Jake Hershberger drives his team, Ole and Lena, as part of the Friendship Wagon Train at the end of June, making its way to Camp Winnebago near Caledonia.
Jake Hershberger drives his team, Ole and Lena, as part of the Friendship Wagon Train at the end of June, making its way to Camp Winnebago near Caledonia.
"I had always wanted to be part of the ride. I had excuses in the past...not having enough time, too much work, didn't have a wagon," Jake Hershberger of Mabel explained regarding the Friendship Wagon Train that makes its way through southeastern Minnesota towards its destination of Camp Winnebago each year.

Earlier this year, Jake purchased a covered wagon from Paul Vickerman. Of course one cannot participate with a covered wagon alone...and what could be more fitting than a wagon ride in Minnesota than taking two Norwegian Fjords, Ole and Lena?

Jake's daughter, Debra piped in, "Dad said he had no excuse not to go."

Liz, Jake's wife explained that Jake realized Debra was getting older, more independent and that he would like to share some time with his daughter.

In addition to that quality time with Debra, he also wanted to pay tribute to his son, Dustin. Dustin, their 18-year-old son was born with special needs. Jake, Liz, and their family are aware of the time, patience and dedication to care for someone with special needs. "Camp Winnebago is an amazing opportunity for young people and we wanted to be part of it," said Liz.

Although Jake was eager to take part in the venture, Debra did not share his enthusiasm. "I thought there would just be old people," she admitted, but Debra did look forward to riding her horse, Lady, along the way.

After completing the registration at the end of May, Debra and her dad asked friends for donations for Camp Winnebago. There would also be an auction held on Tuesday, June 25, and Liz contributed with pints of homemade apple butter, pickles, a saddle blanket and Girl Scout cookies. "My apple butter brought in $22 a pint," Liz said proudly with a smile!

The teamsters and riders of the Friendship Wagon Train made their annual 111-mile trip through part of southeastern Minnesota from June 22-29. Their sole purpose is to raise awareness and collect donations for Camp Winnebago, located just outside of Caledonia.

Camp Winnebago runs several one-week summer camps for children and adults with developmental disabilities, providing them with the opportunity to share in outdoor activities that most of us take for granted. One hundred percent of funds raised are donated to Camp Winnebago to be used strictly for camperships, so no one will be turned away due to financial inability to pay the cost of a full campership.

Debra explained that a typical day on the trail included rising at 5 a.m. "I would stay back and watch the team, while Dad and others would move our 'camp' and rigs to our next destination. Once they returned, we would eat breakfast and be moving out - typically by 8 a.m.," Debra said. "We would arrive at our next destination around 4 p.m., care for our team and have supper around 5 p.m. After supper we would tend to the horses, chores and talk to other campers."

Meals along the route were prepared and served by several organizations in the communities through which the Wagon Train passed, including Lions Clubs, Saddle Clubs, Boy Scouts, church groups, 4-H clubs, local individuals and communities, and businesses.

As with any large gathering, there are bound to be issues that arise. Hershberger said there were four guys from Illinois, one guy had kidney stones and needed to be taken home by another teammate, leaving two to stay for the ride. Unfortunately, one of the two returning to Illinois was the owner of the team of horses, leaving two men horseless. "They rode with Dad," said Debra. "You can go even if you don't have horses."

"Lena gave out on Thursday," claimed Debra. "We noticed the day before that she was breathing heavy and becoming more sluggish."

Jake ended up bringing Ole and Lena home and driving another team the last two days.

"It was really cool seeing all the places that we rode, the people we met from different states - like Alabama and Tennessee - I like their accents," Debra admitted with a smile. "I met about five young people my age that I have been texting and keeping in contact with."

"Meeting new people and getting to drive my team of horses," Jake said was his favorite part of the week. "It was an overall memorable experience and I am looking forward to doing it next year!"

A total of 100 percent of the funds raised by the Friendship Wagon Train is donated to Camp Winnebago and is used for camper scholarships. Last year the group raised more than $32,000 during the week's journey.

Individual, business and group donations are accepted all along the route. If one would still like to contribute, checks can be written to "Camp Winnebago" and sent to Jake or Debra Hershberger, 10556 Brook Road, Mabel, MN 55954.