Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck

The author wrote an earlier book about the time when one of his older brothers and he flew a restored small plane across the U.S. as teenagers.  As a man in his 60s, he decided to do something similar with another brother, this time in a covered wagon pulled by three mules.  The result is mostly an interesting travelogue interspersed by memoir.
    Prior to reading this book, what I knew about the Oregon Trail was delt with in high school history.  There was a trail that went from Kansas to Oregon and a lot of folks travelled west on it in the middle part of the 19th century.  That one sentence is probably the same as that high school history book entry and I'm glad that Mr. Buck spends a good amount of time with how the trail got started, the number of folks who travelled it (400,000 or more), the perils they encountered along the way, and the trail's impact on the country's growth.
    He also spends a good amount of time of how large mules got their start in the U.S. by that canny business man, George Washington.  Turns out little donkeys bred to little horses make little mules good for hauling small loads.  Large donkeys (a gift to George from some Europeans) bred to large draft horses make great draft animals.  It was the start of a thriving industry not mentioned is those same history books.  All this history was good reading.
    Also good reading is the mechanics of getting the mule team and wagon, the obstacles along the way, how to drive a wagon, and work with mules.  Less good reading is the memoir part.  It gives insight into why he has more emotional baggage than can be hauled by a team of mules.  He's also somewhat tone deaf to his own prejudices.  A couple of examples include pointing out the sometimes negative impact of the Morman church has on areas where they predominate while noting the kind treatment received from every member along the way and a rant about highway police followed by the generous actions of a highway policeman.  He also notes the great similarities between his trip and those of a 150 years ago which doesn't jibe with him pulling out a cell phone for help while the settlers died from starvation and disease.  Still, he's also got a good sense of humor and acknowledges that often what he does is crazy and that he's got some interesting flaws.
    Overall, this is a good read and everyone in the family should like it, especially Ian.

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