Covered wagons, now for rent, allow visitors to Baldwin City to relive history in comfort

photo by: Elvyn Jones/Journal-World

Two covered wagons that resemble those that once traveled the Santa Fe Trail are now available for overnight rental at The Lodge in Baldwin City. The wagons are parked in the motel's recreational vehicle parking lot, which is about three blocks south of where the Santa Fe Trail crossed through the frontier settlement of Palmyra.

Baldwin City visitors now have the opportunity to experience the community’s frontier history on the Santa Fe Trail, albeit in a much more comfortable fashion.

Parked in the recreation vehicle lot of Baldwin City’s The Lodge motel are two covered wagons that are available for overnight rentals. The wagons are replicas of those that traveled the Santa Fe Trail, which passed through Palmyra, the frontier settlement that gave rise to Baldwin City, about three blocks north of the motel. At 30 by 10 feet, the wagons are bigger than those that moved goods and pioneers along the Western trails of the 1800s, and they contain some cozy amenities.

photo by: Contributed

The comfortable interiors of the covered wagons at The Lodge set them apart from the historical wagons that traveled the nearby Santa Fe Trail. One of the two wagons at the motel has a king-size bed, while the other has a queen-size bed and bunk bed.

“They are outfitted very much like an RV except that they don’t have a kitchen,” said Casey Simoneau, the mayor of Baldwin City. “They do have a microwave. They each have electricity, a bathroom, comfortable modern beds and heating and air conditioning. When you step in them, you are surrounded by the beautiful wood used to build them.”

A layer of insulation between an inner and outer canvas top helps keep the interiors comfortable, Simoneau said.

Simoneau owns one of the wagons, while Dennis Steinman, of Lecompton, owns the other. Steinman and his wife, Donna, started building the replica wagons four years ago in Lecompton before moving their PlainsCraft Covered Wagons business to Topeka.

“We’ve built about 100,” Steinman said of the company that now employs 13 people. “We’ve sold them to customers all over the country from California to Tennessee. We even have one in Canada.”

Simoneau met Steinman when Steinman visited Baldwin City in search of a location to build the wagons. Although Baldwin City didn’t have a suitable site, it did have an asset that appealed to Steinman.

Simoneau and Steinman agreed that with its history on the Santa Fe Trail, Baldwin City would be a great place to locate wagons for overnight rentals.

To take full advantage of Baldwin City’s history on the trail, Simoneau and Steinman first looked at placing their wagons near the site where wagon ruts in the prairie can still be seen about 3 miles east of Baldwin City adjacent to the Black Jack Battlefield, Simoneau said. However, they agreed that the historic site’s rural setting made it an impractical location for the rental wagons.

“There’s no water or sewer hookups there,” he said. “We decided it made more sense to place them at The Lodge. They are just south of where the trail passed through Palmyra. It’s very likely travelers on the trail camped in that very spot.”

Another advantage of the motel site is that Simoneau and Steinman can turn over the wagon’s rental management to The Lodge owner Peach Madl. She, in turn, said she was pleased to be involved because the wagons were a good fit for her interests and business.

“I love the history of Baldwin, and I love tourism,” she said. “I wouldn’t have done this if the wagons weren’t quality.”

The wagons occupy two of the 10 RV parking spots at The Lodge, Madl said. She has seen a good response since she first listed them for rent last week at and She has already had a honeymooning couple stay in one of the wagons. Overnight rates vary by date but start at $175 a night, she said.

Steinman said most of the PlainsCraft wagons were sold for overnight rentals at RV parks or resorts, although customers have included a few individuals, Steinman said. They are built to customer specifications and have varied from basic wagons to those cushy models appealing to the fast-growing glamour camping, or “glamping,” market, he said.

The Lodge, 502 Ames St., is having an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday for those wishing to view the wagons, Madl said.


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