UNITY, Ohio — Traffic on state Route 14 near Unity, Ohio, slowed to a crawl during the early afternoon of March 7. Snowflakes whirled through the air as drivers squinted, trying to make sense of the arched, lumbering form in the roadway.
As car after car approached the strange figure, drivers gawked. Some turned their heads in shock as they passed, wondering if the scene was real. Others laughed and waved, wondering where the rig was headed.
Lee leaned forward in the seat of the unusual vehicle, his eyes trained on the road. He ignored the passers-by.
His job isn’t to take in the surroundings. His job is to keep his three Suffolk Punch draft horses and the wagon they’re pulling on the road.
On the road again
Lee the Horselogger
has been on the road with his horses and covered wagon since 2006. It’s been more than 3,000 miles and 583 days since he left his home in East Glacier, Mont.
He traveled from Montana to Massachusetts and now he’s headed to Alaska, passing through Columbiana County on his way there. He hopes to arrive in the Last Frontier State within the next two to four years.
Lee, who declined to give his last name, saying it’s not important, isn’t on a crusade to raise money or boost awareness of some special cause. He’s crisscrossing the country with his horses “just because.”
Before Lee became a traveler, he made his career as a horse logger on his family ranch in Montana. He liked the work and he liked his co-workers — two Suffolk Punch horses named Tom and Max.
But when the ranch went up for sale, Lee found himself unemployed and homeless.
He still can’t put his finger on a reason why, but it was then that Lee decided to build a wagon for his horses to pull across the U.S.
Lee spent 75 days putting the wagon together. On Aug. 9, 2006, Lee got in the driver’s seat and headed east with Tom, Max, and two Great Pyrenees dogs named Kermutt and Katie. Last summer he added a third Suffolk Punch named Fey.
The rig moves at about 2 1/2 mph, taking up as much space on the road as a motorized vehicle. The wagon and its living companions weigh 11,340 pounds altogether.
The pace is slow, but it’s comfortable for the horses and Lee isn’t worried about the time on the clock or the date on the calendar. His only goal is to take the trip one day at a time.
“That’s the whole plan,” he said. “Day by day.”
The horse logger avoids interstates, but said any other kind of road is fair game. He travels a little every day if the weather allows it, covering anywhere from 12 to 25 miles.
At first, Lee thought his journey would bring him a lot of peace and solitude.
“That was a delusion,” the horse logger said.
Lee catches the attention of media, public officials and curious onlookers in nearly every small town he goes through. With so many folks to talk to, Lee doesn’t get much downtime, although he does like to read if he gets a moment to himself.
Lee has come to accept the admiration, but he’d like people to keep one thing in mind when they see him.
Lee often sees drivers trying to take pictures as they pass his rig on the road. Besides putting themselves at risk, Lee said it’s dangerous for him and the horses when drivers don’t pay attention to driving.
Keeping the convoy going requires a lot of work, according to the horse logger. He said it takes nearly three hours of preparation every morning before he can hit the road. But it’s still fun enough to keep going.
“I always tell people, it’s a job, but it’s a hell of a lot better than your job,” he said.
One of Lee’s priorities is making sure his horses stay healthy. His trio sees a veterinarian every two to three weeks and their health certificates are continuously renewed.
Lee said one of the interesting things about Suffolk Punches is they don’t need shoes, even on the rough asphalt of a roadway. If their hooves do start to wear a bit, he fits them with polyurethane covers called Easyboots.
His wagon is an equine grocery store on wheels, packed with hay, oats and water.
Although winter isn’t the best time for a person to cross Ohio, Lee said the cooler weather is much better for the horses than warmer temperatures.
When it’s time to stop for the day, Lee rests anywhere he’s allowed. All he requires is a some space to park and a place to eat. Other than a kitchen, the wagon has everything Lee needs, including a sleeping loft.
There’s no TV or radio, but the horse logger said he has no desire for those kinds of items anyway. He has a some books and a furnace to keep him company.
While Lee admits he misses the quiet Montana countryside, he’s come to appreciate the cozy wagon.
“This is home,” he said, patting the plastic tarp draped over the wagon. “Right here.”
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)