Keep Those Wagons Rolling

Though the calendar says that summer is beginning to wind down, you wouldn’t know it in Sun Valley. With the Labor Day weekend only a week away, there is still so much to look forward to under the bright Idaho sun.

Labor Day weekend is almost upon us. Make your plans now so you don't miss highlights like the Big Hitch Wagon Days Parade on Saturday

Labor Day weekend is almost upon us. Make your plans now so you don’t miss highlights like the Big Hitch Wagon Days Parade on Saturday

The holiday weekend is always one of the best times of the year in Sun Valley because there is so much to do and it is so different from Labor Day anywhere else. Events begin midweek and don’t stop until the sun sets on Monday, September 1. And actually, summer fun extends well into September, too.

The festivities begin on August 25 when the Wagon Days Headquarters open at the Ore Wagon Museum located at 200 10th Street in Ketchum. Pop over between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. for information, hats, t-shirts, posters, buttons and information. On Friday the 29th, a Grand Marshal’s Reception will be held at Memory Park in Ketchum between 4th and 5th Streets from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Live music, food and drink will create a lively atmosphere as the city of Ketchum and the Wagon Days committee honor this year’s Grand Marshal, Jane Eittreim, a long-time Wagon Days volunteer.

Wagon Days brings a taste of the old west and the area's history with the eye popping big hitch

Wagon Days brings a taste of the old west and the area’s history with the big hitch

All this is a prelude to the ‘big show’ of Labor Day weekend: the annual Wagon Days Big Hitch Parade. Historic, authentic and eye popping, this is one of the largest non-motorized parades in America. It features real ore wagons pulled by dozens of mules. You do not want to miss the spectacle of the big hitch and the other wonderful wagons as they wend down Sun Valley Road and onto Main Street in Ketchum. The parade begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 30.

Arts are also part of the weekend. On Friday, August 29, from 5 – 8 p.m., the Sun Valley Gallery Association will host one of its’ popular Art Gallery Walks. A guided tour will begin at the Kneeland Gallery on 1st Avenue just south of Sun Valley Road. The walking tour takes two hours and hits many gorgeous galleries. Feel free to also explore on your own, as well.

Sun Valley is seeing gold the next two weeks as Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White take center ice on August 23 and Evan Lysacek lights up the night on August 30 at Sun Valley On Ice

Sun Valley is seeing gold the next two weeks as Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White take center ice on August 23 and Evan Lysacek lights up the night on August 30 at Sun Valley On Ice

Also on Friday, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts presents a fabulous concert at River Run: The Head & The Heart. This indie folk rock band from Seattle has opened for Vampire Weekend, The Decembrists and are a stand-alone act on the ascent. A concert outdoors at River Run is the perfect way to enjoy a late summer’s night. Tickets and more information are available HERE.

On Friday and Saturday, don’t be surprised if you’re in Ketchum and come across music and poetry on the street. The Wagon Days Poets and Pickers Strolling Event will bring the power of prose and the magic of music to many local eateries and onto local sidewalks.

At Sun Valley Resort, Evan Lysacek, Olympic Gold Medal winner and Valley favorite, will light up the night at the Sun Valley On Ice show August 30. His energy, charm and magnanimity should not be missed. Tickets are available HERE.

If you like exotic cars, a stop in Sun Valley at the Silver Car Auction is a must

If you like exotic cars, a stop in Sun Valley at the Silver Collector Car Auction is a must

And on Saturday and Sunday, stop by the Sun Valley lawn for the Silver Auction Sun Valley Collector Car Auction. More than 250 cars are on display and for sale and it’s eye candy for any car lover.

More don’t-miss events include a children’s carnival at Ketchum Town Square on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., “queen of pain” mountain biker Rebecca Rusch’s Private Idaho bike bonanza on the 29th, arts, crafts and antiques fairs, live music at the Casino in Ketchum following the parade and a huge community pancake breakfast on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon at Ketchum Town Square.

The Great Wagon Days Duck Race is fun for all ages and supports the community in many ways

The Great Wagon Days Duck Race is fun for all ages and supports the community in many ways

The Great Wagon Days Duck Race takes to the Big Wood River on the 31st and the weekend continues on the 1st with a huge celebration on Main Street in Bellevue.

