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'Just me, five mules, Jesus and two dogs'

The colorful rigs had beckoned to me countless times when they sat far afield off the country road I traveled regularly, yet I hadn’t mustered the nerve to impose my curiosity on the owner. Anyone living in a sheepherder’s wagon with five mules and a large sign proclaiming, “Jesus Saves” on the side of the wagon likely expects to garner some attention.

When they relocated to a spot within spitting distance of the road, the temptation was too much.

Always up for an adventure, Lynn was game to come along, and I suggested she wear muck boots for this one. We pulled up to the layout, dodging potholes like landmines, and left my trusty Civic, Fiona, sitting this side of a duck pond-sized mud hole. I yelled to the man outside the wagon, asking whether I could talk with him. I’d left my notebook in the car, not wanting to appear pushy, introduced Lynn and myself, and told him who I was. He asked where my notebook and pen were. I got them. We entered the mule enclosure picking our way through mud and droppings, eager for a story.

The man was Randy Boehmer. As he gave me the whys and wherefores of his travels, I scribbled notes and took in the setting, wondering what it would be like to live his way — on the road, in a wagon pulled by mules, surrounded by the 21st century.

I listened, fascinated, but as he spoke, I watched the five beautiful Belgian mules lift the last fragments of hay from the ground with their delicate lips. Their names were Frank and Jesse, Dick and Jack, and Butch, each with distinct individuality. Guarding the smaller provisional wagon were two friendly dogs named Shep and Proverb.

He shared how his wife, Lois, had passed on and left him thinking about all that “Jesus stuff” she believed in. He missed her. He reasoned if there was such a place as Heaven, she was there, and he wanted to be with her.

“I repented of my sins and gave my life to Jesus on March 3, 1999.”

When his dad passed, his sister told him to haul off what he wanted from the pile in the garage. The rest was headed for the dump.

“That was pretty sad,” Boehmer said. “But, in the end, there’s more to life than all this stuff.”

A few years later, he met Lee Young in Indiana, who bought him lunch and told him how he traveled in a covered wagon. Lee told him that his biggest worry in life was getting to water every day.

“That was the life for me." Boehmer knew. "God put it on my heart to travel in a covered wagon.”

He learned how to shoe mules to prepare for his cross-country roundup. It took him six months to fashion the two sheepherder-style wagons from old farm wagons, the larger flanked with tack and tools for the journey. So far, they’d moseyed through 26 states over seven years’ time — three miles to a bale of hay. Randy said it’s only fun if you spell the word fun  W-O-R-K. But he loves the rambling life and has no plans to do anything else.

When I asked whether anyone ever traveled with him, he replied, “No. Just me, five mules, Jesus and two dogs.”

Soon he’ll move on to undiscovered pastures, staying north in summer and south in winter, though he said our winters were nothing compared with North Dakota.

He handed me a busted horseshoe for a souvenir before I left and offered to clean Lynn’s old, formerly white tennies, but she wasn’t worried about it. We parted smiling, glad we’d taken the time and navigated the terrain to hear and ponder Randy Boehmer’s story.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.