Doing it My Way

There is a road that bisects the state of Nevada running from west to east, US Hwy 50, also known as "The Loneliest Road in America". We traveled the full length of the road on one of our trips. As you might imagine, the road was straight and flat with very few distinguishing characteristics. Here's what it looked like as we traveled along in our truck:

Who knows which mile post we had passed when I snapped this image. It wouldn't have mattered. The road looked the same mile after mile after mile.

Other drivers, perhaps in an attempt to amuse themselves, had created a "shoe tree", which is just what it sounds like: a tree covered with shoes.

I remember being disappointed that we didn't have any old shoes along with us to add to the pile...and it was quite a pile!

So why am I going on about this? Because along the road there were markers every few miles that reminded drivers that they were traveling the same route that the Pony Express riders did. Believe me, when you travel across that straight, flat, deserted road, it gives you an appreciation for what those riders endured on their mission to deliver the mail.

The Pony Express was put together in just two months in the winter of 1860. It was a tremendous undertaking, with 120 riders, 184 stations, 400 horses and several hundred personnel, all formed to deliver a fast mail service between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. The goal was to deliver letters in 10 days, a feat many said was impossible. It was only in operation from April 1860 through October 1861 and was the west's most direct means of east-west communications before the telegraph was invented.

A total of about 184 stations were placed at intervals of about 10 miles along the estimated 2,000 mile route. Ten miles was roughly the maximum distance a horse could travel at a full gallop. The rider changed horses at each station, taking only the mail pouch, called a mochila (Spanish for backpack) with him. The pouch was considered so important that it was often said the horse and rider should perish before the mochila did. It was thrown over the saddle and held in place by the weight of the rider. 

Each corner contained a pocket where bundles of mail were placed and then padlocked for safety. Each mochila held 20 pounds of mail. The horse carried an additional 20 pounds of materials, including a water sack, a Bible, a horn for alerting the relay station master to prepare the next horse, a revolver, and a choice of a rifle or an additional revolver. Eventually, all but the water sack and one revolver were eliminated, allowing for a total of 165 pounds on the horse's back.

Riders could not weigh over 125 pounds, and generally, they were teenage boys. Riders changed out every 75-100 miles and road day and night. In emergency situations, one rider might ride two stages back to back, amounting to over 20 hours on a galloping horse. It's hard to imagine, isn't it? 

For their effort, they received $25 per week as pay. Compare that to the customary wage of the day for an unskilled laborer of about $1 per week.

One of the better known riders was William Cody, also known as Buffalo Bill, who was only 15 years old when he was hired as a rider. Originally, he was given a short 45-mile delivery run, but after a few months, he was transferred to Slade's Division in Wyoming where he made the longest non-stop ride from Red Buttes Station to Rocky Ridge Station and back, because his relief rider had been killed. The distance of 322 miles over one of the most dangerous sections of the entire trail was completed in 21 hours and 40 minutes, using 21 horses to complete the run. Here's a picture of him at age 19.

Today I started making the Pony Express commemorative quilt I've been meaning to start for a long time. I saw the quilt in a magazine some time back, and I fell in love with it. As I've said before on this blog, I love that we can learn history from quilts, and having traveled the Loneliest Road made me a sucker for this quilt in particular.

The pattern is by Jodi Barrows, but I'm only using her pattern as a guide. I tried to start this quilt back in March, 2012, but was disappointed when I figured out that the pattern required knowledge of her technique called "square in a square". If you like listening to me gripe (and who wouldn't?) you can read my original blog post right here. The technique also requires purchasing a special ruler. After investing quite a bit of money in tools and books on top of the already expensive pattern, I wrote to the designer to complain because I still couldn't figure it out. In fairness to the designer, they did get back to me with a set of videos to help me with the new technique. Here is my updated post.