This weekend, things are also heating up in Sun Valley. On Saturday, August 23, Olympic Gold Medal ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White will cast their spell at the Sun Valley On Ice Show. Limited tickets are still available to enjoy this dazzling duo in an incredibly beautiful and intimate venue. Buy yours today so you don’t miss out!

Don’t forget that even when the weekend is over, the fun isn’t. The one-and-only Beach Boys arrive at the Sun Valley Pavilion on September 9 for a show you won’t forget. Call (208) 622-2135 or visit for tickets.

Seems like a pre-Labor Day nap, or a few, might be in order. There is so much going on and you won’t want to miss a minute! Make your plans now!


No matter how many times you've seen it, the Wagon Days parade delivers excitement and fun

No matter how many times you’ve seen it, the Wagon Days parade delivers excitement and fun

Sun Valley History: The wagons of Wagon Days

The 55th Wagon Days parade takes place tomorrow, Saturday Aug. 31 at 1 p.m. In honor of the event, The Valley Sun’s guest blogger Jennifer Tuohy digs into the history behind the centerpiece of the parade, The Big Hitch, also known as the Lewis Ore Wagons, the only wagons of their kind in existence today.

The 2013 Wagon Days poster by Ketchum photographer Steve Snyder showcases the majestic beauty of the Lewis Ore Wagons. Click on the poster to purchase a copy.

On August 15, 1958, Katherine Lewis rode down Ketchum’s Main Street as the Queen of the very first Wagon Days Parade. It was her 85th birthday, and the town she had called home for seven decades was honoring her in a way only this town could. Behind her snaked a line of seven unique ore wagons that had been pulled out of storage especially in honor of Ketchum’s grande dame.

As Kate, as she was known, watched the giant wagons rumble through town for the first time in over a decade her thoughts likely travelled back through the years to the story behind this remarkable sight. A story that began, as many stories of the Wild West do, with the quest for gold.

In May of 1879, David Ketchum arrived in Idaho’s Wood River Valley searching for metallic treasures in its mountains. Although he discovered the first lead and silver deposits in the area, Ketchum left a few months later. But many came behind him, chasing the same dream, and on August 2, 1880, the town of Ketchum was born.

One of those who followed in Ketchum’s footsteps was Issac Lewis. But he didn’t come just to mine, he came to build a community. Hailing from Butte, Montana, Lewis was a banker and a businessman and – as many businessmen did in those days – he saw an opportunity to create a community out of this town of dusty mining tents and dirty miners. He quickly invested in real estate, opened the town’s first drug store, helped build the Gueyer Hot Springs Resort, purchased the weekly newspaper, and constructed the town’s first bank. In his own words he “virtually made the town.” The effort Issac put into building Ketchum is still visible in the form of the First National Bank building which still stands on Main Street.

Issac’s son, Horace, soon joined him from Montana, along with his wife, Katherine. They settled on the brand new Lewis Ranch, which extended from just east of what is now Spruce Avenue in Ketchum to the mouth of Trail Creek Canyon. Horace, looking out at the daunting mountains surrounding his new home, spied another investment opportunity for his family: transporting the lead and silver from the valleys beyond into the new railroad-town of Ketchum.

The Lewis Ore Wagons remain a centerpiece of the valley's history. Alongside Bald Mountain they are one of the most recognizable features of the former mining town of Ketchum. Photo courtesy Sun Valley Resort.

In 1884 he formed the Ketchum & Challis Toll Road company to construct a road over the precipitous Trail Creek Summit and built a chain of massive wagons known as the Ketchum Fast Freight Line. A testament to human engineering and masterful animal husbandry, these giant wagons carried between 18,000 and 24,000 pounds of ore along a road no wider than a wagon. They careened around hairpin turns and teetered along sheer ledges on giant six-foot wheels, covering 12 to 14 miles per day. Built to withstand the stresses of traversing the summit loaded with ore, the wagons were daisy chained together and powered by a team of draft mules, chosen for their temperament, strength and stamina. This awesome combination of metal, wood and beast was masterfully controlled by a unique craftsman, the mule skinner. Using a jerk-line, a rein approximately 100 feet long attached to each member of the team, the mule skinner controlled as many as 20 mules at a time through a series of distinct whips and jerks.

