Wagon displays prove popular

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Sheep wagon displays, a petting zoo and wool spinning demonstrations fill the Alice Pleasant Park in downtown Craig this week, as the Fifth Annual Sheep Wagon Days unfolds.

The event began as the brainstorm of two Craig women looking for a way to celebrate the industry that is a symbol of the history and personality of the area, said co-founder Mary Shearer.

"We decided it would be an excellent opportunity to engage the community in an event unique to us," Shearer said.

Shearer said she and Janet Gerber hope the historical project can be "an authentic, unique and non-material" event encouraging residents to learn about Moffat County's heritage.

"It's an opportunity to teach people about history with a local flavor," Shearer said.

The sheep ranching industry as been a mainstay and, at one time, the area was a top producer, Shearer said.

As the industry has evolved, so has the sheep wagon, or the "sheep camp," as ranchers refer to it. Wooden wagons saw their undercarriages replaced with automobile chassis in the 1920s. Also, canvas tops gave way to metal ones, Shearer said.

The event often sparks storytelling by old-timers who lived in the "homes on wheels," Shearer said. "I'm always in awe when old settlers talk about their stories."

In one memorable story, an elderly cowboy told of a winter night spent in a sheep wagon when he and four others huddled together to keep warm.

Sheepherders throughout Northwest Colorado continue to use the tiny abodes while on the range.

The event also caters to school groups, which can tour the old wagons to find out "what a sheep camp is all about," said Shearer. She presents children with scenarios aimed to acquaint the students with the hardships of life on the range decades ago.

Once inside the tiny wagons, Shearer asks the children to imagine how the tasks of everyday life would be accomplished in the wilderness without modern amenities.

Another attraction at the Sheep Wagon Days is the live animals, including sheep, and the wooly members of the camel family, the llamas and alpacas.

Anastasia Todd, 11, stood by a pen Wednesday, braving the cold, wet weather with her llama, Ki. Todd said her family owns 12 of the animals.

"Normally, people use them for fiber. We use them for backpacking, because they're very strong," Todd said.

Todd said the animal's fur is so thick cactus doesn't even bother them.

Other ranchers use the llamas in a watchdog role, guarding sheep and even other dromedaries, such as alpacas.

According to Todd, llamas are slightly larger and more aggressive than alpacas. They guard by stomping and kicking, intimidating predators like coyotes.

Mike and Betty Noonan raise alpacas locally, and they employ a guard llama to watch its smaller cousins. The Noonans will be on hand Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to talk about their alpacas.

The event, which runs through Saturday, will include a historic presentation by Ann Macdonald, the granddaughter of area ranching families.

Macdonald will talk about her family's history and her love of genealogy, according to Gerber. One aspect of Macdonald's presentation will discuss the emigration of two families from Scotland to Utah, and then to Northwest Colorado. Macdonald's father and both grandfathers were sheep ranchers in the Craig area. Macdonald's presentation begins at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. The presentation is free.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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