Montana man in seventh year on the road as a horselogger

RICHMOND – “Lee the Horselogger” will be making his way to Steubenville today, but it won’t be by car, truck or motorcycle.

He will be coming with his “family” – Dink, Fey, Alice, Fred and the newly retired “Tom the Wonder Horse.”

The five registered Suffolk Punches, an English breed of draught horse that’s one “tough, tough, tough horse,” pull Lee Crafton’s makeshift Conestoga wagon, his “mobile home,” from one logging job to the next.

“There’s only 1,200 of them in the world,” Lee said of his horses, who were resting Thursday afternoon in the parking lot behind the former Richmond Elementary School. They arrived in Richmond on Wednesday night. Their previous stop was Amsterdam.

It has been a long, long journey for the traveling horselogger and his equine companions.

On Aug. 9, it will be seven years since he left his home in Montana.

“We’ve been from Montana to Boston to Denver to Seattle to Portland to Denver to Oklahoma City to here during the last seven years,” Lee said.

“We’re on our way to Waynesburg, Pa., for a logging job. We’re coming from Chandlerville, Ill.,” Lee said.

The Pennsylvania destination is about 80 miles. He anticipates arriving in six or seven days.

“Once I’m there, I’ll work for however long the job takes. Then we’ll go to Summerville, Va. I’ve got this year booked up,” Lee said.

The 52-year-old describes himself as “the” traveling horselogger.

“I am the only one who travels by his horses, who doesn’t use a truck to transport them from jobs. I live on the jobsite. I travel year-round. We’ve been out at 36 below zero, 117 above. It’s just another day for us,” he said, explaining that he uses his horses instead of machinery.

The information comes to light during an impromptu interview, something Lee is accustomed to, he assures, with attention from the likes of FOX, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, National Public Radio, Jay Leno, etc., in addition to local press.

Everyone in the media seems to be interested in having a crack at telling his story, intrigued by such an old-time sight and concept in a modern-day setting.

“I left Aug. 9, 2006, from East Glacier, Mont., with 40 bucks to my name, undergoing cancer treatment and no good tires on my wagon, and we’ve made it here during the last seven years,” Lee said, shrugging in his surroundings.

“I was a horse logger by trade. My family sold the ranch up in Montana. The economy crashed in Montana. I realized I had to go elsewhere to log, plus I wanted to see my childhood sweetheart in the Bronx,” he said.

“I used to log in Montana. Half of my gross would go to pay for transportation and equipment, and by the time I was done, I was making sub-minimum wage for working the most dangerous occupation in the United States,” he said.

“Well, I did the math and figured it all out. I like driving the horses, and I know how to drive horses and I know how to keep them sound, and I know how to go cross country. Everything else will work out. It does. You just have to have the faith that things will work out.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of allowing it to happen.”

He figures he’s been asked a million times where is he going, where is he coming from and why is he doing this. There’s a bit of an explanation on his Facebook page – Lee the Horselogger.

He takes main routes whenever possible as sight lines are “very critical” and so is having room for traffic to go around him.

“I’ve run across Interstate 80 in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and it’s legal out there to be on the interstates, and it’s a lot safer because I’m over on the edge, out of everybody’s way,” he said.

He anticipates the reporter’s question about his wagon.

“Do not call it a contraption,” he warns playfully.

“That’s my home,” he said of the product of his own handiwork. It’s the ninth one he’s had. “I built that one three years ago, and it’s getting ready to be replaced,” he said.

Does it have all the conveniences of home?

“No, no conveniences,” he said. “I have two conveniences. I have a wood stove to stay warm in the winter, and I have a mattress. That’s my conveniences. Everything else is for the horses. There’s no room for it. I’m traveling year-round. There’s no car. No truck. No bank account,” he said.

He hasn’t had a car in 12 years.

A cell phone is his modern luxury/necessity.

Road conditions determine the length of travel in a day – the hills, the temperature, that sort of thing.

“I try to do a hundred (miles) a week. Right now I’ll be happy if I get 60. It’s just that hard on them,” he said, noting compensation must be considered, for instance, when there’s high humidity as there has been.

“And I’ve retired my main horse there. Tom the Wonder Horse could pull the equivalent of two horses, but he’s finally retired, so now I’ve just got the four of them,” he said.

All along the journey, all through the nearly 84 months of traveling, a remarkable thing keeps happening, according to Lee.

“Everything works out. People help. If you’re willing to do something, people will help you, because I have a lot of people on this trip. It’s not just me. But they’re here in spirit because they’d love to be able to do this, but they don’t have the guts to get out here and do all the work that it takes, and it is a tremendous amount of work,” Lee said.

“On a traveling day it’s 16 hours. Even on my day off, it’s four hours, and you get no time off. Ever,” he said.

“It’s hard traveling. People help,” Lee said.

He wasn’t in Richmond long, for example, before hospitality was demonstrated.

Bales of hay appeared.

“I have no idea who did that,” he said.

“There’s a certain amount of money that comes in to keep this thing running, and I don’t ask people for donations. If they want to help, I appreciate it. The only thing I ask people for is if they can tell me someplace to park and if I can get some water somewhere. Everything else shows up, and that’s a hard thing for people to understand, but it just does,” he said.

It’s something he doesn’t try to explain.

Lee insists he has no message, no agenda connected to what he’s doing.

“I don’t explain it. That’s one of the things you just allow it to be as it is. We have a society that talks things to death, classifies and sometimes, you just have to allow things, and be surprised as it happens because it still amazes me seven years later,” he said.

So you’re just here, the reporter summarizes.

“That’s what life is. That’s what life is for all us, and we’re not smart enough to figure that out. Once you figure that out, then you can start figuring out all the other things,” Lee said.

His plans were to leave Richmond this morning and head to Steubenville, arriving probably this evening. A Jefferson County sheriff’s department escort across the Ohio River was anticipated.