This video demonstrates the skill of the mule skinner, showing how each mule in the team of up to twenty, must be commanded to perform a different task. (Not displaying? Click here.)

At the height of the mining activity in the Wood River, Big Lost, and Salmon River valleys the Ketchum Fast Freight Line employed 700 mules and 30 wagons to haul 700,000 pounds of ore to the Philadelphia Smelter on Warm Springs Road annually. There it was turned from raw ore into precious metal and shipped down the Oregon Short Line railroad.

Between 1880 and 1885 approximately $12 million worth of lead and silver left the valley. By 1902, when rail service to Mackay and Challis arrived, the Ketchum Fast Freight Line became obsolete and in 1909 the wagons were retired for good. Two years later Horace passed away.

For a couple years, the wagons sat sadly in a barn on the Lewis Ranch. Then, in 1911, Horace’s widow, Katherine, sold the ranch to Ernest Brass, moving down the road to a house in town. Her home is also still standing, currently occupied by the Elephant’s Perch sporting goods shop.

Kate Lewis's moved into this home in Ketchum in 1911. It is now the Elephant's Perch sporting goods store. Photo from Google Maps.

Connoisseurs of the history of Sun Valley Resort will have already made the connection in this story. That ranch between Ketchum and Trail Creek, which Kate sold to the Brass family, had a grander future in store.

For the next 20 years Ernest Brass and his large family struggled to get by. In January 1936, after losing half his herd to an appetite for the poisonous purple larkspur, Brass met a handsome foreigner named Count Felix Schaffgotsch. Schaffgotsch was on a scouting mission for Averell Harriman, searching for the perfect spot at the end of a railroad track on which the president of Union Pacific Railroad could build a luxurious ski lodge. Brass Ranch was that spot. In April, Ernest Brass sold his 3,888 acres to Union Pacific for $39,000. That December the Sun Valley Lodge opened its doors. Among the names on the guest list for opening night was Katherine Lewis.

The wagons on the other hand, were not invited to the party. Mining had long since been replaced in the valley’s economy by sheep, who had no need for breakneck rides down mountain sides. These giant emblems of Ketchum’s past sat in a rapidly crumbling barn along what is now Sun Valley Road until 1925 when one of the valley’s last teamsters, Sam Sanders, brought them out for the Fourth of July parade, and then one more time in 1940 for the Sun Valley Rodeo. For the next 15 years the wagons were left silent and forgotten. Then, in 1958, the city of Ketchum was looking for a way to honor its founding mother Kate Lewis’ 85th birthday. What better way to do that than to resurrect the source of her family’s fortunes, the Lewis Ore Wagons, and parade them through town, in what became known as the first Wagon Days parade.

In October 1958, two months after riding triumphantly through Ketchum, Kate Lewis passed away. Her nephew Palmer G Lewis, donated the wagons to the city on the condition that they be displayed once a year to commemorate Idaho’s mining heritage, and so the annual event that is Wagon Days was born.

In 1985 the wagons were given their very own home, a museum designed and built especially to house them, and allow them to be on display year round. The city has kept its promise to the Lewis family, and trots out these massive symbols of American history annually (barring wildfire and city politics) for the grand finale to the Wagon Days Parade. Held Labor Day weekend, the event has extended into a 5 day festival celebrating the area’s heritage, but the Saturday parade at 1 p.m. is still the centerpiece, and the Lewis Ore Wagons’ hair-raising trip down Sun Valley Road and around the corner onto Main Street is still the highlight. If she could see what “her town” has become, and the smiles of joy the parade brings to the thousands who gather to watch the largest non-motorized parade in the West, Kate would be so very proud.

Jennifer Tuohy

Preserving this unique and irreplaceable relic of history is a costly effort. As the Lewis Ore Wagons near their 130th birthday, the Wagon Days Committee is looking to raise $10,000 to help maintain the wagons through an indiegogo campaign. Donate to the campaign here.

For a full schedule of events this Wagon Days’ weekend go hereFor a list of the 100 unique wagons from across the West participating in the 2013 Wagon Days’ parade click here.  