But here's the thing. I'm an old dog (which technically makes me a "bitch" too, I suppose). I don't feel like learning any new tricks right now. I just want to purchase the pattern and make the quilt, okay? So after giving this quite a bit of thought, I decided to follow the pattern when I could, and substitute blocks when I needed to.

The first block is the center block called St. Joseph Stables, where the actual historical event began in St. Joseph, Missouri on April 3, 1860. At a quarter past seven in the evening, a bay mare was brought out of the stable with the mochila carefully stowed on her saddle. Horse and rider began their journey amid cheers from the assembled crowds, galloping off toward their destination. After nearly 2,000 miles, the mail arrived in San Francisco on April 14, at 1:00 a.m. The first westbound trip took 10 days, 7 hours, and 45 minutes.

Here is the original block from the pattern:

Only, I didn't do it that way. Instead, I substituted a block from another quilt pattern. By adding the gold fabric on each side, I was able to make it the 15 1/2 x 13 1/2 inch size that I needed. I figure it gets the point across for purposes of the quilt.

And that's as far as I'm taking this for now. This will be my official September NewFO project, and that officially completes the goals I set for myself in September.

The next few days are going to be pretty busy getting things ready so that we can take off on our trip on Saturday. I'll say more about the trip in another post, but for now I'll just say that I have a lot to do. Tomorrow I need to drive down to Salem to pick up my quilt from the fair, and I'll run a few errands while I'm at it. Tonight I'm making the 2nd of three dishes I want to make to take along so that I won't have to do any cooking for the first three nights out. Also, I'm going to make some frozen breakfast burritos. The first three days of the trip, we'll just be moving on down the road with the plan to make it to Rocky Mountain National Park by the fourth day. It's a lot of driving, but we'll be fresh when we are just starting out.

So I'll leave it at that for today, and tell you a little more about the trip later. It's been a good day so far today. Poor Gracie had to go to the vet, but that was a quick trip, and Gracie is in good health. She does need her choppers cleaned, however. We'll take care of that when we get back. Then, Smitty will have his day at the vet too since he's up for his first annual check up. 

Also, my knee has improved a surprising amount after just 3 doses of the prescription anti-inflammatory. I'm feeling very optimistic about that, but I'm also wondering why the other two doctors I saw didn't suggest it. I guess when you can only spend two minutes with a patient, there isn't any time for suggesting a treatment strategy beyond surgery, yes or no. If the answer is no, then you're on your own. Grrrrrrrrrrr. It makes me wonder if I've been hobbling around needlessly for the past six weeks, but it's water under the bridge at this point.

I hope you're having a happy Wednesday too.

18 comments from clever and witty friends:

quiltzyx said...

Thanks for the Pony Express lesson, I hadn't realized that Buffalo Bill Cody was one of their riders. That quilt is going to be very special. Square in a square blocks aren't bad to do as paper piecing - they're one of the first ones I did. If the ruler & tools don't work out for you, you could try it that way.

Good to hear that Gracie is AOK - I used to brush zzyzx's teeth, never had to have the vet do it. It's hard to believe that Smitty is due for his one year check up!

Bon Voyage!

Sheila said...

Can't wait to see your "Pony Express" quilt. I attended a trunk show a few years back, of quilts all made via the "square in a square" concept. All of the quilts were beautiful. The trunk show was presented by one of "square in a square" instructors. I have bought the first book, the original ruler and instructional DVD. I have made one quilt using the method and it came out beautiful. I think it is a method where you start out making a quilt with "option 1" and work your way up the "option ladder" for best results. Sorry for such a long comment, have a great vacation.

Tami C said...

All that info about the Pony Express was really interesting. I didn't realize that it was so short lived. Glad that you've finally gotten underway with the quilt, despite the delayed start. I called my husband in to see your US Hwy 50 picture. We used to live in Las Animas and would go to Colorado Springs on the weekend to visit hubby's folks. We always hated driving on that long 2 lane road. We got a good laugh over the Shoe Tree. I wonder how all those shoes got out there in the middle of nowhere. :)

WoolenSails said...

