Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 10, 2000

Whips and Wheels parade coming to Lester Prairie

By Jane Otto

Stan and Charlotte Ehrke bought a 50-acre farm nestled behind a small grove of trees on the southern edge of town about 10 years ago.

"It was either sit in the house and pout or find something that goes along with all that hay that Stan was baling," said Charlotte.

The logical answer seemed to be horses.

Charlotte had always had horses up until her son was born. Then, there was a 25-year drought until about 10 years ago when she took in a horse without a home.

That move led to Charlotte's investigation of a barn on U.S. Highway 12, just east of Waverly. The white barn hosts big black letters that read "Pony's for Sale." Charlotte came away with a team of miniature Shetland ponies, a cart and harness, and a few simple instructions, such as "gee, hey, and whoa" from the proprietor, George Brummer.

Charlotte said she visited Brummer a few more times to get a little more instruction on how to hitch up the collars, reins, and so on.

"It's a totally different ball game from saddling a horse," Charlotte said. "You need to know where the straps go, the breast plate and so on."

Her new-found interest in carts eventually led to Minnesota Whips and Wheels Carriage and Driving Society. Charlotte has been a member for the past six years. (See boxed story.)

"I started at the very bottom, but now I know where to buy everything and where to go to get it fixed," she said.

Charlotte started her cart driving with her little team of ponies, May and June, but she wanted a bigger horse.

She first purchased a part-quarter horse, part Clydesdale, but then sold it on some good advice.

"I've been very fortunate tha,t on the way, I've have met some honest people," said Charlotte.

Charlotte said that she's also fortunate to have very tame horses, but she said a lot of that can be attributed to how you treat them.

For Charlotte, purchasing carriages was as much fun as buying horses.

By trade, Charlotte is a hairdresser. She said the people who attend the trade shows for hair stylists are obviously in the beauty supply field. Attending trade shows in the horse field was an experience of another kind: all those cowboy boots and hats.

"Different things draw different people. It's fun to just people watch, too," said Charlotte.

The big auction is in Waverly, Iowa, she said. It's a week-long venture with sales of all sorts of horse paraphernalia.

When she started driving carriages, she was advised to start with an old driving horse. However, Charlotte said the best advice she can give is to have a cart with a side entry, so you can get out fast, if need be.

It's also nice to have a metal training cart, or "you could have kindling in two minutes" with a wood cart, she said.

She told of a fellow she knew who crafted a beautiful wooden sleigh to be pulled in a parade. He was so anxious to watch it come down the parade route. He saw it alright, she said, but unfortunately, not in the condition he would have preferred.

Charlotte learned how to drive carts primarily by talking with others. She decided it might be prudent to get some actual lessons.

She contacted Don Hamilton, who ran a program, "We Can Drive," that teaches physically and mentally handicapped people how to drive horse carts using proper techniques that enable them to ride in competition. Carts are specially designed with chair lifts and other necessary equipment by a cart maker in Buffalo.

Hamilton told Charlotte he would give her lessons on the condition that she volunteer her time there. Charlotte got her lessons, but has remained a We Can Drive volunteer.

Hamilton died of a heart attack last fall, but the program continues through his assistant, Kathy Johnson. Uncannily, Johnson got her license to train through Hamilton's persistence, said Charlotte.

In speaking of Hamilton, Charlotte said, "I have never been touched by such a wonderful person as Don."

Charlotte said she still is learning about carts and cart riding and that she's only touched the surface.

"Whatever you do, it always takes you on some kind of journey," Charlotte said.

Who is Minnesota Whips and Wheels?

Minnesota Whips and Wheels Carriage and Driving Society, headquartered in Long Lake, was founded in 1984 by a small group of carriage collectors and driving enthusiasts.

The society encourages the collection and preservation of vehicles from the horse-drawn era, and also the restoration, active use and display of these carriages. The group also teaches safe driving, as well as care and training of the animals that pull the carriages.

Members drive ponies, horses, donkeys, or mules hitched singly, in pairs, in tandem, random, unicorn, and four-in-hand. There are also members who do not drive or don't own either a horse or a carriage, but are simply interested in the era.

A favorite activity of the organizations is a friendly, casual drive, with horses and carriages down scenic country roads. Aside from the drives, the group also sponsors a show where members can exhibit their carriages and driving skills.

For more information, write Whips & Wheels Carriage Driving Club, PO Box 184, Long Lake, MN 55356.

A ride in Lester Prairie

Charlotte Ehrke said the group will have a ride in Lester Prairie, Saturday, July 22, with hitchup time at 10 a.m. and on the parade route by 11 a.m.. The parade route begins on Central Avenue, heads west to Elm Street, north to Second Avenue N., east to Pine Street and then back to Central.

Anyone is welcome to watch and enjoy the carriages. Ehrke said the number of carriages is not certain depending on what members can attend that day, but she thinks possibly seven.

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