WBIR's Ken Schwall shares the story of his road trip to Michigan to save a piece of East Tennessee family history.
The Alex Cline wagon has been a Turner family heirloom since the 1960’s.
It had made a migration to Monroe, Michigan in the back of a pickup truck with its owner, A.G. Turner, my father-in-law.
Alex Cline was a skilled woodworker and wagon maker. He and his brother Wade, who was a blacksmith, opened a shop in 1917 to build farm wagons and other farm implements in the small community of Dogwood.
The Cline shop remained in business until 1957. An aging wooden sign marks its location today.
The focus of this story is not the shop but, instead, one of the last farm wagons Alex Cline ever built.
A.G. Turner is my wife Corina’s father, my father-in-law, and Alex Cline’s nephew by marriage.
Alex Cline died in 1943 and likely built the wagon a year or so before his death. Alex’s widow sold it to her brother in-law who was A.G.’s father. A.G. later bought the wagon from his mother.
"I think I paid my mother $250 for it," he said.
Like so many people in the area, A.G. left Claiborne County to find work in Michigan. He went back and forth a few times. On his final trip to Michigan, he took the Alex Cline wagon with him.
For more than 50 years it remained in A.G.’s garage, a prized family possession. Privately, family members wanted to donate it to the Museum of Appalachia.
Health matters made it necessary for A.G. to sell his home and come live with Corina and me back here in Tennessee.
He sold the contents of his garage, including Alex Cline’s wagon, to an auction company.
And just like that, we thought it was gone and Alex Cline’s wagon would not return to the hills of Tennessee. But just a few months later, the wagon came back to the auction house to be sold. This time the Turner clan was ready.
Winning the auction was just first step. With family funds spent on just getting the wagon, transporting it to Tennessee became a family adventure in itself.
“So finally it’s back in the family. Now comes the fun part; trying to get it from Michigan back home to Tennessee," said Kevin Turner, the family bidder at the auction.
With family funds stretched to the max, we were looking for help.
Instead of help what we ended up with was the retired Heartland Series crew of Steve Dean and Doug Mills. Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?
There was also real help.
Kate Campbell volunteered her grandfather’s diesel pickup when the trailer James LeBorde let us use was not a good fit to my car.
After completing the 10-hour trip through Kentucky and Ohio into southern Michigan, we drove the last bit to the auction house.
There the wagon set behind a wire-link fence protected by a security dog, which frankly didn’t seem all that keen on keeping anyone out.
The auctioneer, Larry Hamblin, himself from Claiborne County, understands why a simple farm wagon can mean more than the sum of its parts.
“It’s just like it should be a part of Tennessee. Kinda like me one of these days I’m going back home," Hamblin said.
After loading the wagon on to the trailer, we took it on a final tour of the area on the way back to the hotel.
Early next morning, we were on our way, sort of. At every stop people were out taking pictures or wanting to talk about the wagon. Apparently we had an “Elvis” of a farm wagon on our borrowed trailer.
Across the mid-section of American we rolled, out of the fertile farmland of Michigan, passing through the urban centers of Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio, and into the blue grass country of Kentucky.
Finally, the rolling landscape gave way to steeper and steeper hills, and then back to the green mountains of Tennessee, the state of Alex Cline, its builder.
And at last, the wagon rolled on to the grounds of its new home, the Museum of Appalachia.