You lost me on the first sentence, lol. That is why I don't read instructions, my brain can't handle all the info;) Love the quilt though and the fun information.


Ray and Jeanne said...

Thanks for the Pony Express Lesson! I knew a little, having lived near St. Joe, MO when I was in grad school but you taught me more! That will be a neat quilt! Glad your knee is improving. We were in RMNP this evening - the elk are coming down - we hear bugling most days now. ~Jeanne

Lynne said...

Thank you for that history lesson. As an Aussie, I know very little US history beyond the Pilgrim Fathers, Thanksgiving, The Boston Tea Party and the Civil War (in which one of my blood relatives was killed with a musket ball to the head).

jan said...

I enjoyed learning more about the Pony Express and I'm glad you are making that quilt your own. I am not good at following patterns and change them to suit me alot.
xo jan@sewandsowfarm

Brown Family said...

History is so interesting. Thanks for sharing the Pony Express lesson. I think your quilt will be just as lovely as the pattern!

Dasha said...

Hi Barbara, Thanks heaps for the very informative, and detailed story on the Pony Express. I had heard of it, and if pushed, I may have known what it was, so I read your story with great interest. Enjoy your trip - if you are driving a long distance, make sure you get out a lot and stretch out that knee so it doesn't get too still.

Dana Gaffney said...

When I was a kid learning about the Pony Express I thought it was all so exciting, we have so much great history, thanks. Then you made me smile
"and that officially completes the goals I set for myself in September"
Nice :)

Heidi said...

Another great post!
Makes me want to rent that Kevin Costner movie, The Postman.

Dar said...

Enjoyed the refresher on the Pony Express story. I'm familiar with parts of it, but learned new things from your post. We have a shoe tree here in MO too - in the Ozarks. It is not as big as the one pictured, but still a roadside attraction. Have a wonderful trip and take care of that knee.

Cathy said...

Hi Barbara~
What a great post! I love the story of the pony express. I've also been on either that long road or another one like it. Yes..that long straight road just goes on and on! Love the shoe tree...and your quilt project is great! ♥♥♥

Junebug613 said...

Fantastic post! I love the history lessons. Your quilt is going to marvelous (as always). That shoe tree is crazy!

Queenie Believe said...

Awesome post re pony express (I also really like the shoe tree :o)
This will be a wonderful quilt. I like your choice for a center block.
Have a great day.
Always, Queenie

kc said...

We had a shoe tree in Port Aransas, too. God only knows why! But, there was a geocache there, so off we went & when we found out what it was all about (shoes in a tree, what else?) we were able to come up with a couple of flipped flops that we were glad to donate to the cause! I think we added a pair of worn-thru sneakers too. (If we didn't we should have!)

Thanks for the history of Pony Express...for some reason, I'd always thought it was around for years & years! What they did in those days was nothing short of amazing - and here we have today's workers striking to make $15 an HOUR! Personally, I think they just need to work more & spend less...kinda like a diet, ya know? Spend within your means? Yeah, I know, you didn't pay to hear me whine..sorry.

I'm so glad your anti-inflams are helping so much - that's really nice to hear. I'm sure it's quite a relief too....good thing I wasn't drinking coffee (or root beer) when I read that comment about being an old dog.. LOL Can't wait to see your end result! Safe travels!!

Kate said...

Interesting info. I'd never heard of the shoe tree, pretty fun.

Glad to hear that your knee is feeling better.

HouseDragon said...

Aloha from the middle of nowhere. I enjoyed reading about the Pony Express and am intrigued by the sampler. Now about the road: I'd heard stories from my parents driving the road at NIGHT and seeing thousands of hares everywhere including all over the road. Fast forward at least thirty years when my new DH and I drove the road in the DAYTIME and saw nary a hare. But on the trip in the other direction we drove at NIGHT. We saw hundreds, if not thousands, of hares plus coyotes and, I swear, a Bobcat.