Wagon Train on Last Run; Soldier Buried in France Remembered

Back in the days when the National Road was in its infancy in helping to build this nation, wagon trains were a common sight as they slowly slogged through mud, dust, rain and snow to reach new settlements to the west.

Those hardy pioneers succeeded and the road has become a National Monument. In an effort to re-create the crude means of travel of that early period, the Belmont County Tourism Council 22 years ago launched the National Road Wagon Train in Belmont County.

Some farmers brought out their covered wagons, their horses and mules to pull the wagons – not over muddy trails and through thick woods but on the paved surface of National Road and some county roads between St. Clairsville and Morristown. It was a festive two-day event that attracted the attention of the entire Ohio Valley. There were party-type events along the way, stops at historic places and an overnight encampment.

Clifford Collins was the first wagon master to lead the long line of wagons and the accompanying outriders. Later, Dick and Patty Gummere took over the reins and continued the annual event up to this day. But today is not only the last day for this year’s wagon train but also the final day for the event itself.

The National Road Wagon Train will end its 22-year run today. “It was a lot fun. People had a good time,” commented Eugene “Doc” Householder, director of the Belmont County Tourism Council who sadly announced the event would be no more.

“There are too many risks … too many trucks and too many cars. It is too dangerous for the wagons and horses to travel the roads today,” Householder explained. Adding to that problem is the fact that fewer and fewer people were getting involved. “In the beginning there were a lot of people involved. Not today.” One business that each year aided in making the event a success by providing food and entertainment for the participants, pulled out this year because of involvement in the oil and gas operations that have engulfed the entire county.

Householder said the decision to discontinue the wagon train came following a meeting he had with Gummere and his wife even before this year’s event started on Saturday.”They’re worried about the heavy traffic and so am I.”

Today’s final run will start at 10 a.m. when the wagon train leaves from the Belmont County Saddle Club, where the participants enjoyed breakfast, then head east to Pancost Road, crossing I-70 then on to Barkcamp State Park. The final stop will be at the Wilber Gibby-Gibson horse camp where the participants will enjoy a brown bag lunch provided by the tourism council. Participants will furnish their own drinks.

A good turnout of local residents was on hand last Monday for St. Clairsville’s annual Memorial Day service, during which special recognition was afforded a Dillonvale man who answered the call to defend his country in World War II and never returned home.

Following the speaking and musical program honoring veterans and those who gave their lives during wartime, American Legion Post 159 commander Joe Campbell pulled a Zippo cigarette lighter from his pocket and displayed it to the crowd.

The lighter was part of the personal belongings of PFC John J. Habursky, who served with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Battalion, 6th Armored Division during battles to liberate France from Nazi control. Crudely etched lettering on both sides of the lighter conveyed a message of love for his girlfriend back home in Dillonvale and also the location and date of one of the battles in which he was engaged.

On one side was the message was: “John Habursky France Brest Aug. 9 1944 Day of Battle.” On the other side was scratched: “Helen Stepansky Love From John Habursky. ASN35610451.”

In the crowd at Union Cemetery was Joel Habursky of Clark Road, St.Clairsville, the serviceman’s nephew, who was just a youngster at the time his uncle was serving in the Army overseas and since then has been gathering information about what happened. “My father gave me the lighter,” Habursky explained. “I don’t know how he got it. I was never told much about what happened.”

Since then he has been trying to piece together details. From the combat history of the 6th Armored Division on the Internet, he gained more information on the battles in which his uncle had been involved. He was told the dents and scars on the lighter were caused by shrapnel.

Joel Habursky theorized that the Brest battle was so intense his uncle thought perhaps he might not survive and for that reason penned the battle message and note of love to his girlfriend on the lighter. “He did survive the Brest battle and I know he was in several other battles after that,” Joel Habursky explained.

In the computer history, Joel learned the next big battle was the Seille River campaign that started in September 1944 and lasted until November. John Habursky died in battle on Sunday, Oct. 1, 1944. Joel said he has no information on exactly what happened. “He was in a tank and I’ve heard it exploded when it was hit by an enemy shell. I don’t know that for sure.”

John J. Habursky never made it home. His personal possessions were received by his family but not his body. He is one of the thousands of American servicemen from all branches of the Armed Forces interred in France. He is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery at St. Avoid (Moselle), France.

“It’ll be a challenge” was how Barb Blake described her first three days on the job as the new fiscal manager for the Belmont County commissioners. But she added quickly, “it’s going to be fine.”

A lifelong resident of Cadiz, Blake was employed by the commission to succeed Cindi Henry, who left about a month ago to assume the reins of finance officer of the City of St. Clairsville. Blake brings more than a quarter of a century in experience dealing with financial affairs in county and state government.

For 23 years she was employed in the Department of Jobs & Family Services in Harrison County and also worked with the DJFS in Tuscarawas County.

For a brief period she also handled state unemployment claims in the Bridgeport processing office.

Blake attended her first commission meeting Wednesday, the same day she met her predecessor, Cindi Henry, who has been re-hired by the commissioners for part-time work with the new fiscal manager to acquaint her with the various functions of the position. “I met her and we’re working out a schedule when we can meet to go over everything,” Blake observed. Henry’s contract calls for the county to pay her $25 an hour for the tutoring sessions which are limited to no more than 400 hours and $10,000.

How about those Pirates? As of this writing they’re at the .500 mark and their pitching ranks with the best in the league. If their hitters pick up steam as they have in a couple of recent games, they should be challenging for the league lead.

Beating the first-place team two out of three games last week showed their intensity even though the games were not high-scoring ones.

“If everybody shows up that we’ve invited, the whole city will be there.” chuckled St. Clairsville Mayor Robert Vincenzo. And he added wistfully, “I hope so.”

He was referring to the dedication ceremony at 6 p.m. Tuesday of the city’s new Central Park amphitheatre, located just south of the new high school athletic complex and the J.B. Martin Recreation Center.

It took a year to complete the band shell that has a 2,500-square-foot deck and it represents major contributions by a large segment of the city population who volunteered their time and energy to finish the construction. Virtually every city government department contributed to completing the project..

The first concert to kick off this year’s “Music on the Lawn Summer Concert Series” will be the band, “Twice as Nice.” City Recreation director Kevin Barr has arranged the appearance of popular musical groups for each weekly performance during the summer..

My garden has barely gotten started and already the #$&*@% deer are picking at it. Even though I haven’t planted as many tomato plants as I have in previous years, there was one especially for my wife. She picked it out herself at the garden center. It was nearly two feet tall and already had blooms on it when I put it in the ground. About 10 days later the deer ate the heart out of it.

Fortunately everything else in the garden was left intact – at least for now.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: amole0420.