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Sheep wagons enter public eye

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

During the summer months, sheep wagons have begun to emerge more in the public eye, allowing the general population a greater chance to learn about the many facets of the sheep industry.
    With the Wyoming Wool Grower’s restored Candlish sheep wagon, as well as the introduction of a sheep wagon contest and Dutch oven cook-off at the Wyoming State Fair, the public is more aware of the impact that sheep have on Wyoming.
Sheep wagon contest
    For the first time, the Wyoming State Fair featured a sheep wagon contest.
    With five classes for sheep wagon owners to enter their equipment in, Steve Shadwick, contest superintendent said, “I’ve got four or five sheep wagons, and I have neighbors that are fixing up their old wagons. We hoped it would cause some excitement.”
    Entries ranged from old, unrestored wagons and currently used wagons to brand new factory built wagons, and the event drew a large crowd.
    Each wagon has a story to tell, said one man who entered his wagon.
    “I was going through my wagon and found a paper that said, ‘Russell Sorenson, Feb. 13, 1953,’ so I’ve been on a mission trying to find out who Russ was,” said Rick Davis. “I always wonder what history is in this old wagon.”
    Davis continued that someone recently informed his that Sorenson ran teams of horses in Thermopolis, but he still has questions as to how the wagon made the journey from there to Casper, where he purchased it. Davis received third place with his wagon in the “restored to original condition” class.
    With 19 entries and 16 awards given and a Dutch oven cook-off during contest judging, the sheep wagon contest attracted fairgoers from across the grounds.
Wool Growers wagon
    The Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) also began working to restore a sheep wagon during the past several years. The project came to fruition this year, just in time for parade season.
    “The wagon’s ‘ground-up’ restoration was completed in early May, thanks to the craftsmanship and amazing abilities of Bill Novotny of Buffalo,” comments Bryce Reese, WWGA executive vice president. “Dr. Novotny painstakingly dismantled the entire wagon, stripped off 120-plus years of paint, repaired any areas that time had caught up with, and then exactingly put the wagon back together again.”
    Reese added that as much of the original wood and iron was used as possible. The wagon is also painted to reflect, “the right sheep wagon colors,” referred to in the industry as green and orange paint with black trim.
Long history
    The WWGA wagon boasts a long history, beginning in Wyoming.
    The wagon, donated by the Vern Vivion family, will serve as a “living,” traveling exhibition to both celebrate and promote the Wyoming Sheep industry.
    Though it’s exact creation date is unknown, the wagon was likely built around 1884 by the recognized inventor of the sheep wagon – James Candlish.
    “Candlish worked as a blacksmith for the Union Pacific railroad until he arrived in Rawlins in 1881, where he established his own blacksmith shop,” explains Reece. “While some dispute Candlish’s title as the inventor of the sheep wagon, in 1909 the WWGA credited Candlish with the honor by commissioning a commemorative fob made of three small discs linked by a chain. The top disc noted the ‘Fifth Annual Convention Wyoming Wool Growers Association January 11-12, 1909.’  The middle fob bore a likeness of, ‘The Inventor James Candlish,’ and the bottom disc featured a sheep wagon and proclaimed, ‘The Modern Sheep Palace was Made in Rawlins, Wyoming 1884.’”
Traveling Wyoming
    The WWGA wagon has served its purpose this summer, traveling across the state and entering in a number of parades.
    “The wagon was delivered just in time to make its public debut in the Casper Fair Parade,” says Reece. “Pulled by a team of registered spotted draft horses, the wagon drew a tremendous response and appreciation from both sheep industry folk and the general public.”
    Reece also noted the wagon appeared in all four Cheyenne Frontier Days parades, winning the Outstanding Entry award in the first parade. The sheep wagon was also the first sheep wagon that has ever been allowed entry into a Cheyenne Frontier Days parade.
    In its final public appearance of the season, the wagon was given the honor of Best in Show at the 100th Wyoming State Fair Sheep Wagon Contest.
    “Being named ‘Best in Show’ is a reflection on, and credit to, the Vivion family for their incredible donation to the Association and particularly to Dr. Novotny, who did the restoration.  The acknowledgment is of his prowess and exacting attention to detail, which resulted in a true restoration back to what the wagon likely looked like when it was built,” says Reece.
    For more information on the WWGA sheep wagon, contact Bryce Reece at 307-265-5250. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

Sheep wagon contest awards
    The first ever sheep wagon contest at the Wyoming State Fair saw great success, with 19 entries and 16 awards handed out. Wagons were entered in five classes and came from around the state. The winners of each class are listed below.

Unrestored, original
    1 – Linda Rhamy
    2 – The Pexton Family
    3 – Bob Vollman
Unrestored, working
    1 – Norman Jean Grant
    2 – Double H Ranch, Inc.
Restored to original condition
    1 – Harold Haffele
    2 – Dick Garrison
    3 – Rick Davis
Restored with modifications
    1 – Prosper Etchmendy
    2 – Andy Moore Ranch
    3 – Rena Valentine
    1 – George Etchmendy Family
    2 – WT Moore Ranch
    3 – Ron Hageman
Best of Show
    Wyoming Wool Growers Association “Candlish/Vivion” Sheep Wagon

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