The Old Normal

A highlight of the annual Wagon Days celebration in Ketchum, the 20-draft mule ore wagon “Big Hitch” makes its dramatic right-hand turn at Sun Valley Road and Main Street as the finale of Saturday’s Labor Day weekend parade—the largest non-motorized parade in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Carol Waller

Wagon Days are here again, Sept. 3–5

By Eric Valentine

It’s like there isn’t even a pandemic going on.

On the heels of a rescinded mask mandate and in the midst of warnings by health officials that the so-called Delta variant of the coronavirus will cause “grim” conditions across the state, Labor Day weekend in Ketchum is gearing up to be nothing but grins.

Blaine County has, according to the latest Mayo Clinic data, remained relatively unharmed by the uptick, with an average of three new cases daily. However, that information is always a week behind and upticks, by definition, can get worse exponentially. Already, St. Luke’s is halting elective surgeries and procedures requiring overnight hospital stays, although Idaho remains in Stage 4 of the reopening. That means:

● No recommended limitations on gathering sizes, both public and private

● COVID-19 vaccine is encouraged for all eligible individuals

● All individuals, businesses and governmental entities should adhere to physical distancing and sanitation guidelines

In other words, let the festivities begin—starting with Friday, Sep. 3, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Square with the Grand Marshal Ceremony. This year’s ceremony will be celebrating John and Diane Peavey, the Grand Marshals of 2021. There will be food and drink provided by the City of Ketchum.

Continuing on Saturday, Sept. 4, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., there will be children’s activities on East Avenue as well as food and beverages available for purchase from local vendors. Enjoy live music in Town Square from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. by Wes Urbaniak and the Mountain Folk. This all-original trio comes from Montana, performing mountain folk music filled with lyrical flow, and the harmonies of an upright bass and ukulele.

The Big Hitch parade will kick off at 1 p.m. Limited reserved seating is available for purchase online, or in person from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the Ore Wagon Museum. The reserved seating for the parade is available for the corner of Sun Valley Road and Main Street Ketchum. These seats allow for a perfect view of the entire parade and are located along the only area of the parade route where the Big Hitch 20-draft-mule jerkline “jumps the chain” to navigate the 90-degree turn.

Seats for the best view in the house are $25 each. They can be purchased at the Wagon Days Headquarters, located inside the Ore Wagon Museum on 5th Street and East Avenue. Immediately following the parade, stick around for more live music performed by the “Guitarist to the Stars”—Gary Tackett. You will enjoy this guitar-driven, rockin’ style of roadhouse blues mix infused with sounds of Austin, Memphis and Nashville. And, don’t forget to stop by the Historical Display at the Wagon Days Headquarters located in the Ore Wagon Museum. This display will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

Grand Marshals

Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw selected Diane Josephy Peavey and John Peavey as the Grand Marshals for Wagon Days 2021 thanks to their significant and lasting contributions to Ketchum’s culture and educational landscape, the city said. Together, they created the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which is held each October in Ketchum and is now recognizing its 25th anniversary.

Third-generation rancher John Peavey spent 21 years as an Idaho State Senator. During that time, he launched an initiative to create Idaho’s Sunshine Laws and protected water rights on the Snake River.

Locally, Peavey supported the proposal for a paved bike path on the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way to connect Blaine County and encouraged the shared use of the right-of-way, which had been used for decades as a stock “driveway.”

Complaints over sheep on the bike path motivated Peavey to invite the public to help with the annual sheep drive. Participation grew from twenty people the first year to holding the first annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival in 1997.

Peavey’s wife, Diane Josephy Peavey, is an author best known for her writings about her life on a sheep and cattle ranch in south-central Idaho—its people, history, and the American West’s changing landscape. Her own story is one of an evolution from a city girl to a rancher and writer. Her writings aired weekly on Idaho Public Radio for 15 years, and many are collected in her book, Bitterbrush Country: Living on the Edge of the Land.

In addition to founding the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, Josephy Peavey has been an invited poet at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada; was the first director of the Idaho Rural Council; and the literature director for the Idaho Commission on the Arts.