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Wagon Ho! - thru Philip and beyond

by Del Bartels

After 26 years of traveling the United States, by horse-drawn wagon, Ron McGilvery, is thinking of settling down.

Raised in Gettysburg, SD, he is friends with Sonny LaBeau, and comes through Philip every so often to renew the friendship. "He came through in '95, then 2004, I believe, and now," said LaBeau. "In Gettysburg, he had a '53 Mercury with straight pipes, which got him into a little trouble back then. He went into the military before he finished high school."

After retiring from the military, McGilvery, who calls himself Ron Dakotah, began touring the country. "You don't miss much when you're traveling at 4.5 miles per hour," he said. "We (he and his horses) go about 20 miles in six hours and then we're done for the day. This is the best this country has looked in ten years, so green. We've missed most of the storms, but have hit the heat."

"We've been through Philip a few times now," said McGilvery. He recalled that LaBeau and he had a lot of fun together as kids, riding bicycles and working on model cars together. LaBeau said, "Now when we visit, he does most of the talking, mostly about his trip, his horses and what happens when they get spooked every now and then."

This trip to Philip was different than other times. During his second night with his horses and wagons camped in the ditch north of the Philip roping arena, he was informed by Mike Schofield of the South Dakota Department of Transportation that there had been some complaints. McGilvery couldn't camp right there a third night. McGilvery's website later stated, "Well, once again Ron meets with unfriendly authorities and has been run out of Phillip. Ron is really surprised this time - complaints about the horses in the ditch and worries of them running on to the road. However, on an up note, Ron got to spend time with a childhood friend, Sonny, and talk over old times. Ron is now going up the road to Midland and let the horses rest there."

When he is resting, he has the comforts of home. The wagon is his home. It has solar panels on the roof to power a small refrigerator and a satellite radio. While stopped, he does his own horse shoeing needs. "I call them flat tires," he said. "The house weighs around 4,000 pounds, and the water/grain/storage wagon in back weighs around 2,000 pounds, a total of three tons. The rule of thumb is a 1,000 pound horse pulls double his weight. With four horses pulling, I'm one horse-power over and we can go 1.5 times faster."

McGilvery said, "I've met a lady in Ennis, MT, and we kind of hit it off." His website states, "Ron needs to get to Plankinton in order to pick up Andy, his son, who is flying in from England to visit. At that point, Ron would like to move the whole operation back to Ennis." McGilvery said that the return trip to Montana will probably be by truck.

Originally years ago, McGilvery started in California and headed for Texas, by way of South Dakota. He claimed that he is, among other things, teaching people to wave, touching people's lives, teaching people patience and breaking the routines of life, of people, dogs, cats, horses, cows and sheep and other confined creatures. Among the expenses incurred for this lifestyle is six dollars per set of horse shoes, which last about three weeks.