By Laura Keil
When Ed Burstrom came home from the hospital on New Year’s Day, having pulled through after a serious health scare, he knew he wouldn’t be riding up into the mountains on his beloved horse any time soon.
He also knew he didn’t want to live his life sitting in front of the TV. A small idea crept into his mind and took hold – what if he tried to build a stagecoach from the ground up, which he could then use to spend time with his horses? Especially Zahara, the horse with which he’d spent many weeks exploring the backcountry, far from the demands of the everyday.
Throughout the winter, he worked on his plan, despite ongoing health issues.
“Every 15 minutes, I’d have to stop and rest,” he said.
The slow pace allowed him time to consider how to strip down the old rusted chassis. Pieces had to be replaced, things welded, parts added. He improvised with materials and vintage. To the wagon chassis he added Model A tires and mountain bike shocks, bonding old and new.
When asked about the style, he says it’s “accidental.” But his precise wooden carvings of horses on the pine panels show the care invested. He milled the pine himself, and the cedar is also local. Each piece had to be cut individually.
“The shape of the entire buggy, each board has a twist to it, so you couldn’t just put a bunch of boards together, you had to cut it exactly right.”
In his yard on a hot July day, Burstrom and his wife work together to yoke the horses, placing the collars around the horses’ heads. It is the stagecoach’s maiden voyage, and Ed isn’t sure how it will go. If the horses get spooked, it could spell disaster for his carefully crafted coach.
Zahara is still not used to being a team horse. The two horses nip at each other as they await Ed’s instructions from the driver’s seat.
As he prepares the coach, Burstrom speaks to them softly in an even tone. He’s spent his whole life around horses, his dad being a park warden for many years in Jasper and Mt. Robson Parks.
“There’s a photo of my brother in a nose bag hanging off a saddle horse,” Burstrom says, guessing his brother might have been three months old. “That’s when we started riding horses.”
But driving a carriage is new for him, and new for his riding horse. That said, you wouldn’t know by watching that he hasn’t done this a hundred times before. The horses slowly draw the carriage forward as Burstrom coaxes them to a slow walk.
One day, he’d like to offer carriage rides for tourists or do special events. Whatever he can do to stay close to his horses.
“I can’t imagine my life without these guys, I just can’t. However much of my life is left, I want them in it.”