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History rolls into town

The vehicle Sue Lockling describes as the minivan of its time does not look much like the modern soccer mom's transportation of choice. There are no windows. There's no roof. And the engine? It's just one horsepower.

Granted, it's a pretty big horse.

The vehicle in question is a 1903 spring wagon that once belonged to Lockling's grandfather, a farmer who plowed his fields with teams of horses and, Lockling says, once smuggled alcohol for Al Capone. It's one of several antique buggies and sleighs the Farmington woman owns, and it will be on display Sunday when Minnesota Whips and Wheels brings its Prairie Home Carriage Festival to Dakota City Heritage Village.

Turns out, Lockling's description of the wagon isn't that far off. Like the modern minivan the spring wagon's tailgate folds down for long loads. And like the minivan its back seat detaches for hauling cargo -- or livestock -- and pops back in to bring the entire family to church on Sunday.

Lockling didn't grow up with horses, but she credits her field-plowing, rum-running grandfather for inspiring her love for them and, by extension, old-fashioned modes of tranportation.

Lockling is a regular on fund-raising wagon trains and she was married in what she describes as a "horse wedding."

"My mother was so upset, because on my invitation it said, 'Water available for horses,'" Lockling said.

Lockling's hardly alone in her enthusiasm. Minnesota Whips and Wheels hopes its members will bring 50 or 60 antique carriages to Dakota City on Sunday. Some will come with just the wagon. Others, like Lockling, will come in costume and in character. Lockling plans to spend her time at the carriage festival as Ms Trixie, one of Farmington's "soiled doves."

People who get into these wagons, it seems, really get into them. John Block, another of the event's organizers, describes collecting as a disease.

"I don't know anybody who has just one," said Block, who started collecting with his wife, Mary, in 1974.

Collectors will travel hundreds of miles for a chance to show off the vehicles they've discovered and restored. There are usually prizes at the events they attend, but there's no money in it. Block might spend hundreds of dollars to get his carriages and horses to a show and not get anything more out of it than some good company and a good meal.

"We're all like one big family," Lockling said.

And while they might not know everyone's name, Block said, they always recognize the horses.

Ask how much time they put into their hobby and Block and Lockling laugh.

"We all eat, breathe and sleep this," Lockling said. "We're kind of more of the fun group. We want to be showy but we don't want to be a show."

The show

Minnesota Whips and Wheels had been trying for years to put on a winter show, but things never came together. When Block discovered Dakota City, he knew he'd found the perfect location. Many of the wagons and carriages that will be on display Sunday are from the same turn-of-the-century period the village is meant to represent.

The village will be open during Sunday's show. There will be blacksmithing, gardening, plowing and planting demonstrations and Civil War soldiers will be on hand.

There will be carts pulled by donkeys and ponies and carts like Lockling's pulled by massive percheron horses.

"The main thing will be that we have good participation from spectators," Block said. "It's a really great place to take mom and dad and or grandma and grandpa, especially."

Organizers hope the event is successful enough that it will roll back next year and for years to come.

The carriage festival will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 3. There will be a carriage display educational presentation from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., an informative talk about the vehicles from 11 a.m. to noon and a parade through the village at 1 p.m. Visitors are welcome to bring their own wagons and carriages, but because of insurance concerns only Whips and Wheels members are allowed to take part in the parade.