Dusty faces greeted each other with tired smiles as the 55th annual Highway 50 Association Wagon Train rolled into the U.S. Forest Service station Saturday on Spooner Summit after the first leg of its journey from Fuji Park in Carson City.
Teamsters walked their horses to cool them off as schoolchildren from the Placer County Office of Education, parent volunteers and teachers scrambled to set up tents on the hillside.
"We went with them here and we're going to camp out one day and do all the stuff pioneers do and stuff," said Brianna Riddell, an 8 1Ú2-year-old home-schooled girl dressed in a pioneer dress and bonnet.
Brianna had assumed the name of a real pioneer, Theodosa Howerton, as did all the others in their group, including the adults, explained mom "Ethel" (Gail Scarbrough).
"We were here in 2000; we're back again. It was great. We do a living-history program every year," she said.
Home-schooled students had been planning for the trip all year, said Scarbrough. Every month, they each made something to bring with them.
Scarbrough's children Nicole Scarbrough, 14, and Parker Scarbrough, 11, are two of about 30 home-schooled kids on the six-hour ride and campout.
"It's really fun," said Nicole, who rode on the wagon train two years ago. "We just go for about 24 hours and do what they (the pioneers) would do."
Stories were told Friday night at Fuji Park. Mike Brown, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management in Elko, spoke about life during the Gold Rush in California.
"Those experiences ... produced tens of thousands of stories - one for every man, woman and child who made the journey west," said Brown.
Of the 120 people who made the ride, many were veterans and all were dressed in period outfits. One or two characters rode along with the children in each of the five wagons.
"The guys in the wagons share everything with us. A lot of them remember us," said Scarbrough.
Jack Justus, 89, held up his left hand to illustrate why he is called "Three-Finger Jack." He said except for a few years, he had traveled with the train since 1961. As far as he knew, that was the longest anyone had been with the train. He told stories of being in Hollywood movies, including eight with John Wayne, as an extra or stunt or prop man.
He plans on staying on the wagon train until it reaches Placerville on Saturday.
"The wagon master asked me to go all the way down with it," said Justus. "I'm going to go with them as long as I live - as long as I can walk around."
Justus lives in Mound House, where he works "taking care of" a racetrack.
Davey "Doc" Wiser of Placerville rode with the wagon train for the 27th year, the longest anyone has ridden consecutively.
He stressed the benefits of providing a child with a horse.
"Get them a horse right now before they get into other things. It's the best outlet for their direction as a young person. It teaches them responsibility. They learn how to take care of them," said Wiser.
George Alger, president of the Highway 50 Association, said the work that goes into the wagon train is "costly and difficult. It would be much easier to do it out in the wilderness, but this is the best way to promote this bi-state event."
"The determination, perseverance and grit those people had," he said of the pioneers. "The traits those people had then, we need now."