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Sheep wagon show brings back vivid memories

County Fair sheep wagon show brings back vivid memories

Jul 29, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The permit issued by the Bureau of Land Management to the Davison Brothers of the Riverton area allowed federal range crossing for 1,300 sheep from May 25-29, 1966.

The document provided permission for the sheep operation to move its herd from the Muskrat allotment to the Fremont County line at Sioux Creek, via the stock trail between Moneta and Lysite.

"Wyoming was the number one sheep state at one time," area rancher John Campbell said, noting 3.2 million head at its peak.

While times have changed, and the state's sheep population has dropped from its heyday, the industry's history lives on with stories, memories and artifacts.

Case in point: The authentic sheep wagon Campbell displayed Saturday for a contest at the Fremont County Fairgrounds. Posted right to the door was a copy of the permit found in 2001 in an envelope beneath the wagon's mattress.

"1967 was the last time they used it," Campbell said of the wagon featuring a John Deere-green wooden body and a corrugated tin roof like a miniature Quonset hut.

Campbell Livestock owns the wagon acquired from brothers Bill and Gid Davison, whose family homesteaded the area in the early 1900s and ran sheep in the region.

"Bill Davison is my dad's stepfather," Campbell said, referring to Robert W. Campbell, whom everybody called Bob. "When my dad was a young man, he spent a lot of time in these sheep wagons."

The Campbell family acquired the wagon in 1968 and eventually started restoring the mobile home designed for residency 365 days a year.

When asked about its age, Campbell replied, "We don't know. The original wagon had wooden wheels."

The rebuilt wagon has modern rubber tires, but the body still has the rub strips along the base that prevented damage from the wooden wheels hitting it while turning.

"Sears and Roebuck had a conversion kit" that allowed sheepherders to install rubber tires instead of wooden wheels, Campbell said.

The running gear beneath the frame is at least 50 years old. The wagon initially had a canvas top, but Gid Davison installed the metal roof sometime in the 1950s, Campbell recalled.

"I think because of the tin roof, the wagon was in really good shape," he said.

Inside there is the original black cast iron stove sitting in the front right corner with its metal chimney pipe sticking through the roof. Above the stove are metal hooks for holding spatulas or skillets next to a place for storing a lantern.

A short bench runs along the left side with nearby storage compartments leading to the mattress along the wagon's rear side. A large metal basin is under the bed, while another wash bucket rests in hooks on the door.

As a child, Campbell would see the wagon in action in different parts of the area, including in the Deep Creek pasture.

"I still have vivid memories of a spring that would come out of the side of the mountain," Campbell said, remembering how sheepherders would use the icy waters as a cold storage area.

Functionality was critical for the sheep wagon's operation.

"The one thing I always remember is they had a bottle of penicillin, and I can picture that bottle in the spring," Campbell said.

Campbell Livestock remains a cow business, getting out of sheep decades ago.

"We got rid of our last little bunch of sheep" 20 years ago, Campbell said.

But the legacy of the sheep wagons remains strong.

"It was a big part of my dad's heritage growing up and when the Davisons got out of the sheep business my dad was able to get this wagon from Grandpa," Campbell said.

Although similar designs continue in use today, sheep wagons in good condition from yesteryear are rare, he said.

"They're few and far between. I see a lot of remnants of wagons around but their tops are gone off," he said.

Preserving their history is important to Campbell -- even if it remains merely a conversation piece.

"My dad always joked if things don't pick up he would go back to herding sheep, and that's why he rebuilt the wagon," Campbell said with a laugh.

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