Doug Mikkelsen has finished the restoration of a 127-year-old sheep herder wagon just in time for this
year’s state fair in Douglas, WY. Mikkelsen, who decades ago trapped coyotes on the Staley and Pearl Archibald Ranch, south of Pine Tree Junction, fell under the spell of the wagon back then.
“Whenever I would come through the ranch, I’d always stop to have coffee with Staley. He’d expect it, he was an old timer,” he says.
“He’d always just tell me it was a Keyline wagon; he would never tell me the story.”
Not until many years later did Mikkelsen learn the history of the sheep herder’s wagon from Staley’s son, Charles. The wagon had been built by Frank George of the Florence Hardware Company of Douglas, WY in 1890.
He then sold it to George A. Keeline Sheep Company, who in turn sold it to “Dick” Wright, from whom the name of Wright, WY was taken, and later, the young Archibald couple bought the wagon from Wright.
“Staley and his wife, Pearl, bought this in 1929 from Dick Wright [and] lived in it until 1933 down in that windblown Pine Tree Junction country,” says Mikkelsen. Pearl was a school teacher in Pine Tree and, in 1934, the couple was able to buy an oil field shack to make into a real home.
“I called Charles one night, I knew he was in bad health and I just visited with him for a couple of hours. I finally asked him what ever happened to that old sheep wagon [his] dad had and he said ‘it’s sitting out here in the yard. The poor thing’s melting down to nothing’. I said, Charles, I’ve got $1000 burning a hole in my pocket and I’ll just buy it from ya.”
Thus, Mikkelsen finally brought home the sheep herder wagon that had caught his fancy so many years before. During the six years he spent restoring the wagon, Mikkelsen found many original features that he reused, repaired or repainted including the names of the previous owners and the builder.
“When I was sanding the wagon off, I found ‘George A. Keyline Sheep Company’; it had been painted over and over so I reproduced it right in the exact same spot,” he says.
He was able to clean and reuse the original hardware, lamps and stove as well. “The stove was in awfully bad shape; I took it down and my neighbor, Clayton Huckins [and I] totally re-sheeted it,” he says.
“I had to take it down to the main deck because the old deck was just rotten,” said Mikkelsen of the wagon’s overall condition.
“The original lumber used was poplar. Frank George could ship that in from back east.”
Mikkelsen replaced the lumber on the bedboard with cedar with the thought of “giving it a little class” and remade the end walls and door with redwood.
“My neighbor, Jeremy Von Olnehausen, used all the old hardware and made it out of redwood and did a complete overhaul of the window and all that. He also spent two years rebuilding the running gear, the wheels were falling apart, it was just horrible.”
The wagon originally sported a canvas top, but Mikkelsen chose to replace the canvas with a solid roof. “They took it into Douglas, into the lumber yard in there, and Charles told me that when they put the masonite on, they removed 12 layers of canvas to get down to the bows,” he says.
Mikkelsen has christened the wagon “Pearl” for its second life, honoring Mrs. Archibald’s time as the mistress of the humble abode 88 years ago. With pride, Mikkelson wheels the little green and white sheep herder’s wagon into the sunshine as he and friends prepare to hoist it onto the bright red running gears, smiling as he comments, “It’s really come back to life.”
By Grace Moore