A Wagon Days Farewell


A 20-draft-mule jerkline powers this Big Hitch, a collection of historic ore mining wagons. This unique sight is the traditional finale of the Wagon Days parade.

One of the common sayings around town is that you come to Sun Valley for the winters, but you stay for the summers. As Averell Harriman discovered after he opened the doors to his extravagant palace in the snow, the Wood River Valley is an ideal summer playground. Harriman quickly decided to keep those doors open and take advantage of the spectacular Sun Valley summers. Today, 76 years later, we are still enjoying the whirlwind two months between July 4th and Labor Day, when summer wraps its arms around the communities of the Wood River Valley. It may be brief, but it is a whole lot of fun; summer in Sun Valley is something not to be missed.

This Labor Day weekend marked the official end to the summer of 2012, and for over half a century the annual Wagon Days festivities have been there to send it off in style. Recognized as the largest non-motorized parade in the Pacific Northwest, the Wagon Days parade is the highlight of the weekend, featuring dozens of “museum-quality buggies, carriages, tacks, carts, buckboards and wagons of every variety in existence today.”

This year The Sun Family was offered the chance of riding in one of the antique wagons. Having been a spectator for seven of the last nine years, being able to participate in this historic parade was too good an opportunity to miss (even if 2 hours in a horse-drawn buggy had the potential to make Baby Sun a squirmy mess).

Fueling up with Mrs Fisher Cat at Papoose Club's annual Pancake breakfast

To get prepped for our Wagon Days opus, we chowed down with our parade companion, Mrs. Fisher Cat (in town visiting The Toy Store), at Papoose Club’s annual pancake breakfast (another wonderful tradition, read about it here.). Local historian Ivan Swaner was more than happy to keep Kitty company and fill her in on the story of Wagon Days.

Little Sun and Mrs Fisher Cat of the Calico Critter Family

Next we headed to the Sun Valley Horseman Center to meet our wagon and gaze in awe at the assembled parade entrants. From Ralphie the Camel to the beautiful Eh Capa bareback riders, there was a lot to take in. Little Sun and Baby Sun were thrilled to be able to get up close and personal with the wide-array of entrants, it was better than a trip to the zoo!

Little Sun and Baby Sun survey the Wagon Days Parade participants from inside a Black Surrey pulled by spotted draft horses

Next it was time to saddle up and hop on our ride for the afternoon, two beautiful spotted draft horses pulling a Black Surrey (with a fringe on top!). While there were a few white knuckle moments as horses crossed paths and wagons rolled, overall riding in the parade was one of the best experiences I’ve had during my time living in Idaho. Waving at the crowds and seeing the smiling, happy people waving back at us we felt – for a few brief moments – like Ketchum Royalty. Baby Sun was in her element (there is a stage somewhere in her future…), waving energetically the entire time (until she fell asleep mid-wave somewhere along Main Street).

The Sun family hitched a ride in Mrs. Fisher Cat's rig, proudly sponsored by Carol Knight of The Toy Store

We owe the wonderful Carol Knight a big dose of gratitude for letting us ride along with Mrs. Fisher Cat in The Toy Store sponsored Black Surrey. It was lovely to be associated with a fixture of the Ketchum shopping scene for over 30 years, all along the route pockets of Ketchum “old-timers” cheered with extra enthusiasm when they saw Carol’s distinctive logo on the side of the wagon.

The view from the Wagon: Sun Valley Road as seen from the Wagon Days Parade

Viewing Wagon Days from inside the parade gave me a lovely perspective on my hometown for close to a decade. It was especially poignant as next month The Sun Family is moving on. After a wonderful nine years living and working in the Wood River Valley we are heading East to join my family in Charleston, South Carolina. We will dearly miss this valley. It is where Brian and I began our lives together, where we welcomed our children, Owen and Rose, and where we have made many dear friends.

In particular I will miss Sun Valley Resort. It is all too easy for locals to take for granted the special place they have on their doorsteps. I for one, only really understood the value of what Averell Harriman brought to this remote corner of Idaho when I started digging into the history of the resort, which is a rich tapestry of fascinating stories and entertaining insights into how these towns became what they are today. I challenge all locals and visitors to take a few minutes of their time to walk through the grand doors of the Sun Valley Lodge into the lobby, pause for a moment and just look around. Eighty years ago, the spot where you are standing was just a barren field of sagebrush, surrounded by nothing but a struggling mining town and untamed mountains. Today a grand resort stands there, an integral part of the thriving, complicated and extraordinary community that surrounds it. Averell would be proud.

