Lee the Horse Logger
As the team of horses trotted into town last Thursday, pulling two covered wagons, some motorists gawked, while others pulled over to snap photos.
Driving the team was Lee Horselogger, as he likes to be known, who peered out the window of the front wagon, occasionally shouting commands to the horses.
Lead horses Tom and Max, followed by wheel horses Fey and Dink -- all of which responded to their individual names -- stayed focused on the task at hand: pulling the wagons.
"I never have to tell them to step up, except the stallion (Max), when he's looking at the girls," said Lee, who parked the wagons overnight near the "Welcome to Madras" sign, across from Sonic.
Lee and the horses are accustomed to all the attention. For the past five years, they have crisscrossed the country -- starting from Northwest Montana on May 9, 2006, and traveling to Massachusetts and Maine, and then back to the West Coast -- at about 3 miles per hour.
"By the time we're done for the day, the average is down to about 2 (mph)," he said, adding that they typically go 23 miles a day, but may go 27, "if the conditions are right."
Last week, conditions were a little too difficult for the team, which had been traveling on U.S. Highway 26 from the Portland area. Lee determined that climbing up the Warm Springs grade to Agency Plains would have been too much for the horses, which were pulling two wagons filled with equipment and supplies.
Fortunately, Madras resident Gladys Grant spotted Lee, the horses and wagons just east of Warm Springs, and doubled back to see if they needed anything. When she realized the situation, she contacted Allan Elston, of Madras, who brought his 1973 GMC pickup, and connected it to the wagons to relieve the horses on the steep grade.
Grant also took dinner to Lee, who thanked her by letting her ride up the grade in his wagon. "That was really fun riding up the hill in that outfit," she said.
To stay on the road, Lee relies on the assistance of people like Grant and Elston, as well as others who offer donations of hay for the horses, or cash, to cover the $1,500 monthly costs.
Since he can only carry half a ton of feed for the horses, at every stop, Lee must be on the lookout for hay. "Each day, you have to reinvent the wheel," he said.
The horses -- rare Suffolk Punch draught horses -- consume a total of about 200 pounds of alfalfa hay and 50 pounds of beet pulp every day to keep them healthy. They wear "Easy Boots" to protect their feet, and have each gone through three or four sets in the past five years.
Suffolk horses, which were bred in England for agricultural work, have been around since at least 1215, usually weigh 1,700 to 2,000 pounds, and stand about 16.1 to 17.2 hands high -- 65 to 70 inches tall.
During World War II, the population of the formerly popular breed dropped off, when many horses were sent to slaughterhouses. Today, there are only about 1,200 of the breed remaining, said Lee, who regularly uses the horses to log, and pull farm equipment.
"There's something about this breed that's very different," he said. "They're very mellow, totally willing to work, and very intelligent. Fight or flight (instinct) is very easily subverted; they'll listen to you."
His travel team -- two geldings, a stallion and a mare -- all have distinct personalities. "That's what makes them fun to work with," said Lee.
The personalities were on display as Lee got settled and fed the horses. One gelding was impatient, flipped his bowl, and got his foot caught in a rope. Lee acknowledged the situation, but allowed the horse to untangle himself.
"I'll tell you something about horses," he told those watching. "If you treat 'em stupid, I guarantee you're going to have a stupid horse."
Lee, who estimated that he has been interviewed "over a thousand times" in the past five years, has become very adept at answering some questions and deflecting others.
When asked his last name or age, he politely declined giving out that information, noting that "Lee Horselogger," covers it.
"If I were going to fit in a box, I wouldn't be driving a team of horses around America," he said.
Lee doesn't shy away from travel on major highways. "It's perfectly legal for me to be on the road, but I try to stay over (to the side of the road); it's just courtesy," he explained.
The required slow-moving vehicle sign, as well as the unusual appearance of the wagons, ensures that motorists slow down as they approach Lee and the horses.
"People have no idea what we are," he said. "That's what keeps us safe."
Even on narrow roads, Lee said he's not worried. "I'm bigger, and I've got an attitude and a 12 gauge."
To keep an eye on his "home," Lee always sleeps in a loft in the larger wagon. "The horses wake me up when it's time to get moving," he said.
When asked what he considers the best part of his travels, Lee doesn't have to think long before responding, "The people you meet, like Gladys, who brought me dinner, and took me back to her house for a shower."
The worst part is the hard physical labor required to travel with a team of horses. "This is a full-time job," he said.
From Madras, Lee is headed to Raleigh, N.C., and Portland, Maine, and then back across the country to Alaska, which he hopes to reach in about five more years. "That's my destination," he said. "I'm starting to wear out; this takes a toll."
Follow Lee's travels or contact him at leehorselogger.com, or on Facebook, both of which are occasionally updated by friends.