|By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
LaGRANGE, Ind. — Heads will surely turn when the Indiana District 3 contingent rolls into Indianapolis for the 79th National FFA Convention.
It’s not every day Indianapolis residents see a covered wagon in their midst.
This will be the 30-year-old wagon’s third trip to a national FFA convention. In 1976, it traveled to Kansas City, and in 1999, it made the trek to Louisville, Ky.
Indiana District 3 is in northeast Indiana and includes students from Steuben, LaGrange, DeKalb, Noble, Whitley and Allen counties.
With the national FFA convention moving to Indianapolis from Louisville this year, the idea of using the wagon again had been tossed around as long ago as last fall, said Ron Noll, Prairie Heights FFA adviser. When longtime FFA adviser Ned Stump died in February, the chapter decided to use the wagon as a tribute to him.
“We’re honoring Mr. Stump,” Noll said. “After he passed away, that closed the whole deal. We wanted to do this as a tribute. He was very respected in our community and there was a lot of admiration in the community for him.”
Stump was Prairie Heights FFA adviser in the mid-1970s, when states were challenged by the national FFA to come up with ideas to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial in 1976 during the national convention, Noll said. Noll was a member of Prairie Heights FFA at the time.
“Mr. Stump came up with the covered wagon, a unique way to celebrate our nation’s bicentennial,” he said.
The wagon box and hoops were built by the FFA students and their parents, Noll said. It was made to resemble a Prairie Schooner. While the running gear has been changed, the wagon box and hoops are original, he said.
On the previous trips, the FFA students had the chance to drive the two-horse team, and helped with the horses at the start and finish of each day, Noll said. Several teams of horses will be used during the Indianapolis trip and the owner of the horses used on a particular day will also be on the wagon.
“In addition to the fun of the trip, this is also a good learning experience,” Noll said. “If this goes as the previous trips have, people will be asking questions because they’ll wonder what’s going on. It will be a good opportunity to tell them about FFA and develop their communications skills.”
Each school with an FFA chapter in District 3 will participate by sharing a day on the wagon, Noll said. The route will be planned to avoid high-traffic areas.
“We look for good roads that have a nice wide berm,” he said. “The less traffic we encounter, the better we are.”
A vehicle will drive behind the wagon to alert motorists and to provide transportation if something goes wrong, Noll said.
“It’s really a lot of fun,” he said. “In 1976, cars pulled up beside us, and asked questions about what we were doing and the history behind the wagon. It gives you a good chance to explain FFA to them.”
The covered wagon was scheduled to leave for Indianapolis on Oct. 13, and plans called for them to travel until Monday, Oct. 16, when they would stop in the Converse area. They plan to start again on Friday and take the weekend to reach Indianapolis.
The wagon could make 20-25 miles a day, Noll said.
Laura Stockwell, a junior at Prairie Heights High School, said it would be a privilege to be chosen to ride in the wagon.
“So many people want to be a part of it,” she said. “It would be an honor to be chosen.”
Laney Kratz, a Prairie Heights senior, agreed.
“It’s a part of history,” Kratz said. “It’ll be a big deal.”
This farm news was published in the Oct. 18, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.