Wood River Valley residents and visitors can get ready to slide on their boots for Wagon Days, the city of Ketchum’s Labor Day-weekend celebrations of its mining-era history.
Wagon Days was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Events have been scaled back some this year, but the city is “back in the saddle”—as Mayor Neil Bradshaw put it earlier this summer—and moving ahead with some signature proceedings.
In most years since 1958, the city has celebrated Wagon Days with a display of the Big Hitch, an authentic collection of wooden ore-carrying wagons driven by a team of 20 trained mules. The wagons were used in the 1880s to bring ore from the nearby mountains to Ketchum, a growing town that in that era boasted more than 2,000 residents, a smelter, a rail line, 13 saloons, two hotels and several bordellos.
The celebrations will kick off this year at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3, when the city and community will honor grand marshals John Peavey and Diane Josephy Peavey during the Grand Marshal Ceremony at Town Square. The city will provide food and beverages at the free event. The Wood River Sustainability Center will serve lamb. Western attire is encouraged.
East Avenue, which runs next to next to Town Square, will be closed for safety during the Grand Marshal Ceremony and will remain closed to vehicle traffic through the following day.
The Peaveys—longtime Blaine County ranchers—were selected for their “significant and lasting contributions to Ketchum’s culture and educational landscape,” the city stated in a news release. Together, they created the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which is held each October in Ketchum.
John Peavey is a third-generation rancher who served 21 years as a senator in the Idaho Legislature. His wife, Diane, is an author best known for her writings about living on a sheep and cattle ranch. She has focused on its people, history and the West’s changing landscape.
On Saturday, Sept. 4, children’s activities, as well as food and beverage vendors, will be set up on East Avenue. The festivities will start at 10 a.m. and go until 4 p.m.
The activities—which will be limited compared to previous years because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—will include balloon artists and hands-on lessons from the Wagons Ho organization, which teaches children about life in the Old West.
The Papoose Club nonprofit organization will not be holding its annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser in Town Square this year. However, the city plans to have live music in Town Square on Saturday. Wes Urbaniak and the Mountain Folk will play from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Gary Tackett Band will entertain from approximately 2:30-4:30 p.m., after the parade.
The Wagon Days parade that features the city’s Big Hitch ore wagons and non-motorized entries from the region and surrounding states is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday. California muleskinner Bobby Tanner will command a full team of mules to guide the Big Hitch from the Sun Valley Stables—east of town on Sun Valley Road—to Main Street in Ketchum. At the intersection of Sun Valley Road and Main Street, the Big Hitch—preceded by all other entries—will turn right and follow Main Street to Saddle Road, where another right turn will lead the wagons back toward Sun Valley Resort.
The city—which also enters its frontier-era water wagon—expects to have about 50 entries registered in the parade. In years not affected by a pandemic, the number usually ranges around 70.
Ketchum’s Ore Wagon Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The site on the corner of East Avenue and Fifth Street is serving as the Wagon Days event headquarters. The ore wagons have been removed from the museum and situated outside for viewing and photographs.
The museum will display a historical collection from The Community Library and will sell souvenirs, this year’s Wagon Days poster and tickets for reserved bleacher seats at the parade. The $25 tickets can also be purchased online at www.wagondays.net.
The museum will also offer a backdrop for souvenir photographs.
Activities conducted in the past at the Festival Meadow next to town were not scheduled this year.
Bradshaw said he is looking forward to seeing the Big Hitch—the final display of the parade—turn the corner onto Main Street in the center of Ketchum.
“We’re back in the saddle again,” he said earlier this summer, as the city was firming up its plans. “I’m excited about Wagon Days returning this year and feel that many of our residents and visitors are happy for its return.”