Two years ago thieves took the wheels off two wagons at the Adeline Hornbek Homestead at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. In the process they also detracted from the experiences of the more than 60,000 visitors to the monument each year.
“People used to use the wagons as the backdrop for family photos when they visited the homestead,” said Chief Park Ranger Rick Wilson. “Now, with their wheels missing, they're not that attractive anymore.”
Thieves drove in behind the homestead sometime during the night of June 10-11, 2010. “They removed six of the eight wheels,” Wilson said. “They busted up the other two wheels so they left them behind, just letting the wagon beds drop and doing more damage.”
He thinks the perpetrators were thieves and not vandals because old wagon wheels are worth between $500 and $700 per wheel on the collector's market.
“It was incredibly selfish of them to take the wheels for temporary gain,” he said.
Because the wheels were federal property, stealing them is a federal crime. After the thefts, the Teller County Sheriff's Office and the park service followed several leads but nothing came of them and the Friends of the Florissant Fossil Beds put up a $1,000 reward for the apprehension of the perpetrators and/or the return of the wheels.
“That offer still stands,” said Friends President Eric Bailey. “We'd like to bring someone to justice but at this point we'd settle for getting the wheels back. … The wagons look so sad sitting out there on stumps instead of wheels.”
Because it doesn't look like the wheels will be coming back, Bailey and the Friends have begun raising funds to buy new wheels.
Wilson said because the thieves also took the hubs, it will cost about $1,000 per wheel for a wheelwright to recreate them and fit them to the wagon spindles. Wheelwrights are likely to be either from Texas or Amish country in the Midwest.
Bailey said his organization has already raised about $3,000 and when funds get closer to the $4,000 needed for the first four wheels Wilson will put in an order. It will probably take a month or two for each order.
“We're a small park with a small budget,” Wilson said. “We can't spend an extra $8,000 without affecting visitor services.”
The wagons weren't original to the homestead but they are original to the 1870s and the area. Wilson said they were bought in 1976. One was a coal and hay wagon from Cripple Creek but he is not sure exactly where the other one came from.
“The wagons were a great attraction,” he said. “They emphasized what conditions were like here in the 1870s. Visitors could imagine taking those wagons over rough local roads to Florissant or Woodland Park to get supplies and contrast that with the cars that brought them here.”
Bailey said he has taken on fundraising for new wheels as a personal mission. Friends' members are brainstorming fundraising ideas but in the meantime, tax-deductible donations can be dropped off for deposit in the Friends' account at Park State Bank & Trust in Woodland Park or checks can be sent to Friends of the Florissant Fossil Beds, PO Box 851, Florissant, CO 80816. For information, call Bailey at 719-689-3938 or Wilson at 719-748-3253.
A wrong address was given in the Oct. 10 Pikes Peak Courier View article about the Friends of the Florissant Fossil Beds fundraiser to buy new wagon wheels to replace those stolen in 2010 from the wagons at the Adeline Hornbek Homestead on the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Checks or money orders made out to Friends of the Florissant Fossil Beds should be sent to Friends of the Florissant Fossil Beds, be P.O. Box 851, Florissant, Colorado 80816. Please write “Hornbek Wheels” on the memo line.
“We have no overhead, we're all volunteers,” Bailey said. “Every nickel we raise will be used to replace the wheels.”