hopes to publish a book of his travels and the people who make up the soul of this nation.
Those who have an opportunity to talk to Lee are fortunate, although he would not agree. He seems exceptionally wise, probably from being educated the old fashioned way. He has been taught by doing and seeing. His philosophy is to go after your dreams and have compassion for your neighbors. The American flag constantly waving on the back of his wagon is not so much a sign of patriotism. Instead, he sees it as a reminder there are 50 states with friends in each of them.
Only in the United States can a man with no money, no permanent residence and no college degree make such a lasting impression on those he briefly meets.
Photos by Author