Sometimes childhood dreams do come true.
Ephraim Strain of Corvallis can remember a day when he and his siblings dreamed about getting a stagecoach and driving it from one end of Montana to the other.
Looking back on it, he's sure that some people thought that would never happen.
They didn’t grow up with draft horses, “but we always wanted to learn how to drive wagons and so we trained our sheep to drive,” said Strain.
His brothers Yoseph and Ezekiel smiled as he told the story of their sheep pulling a little cart filled with leaves or whatever it was that needed moving. The grins grew when they mentioned chariot races.
Somewhere along the way, the Strain family met longtime Bitterroot Valley teamsters Kent and Marylou Connor. The couple offered them the insights they needed to learn to drive teams of horses.
The family of horse folk learned their lessons well.
“We always wanted to get a stagecoach and go across Montana when we were little,” Ephraim Strain said. “Back then, I suppose people may have thought that was a little far-fetched.”
No one is saying that now.
On Sunday morning, the Strains and their family friend, John Plocher, will hitch teams of mustangs to the bright red stagecoach they rebuilt from the charred remains of the prison coach prop that was burned in the 2007 movie “3:10 to Yuma.”
Over the course of the next two weeks or so, the young men and their support crew will travel close to 750 miles from the Idaho border to the border of North Dakota.
“It’s something that we don’t think has been done since the late 1800s or the early 1900s,” Ephraim Strain said.
Back then, mail coaches traveled up to 120 miles a day while trading teams of horses at well-spaced stage stops
“We don’t think we’re going to be able to make it quite that far in a day,” he said. “These horses are going to have to hold up all the way across the state. We’re hoping for 70 to 80 miles a day. We’ll just have to see how the horses do.”
Their route will take them through Missoula over to Lincoln across to Helena, and then on to Miles City before they make their last jaunt to the North Dakota border.
They plan to stay on dirt roads as much as possible. When they can’t avoid pavement, they will be accompanied by a vehicle with its flashers on.
“It’s easier on the horses if we can stay on the dirt roads,” Ephraim said. “We’ll stay on dirt as much as we can, but in some cases those roads take you so far out of the way that’s it’s not worth is. We’ll probably mostly be on pavement.”
A couple of people have already offered them a place to stay along the route. Montana Outfitters of Great Falls is donating all the seed-free hay. They hope to meet other landowners who will let them set up a camp for a night or maybe two.
The Strains have been training 12 mustangs that came from federal and Indian reservation lands. They plan to take a couple of days off each of the two weeks to give the horses a chance to rest.
“Yosef and Zeke have been our repair crew,” Ephraim said. “They have been building all sorts of brackets, brakes and have put together supplies we might need to repair the harness. We have extra tongues built. We’ll take an anvil and horseshoeing supplies. I’m sure we’ll have to re-shoe some of the horses along the way.
“There are lots of moving parts and pieces in a lot of different places,” he said.
Plocher is looking forward to meeting new people along the way and the Bible studies the Christian group will have around campfires while surrounded by new sights and sounds.
“We grew up just over the hill from each other,” Plocher said. “We were probably 14 or 15 when we finally met and then we would ride our horses back and forth to each other’s house.
“And then pretty soon, he (Ephraim) married my sister (Elisa),” he said, with a smile.
The trip has been in the planning stages since last fall.
“Ephraim sprouted the idea,” Plocher said. “When he first came over and told me about it, I thought it sounded crazy. But it was something I didn’t want to miss out and so I figured I better jump on board.”
At this point, they figure there will be about a dozen people traveling the route, including some who will ride along on their own horses. When they can, they plan to offer rides in the stagecoach.
Depending on the terrain, they will use one, two or as many as three teams of horses.
“This is something we’ve wanted to do since we were kids,” Ephraim Strain said. “I guess we’re still kids.”
At 23, he’s the oldest of the bunch. Ezekiel is 16.
“It’s something we always figured we would do eventually,” Ephraim Strain said. “Then I got married and we moved Augusta. That set me to thinking. You know, if we all get married and move off somewhere, we’re never going to do this.
“So we decided this was this was the year,” he said.
Anyone who wants to virtually tag along can go to Facebook and search for Zion Stage Line, LLC. If anyone along the way would like to offer the travelers a place to camp, they can call Ephraim Strain at 406-214-1491 or John Plocher at 406-381-8391.
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