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Scott Schlepp of Ashley, N.D., drives his team, Duke and Duchess, south on North Dakota Highway 30 on Aug. 13, 2018, north of Streeter, N.D. Schlepp is hoping to travel from Canada to Brownsville, Texas, in his covered wagon. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

ND man embarks on covered wagon trip across the country

STREETER, N.D. — Scott Schlepp has had a different kind of vantage point on his travels through North Dakota: old seats of cars fashioned into a covered wagon.

"The crops look fantastic," Schlepp said, standing on the side of North Dakota Highway 30 on Monday, Aug. 13. "Everybody's busy."

Schlepp is attempting to travel from the Canadian border to Brownsville, Texas, at the reins of a pair of Spotted Draft Belgians, aided by a camper and a four-wheeler.

It was a few years ago when Schlepp watched "Unbranded," in which four cowboys adopted, trained, and rode wild mustangs from Mexico to Canada. The film captivated Schlepp, who wondered if anyone in the modern era had completed a similar journey in a covered wagon. After much thought and preparation, he started his voyage.

Schlepp "married into" horses 42 years ago, developing an appreciation for driving teams from his wife's family.

"It's sort of a love of mine," he said.

The Spotted Draft Belgians he is pulling on his trek are Duchess, 9, and Duke, 10. He purchased them in Waverly, Iowa, a hotspot for pulling teams and a regular visiting spot for Schlepp. His wagon was one he hauled to Waverly for someone before buying it for himself. He put on the canvas canopy, fixed it up and added lights for highway travel.

The horses were holding up well on the first 160 miles of the trip, but he expected they'd need new shoes by the time he takes a three-day break at his home in Ashley, N.D.

Since he left his starting point at the Saint John Port of Entry, Schlepp has been impressed with the friendliness of the people he's encountered. He's spent a night in Rolla, where he "picked up some school kids in Rolla, gave them a two mile ride out of town." He also has been in Sykeston and Woodworth. Before heading down Highway 30, Schlepp had spent part of the weekend in Medina, N.D., then heading south toward Ashley on Monday morning.

From there, he plans to take Highways 47 and 247 in South Dakota and to cross the Missouri River at Fort Thompson. After that, his journey gets a little fuzzier.

Schlepp's adventure, he conceded, has nothing on the covered wagon journeys embarked on by the people who settled the area. He has been taking paved highways, finding it an easier pull for his horses than the ditches. But as he has looked at the sloughs, gullies and ravines across the state, he has developed a new respect for the homesteaders.

"I can't even imagine how they did that," he said.

His trip will be more than 2,000 miles, though he explained the way he's doing it will make it closer to 6,000. Since his wife wasn't able to come with him, Schlepp travels 10 miles at a time, then takes his camper forward 10 miles, with his four-wheeler on a trailer. Then he takes the four-wheeler back to his team, hitches the four-wheeler on the wagon and drives his team toward the camper.

Whether he'll make the whole trip will depend on many variables: weather, equipment, the health of the horses and himself. But the start of it has been the adventure of a lifetime.

"I think it's fantastic," he said. "It is North Dakota. The people are good here."

You can follow Schlepp's journey on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/scott.schlepp.