By Eileen Majors
Photos submitted by Shirley Friedrichs
When Shirley Friedrichs told the girls at the Red Hat Society about her upcoming wagon train trip, Betty Hafterson, 80, immediately responded, “Can I go? It’s one of the things left on my bucket list.” At age 80, I have no doubt she will complete them all. She is a remarkably young looking lady, with a rigorous routine.
Shirley Friedrichs, is another very busy lady, but when she found out about the Highway 50 Association, which meets near her winter home, she knew she not only wanted to take the ride, she wanted to join the association. She is an obvious adventurer and was eager for me to learn the history behind the Highway 50 Association, a non-profit that makes the annual trek over Highway 50 via wagon trains.
It all began to commemorate the 100th anniversary of California’s Gold Rush and its effect on the area. Organizers also felt the ride would draw attention the Highway 50 corridor, thus drawing attention to the small businesses along the route.
In the early 1850’s the area traversing today’s Echo Summit and the Highway 50 corridor was one of the major routes into California’s new “gold country”. It was known as the “Roaring Road”. It is said that traffic coming in was so thick during that time that many wagon trains had to wait for days to get their turn to squeeze in onto the “Roaring Road”.
As early as 1946, plans had begun to ponder the possibility of reenacting a wagon train ride to commemorate the early migrants who faced many struggles along the “Roaring Road”on their quest for gold. The first ride was so popular that it continued as an annual event. Next June will mark the 65th commemorative ride.
You may have seen them; they actually travel along the highway, with planned off-road stops. At these stops, others who wish to join the celebration greet them upon arrival. Nights are filled with bonfires, storytelling, entertainment, and fun. The ride ends in downtown Placerville where a large group greeted the wagon train that carried Friedrichs and Hafterson, along with over a hundred other riders. A large celebration included live music, a chili cook-off, and a rib cook-off.
The wagon train carries riders who take the entire journey, like these two gals did, and welcomes riders for portions of the journey. School groups also take part by experiencing and reliving the history of the area. All participants are required to dress in authentic period clothing during the ride. Wagons and everything on the journey is authentic to the era of the gold rush. After the ride each day, a shuttle is available to go back and bring your car to the current location.
Friedrichs’ granddaughter Keris joined them on the journey; she said there were a group of kids and they all had a great time. They did not ride in the same wagon every day. They really got to know and enjoy the people aboard. They got a real taste for the adventurous spirit of the early pioneers on the climb up Echo Summit and enjoyed the opportunity to experience it all, without even having to cook. They all raved about the food, which was prepared in authentic style by Gerome’s Catering Company.
The entire ride lasts for eight days, spans from Zephyr Cove, NV to Placerville, CA, and travels at about 3mph. Betty thoroughly enjoyed the adventure and has marked it off her bucket list. Shirley has joined the association and definitely plans to take the journey again. Their cost was around $40 per day and newcomers are welcome to climb aboard. Find out more at www.hwy50wagontrain.com.