For me, riding in the Wagon Days parade was the perfect way to say goodbye to Ketchum.


Happy Trails…

Jennifer Tuohy (aka Mrs. Sun)

p.s. While the end of the road nears for The Sun Family, The Valley Sun blog will continue. Watch this space!

Labor Day Tennis Championships

Sun Valley Resort/Lyle Pearson Tennis Championships September 3-5 2011

David Perry and Mark Frisby, Director of Tennis, invite you back to world-famous Sun Valley Resort for a weekend of fun, celebration and great tennis.  We are proud to be hosting the “Sun Valley Resort/Lyle Pearson Labor Day Tennis Championships” once again.  We hope you will join us for a great tournament.

Entry deadline is August 30, 2011.  For more information and entry forms please contact the Sun Valley Recreation Center in the Sun Valley Village (208) 622-2135.

USTA# Tournament #257408611

Play includes:  Men’s Open Singles & Doubles and Women’s Open Singles & Doubles

Special hotel packages are available for tournament participants September 2-5 starting at $169 plus tax/double occupancy.  Sun Valley Resort Reservations:  800-786-8259

First event:  $40/person; Second event:  $30/person; Third event:  $30/person

Cash Prizes for the winners of each event.

The Sun Valley Resort/Lyle Pearson Tennis Tournament is sponsored by: Sun Valley Resort, Lyle Pearson of Boise, and Atkinson’s Market

Lots to do over Labor Day Weekend in Sun Valley

Labor Day Weekend 2010 in Sun Valley!
Lots to do all over the Wood River Valley this weekend and Sun Valley Resort is no exception!

The final Sun Valley Ice Show of the summer featuring Olympic Silver Medalist and 2X World Silver Medalist Sasha Cohen with a cast of world-class skaters will sizzle on the ice Saturday night at dusk. Tickets on sale now online at: or call 622-2135

International superstar pianist Misha Dichter will perform a benefit concert for the Sun Valley Artist Series at the Sun Valley Pavilion on Sunday night at 8pm. Tickets on sale now online at: or call 622-2135

Sun Valley Silver Car Auction Saturday & Sunday from 8am – 6pm
Featuring vintage classics, sports cars, exotics, luxury and muscle cars. There may be some great deals this year, so don’t miss out! Located on the lawn next to the Sun Valley Pavilion.

Tesla Motors will be in Sun Valley Saturday & Sunday from 10am-4pm offering test drives of the new Tesla Roadster to prospective buyers. This is an electric sports car that goes from 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds! Check out the Tesla Roadsters in the Sun Valley Village bus turn-around.

Hungry for something new? Take the Gondola to the Roundhouse for lunch all weekend. Indoor or outdoor seating. Open from 10am-4pm First come, first serve. Gondola tickets may be purchased at the River Run Lodge ticket office. For information call: 622-6136

Sun Valley Resort/Lyle Pearson Tennis Tournament Sept. 3-6

Mark Frisby, Director of Tennis at Sun Valley Resort, and David Perry invite all tennis players and their families back to world-famous Sun Valley Resort for a weekend of fun, celebration and great tennis. "We had a great turnout at our July 4 weekend tournament and we hope you will join us for a great tournament this Labor Day weekend."

Entry deadline is August 31. For more information and entry forms please contact the Sun Valley Recreation Center in the Sun Valley Village (208) 622-2135
USTA Tournament #257408610
Play includes: Men’s Open Singles & Doubles and Women’s Open Singles & Doubles.
First event: $40 per person / Second event $30 per person / Third event $30 per person
Cash prizes for the winners of each event.

The Sun Valley Resort/Lyle Pearson Tennis Tournament is sponsored by: Sun Valley Resort, Lyle Pearson of Boise, Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters and Atkinson’s Market.

Special hotel packages are available for tournament participants September 3-6 starting at
$149 plus tax/based on double occupancy. Sun Valley Resort Reservations: 800-786-8259