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Wagon Days Brings Tourists, More Sewage Flow
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Monday, September 4, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The initial Wagon Days parade in 1958 was held not over Labor Day Weekend but in early August.

But, when Ketchum city leaders revived it after a seven-year hiatus, they moved it to Labor Day Weekend. They did so for two reasons, said Jerry Seiffert, who was honored as this year’s Grand Marshal.

One reason was so that they’d have enough time to train horses to pull the tall skinny ore wagons that are the centerpiece of the parade.

“Believe it or not, no horses in Idaho knew how to pull those wagons,” Seiffert said.

The other was to get people to stay in town longer, he added: “Summer was not very robust in the 1970s. People came here for skiing in winter, but they didn’t really come in summer.”

The drop-off in visitors in mid-August could be tracked by the wastewater in the sewage system, said Seiffert, who helped revive Wagon Days while mayor of Ketchum. Flows practically stopped in late August as visitors dwindled, and the city sometimes had to supply water from the local hot springs to keep the system moving.

“We had charts on the wall that kept track of sewage treatment flows And, when people stayed around longer because of Wagon Days, we could tell,” he said.

Seiffert was honored for his role in resurrecting Wagon Days with a BBQ dinner for the community at a Grand Marshal reception Friday night at Ketchum Town Square.

He told those present that he was told about the wagons when he ran for mayor in 1975. He found them being stored by Sun Valley Company in one of Sun Valley’s garages.

“I was stunned because along the wall were these huge wagons that you’re all familiar with. The only existing examples left in the Unite States. I thought, ‘These are the wagons people are talking about giving away!?’ ”

In fact, Wagon Days was founded in 1958 to give Ketchum’s economy a shot in the arm following the closure of the Triumph Mine. Some 1,200 spectators lined the streets to watch the parade its first year. Since, as many as 15,000 visitors have flocked to town for the event, including some from the Netherlands this year who remarked they’d never seen anything like it.

Palmer Lewis, whose uncle ran the ore wagons up and down Trail Creek Summit, opted to give the wagons to the City of Ketchum, turning down purchase request from Disney Anheuser-Bush, Knotts Berry Farm and even Six Flags over Georgia.

But he did so with one request: That the city bring them out every year and parade them through the streets of Ketchum.

Mindful of that request, Seiffert urged the City Council to reconsider reviving Wagon Days. Phil Puchner, who had served with the 10th Mountain Division, responded: “If you’re crazy enough to do it, go do it.”

The wagons needed refurbishing, Seiffert noted. But the city was able to get a grant from the state for  $2,300 that would be worth between $8,000 and $10,000 now.

“It was amazing how much work needed to be done, and it was also amazing how many local people knew how to do it,” he said.

A string of Percherons—well-muscled draft horses bred for use as war horses and weighing up to 2,600 pounds each—were trained to pull the ore wagons. Then the city employed 20 golden horses.

Finally, in 2000 the City of Ketchum was able to snag the services of Bobby Tanner and his 20-mule Borax hitch team from Bishop, Calif., to pull the six 3-ton ore wagons.

“Originally Bobby Tanner said, ‘You can’t afford us,’ ” recounted Wendy Jaquet, former director of the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Center. “It was the LOT tax that made that possible.”

The LOT, or local option tax, is a sales tax imposed on such things as hotels and drinks—a way to have tourists help pay for some of the services they use while here.

“It funds Mountain Rides bus service, helps with our air flights and a small event called Wagon Days,” said Bradshaw. “And Wagon Days is a reminder of the journey that got us to where we are today.”

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