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The Life & Times Of The Coffin Man


In a Vermont parking lot on Lake Champlain, I stood astride my touring bicycle waiting for the ferry.

In the corner of the parking lot, a buckboard wagon stood silently in the shade. It featured a ­shortened harness on the front, along with a blue and white­ cotton surrey top.  Pots and pans hung from the sides along with­ a fold-out table and bench.

It sported four heavy rubber-covered large spoked ­wheels.  A series of plastic covered news clips were tacked to ­the sides of the frame.  The most curious aspect of this contraption wasn’t evident until I rode closer.  A gold-trimmed black coffin comprised the main compartment of the wagon.

Off to the side stood a man in his late fifties.  ­Long silver hair flowed from under his cap and he sported a­ goatee.

This guy had traveled through 85 countries on­ five continents.  They called him “The Coffin Man.”

I grabbed my camera for a shot.

“Hold it, sonny,” he said. “Please read my sign before you­ take a picture.”

“What sign?” I asked.

“Right here,” he said, pointing.

I moved closer to the rear of the wagon.  It read, “If you­ are going to take a photograph, I ask that you donate $1.00 and I­ will stand in the picture with you.  This is the way I make a­ living for my travels.”

“Sounds fair enough to me,” I said, handing him a buck.

After the shot, I asked him how long and why he had been­ traveling with his buckboard.

“It’s been twenty years this coming May,” he said, stroking ­his goatee. “It dawned on me when I was forty-five that my life­ was passing me by.  I had the travel bug.  I figured I wanted to see every place on this planet.  That’s when I thought up this idea to make ­money while I traveled.  It’s the cheapest way to go, and I make ­a decent buck along the way.”

“Where’s the horse?” I asked.

“You’re looking at him,” he said, slapping his sinewy ­thighs.

“You pull that wagon?!” I gasped. “How do you get it up the ­mountains?”

“I’ve cut out any extra weight, so it’s pretty light,” he­ said.  “Here, you can pick up a corner to see how light it is. ­You’ll be surprised.”

I laid my bike down and picked up a corner of the wagon.  It ­weighed about 225 pounds, maybe more, but I could see that a­ strong person could pull it up a mountain grade.

“So where do you sleep?” I asked.

“Sonny, it don’t take an Einstein to figure that one out,” ­he said.

I looked up at the wagon.

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

I asked the Coffin Man what was one of his favorite ­adventures in his travels.

“It’s hard to pick out one favorite moment out of hundreds,” ­he said.  “But once, I was caught in a monsoon rain on a muddy­ road in India.  I had given up hope of getting out of there for ­the rest of the day.  As luck would have it, three guys rode by ­on their own modes of transportation.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Elephants,” he said. “They hitched up one of those beasts ­with a rope to my wagon, and then motioned me to hop on board ­with them.  Hell, I didn’t know how to get up on one of those­ things, so they motioned me to the front of the beast. I stood ­there when the elephant got up close to me and rolled out its ­tusk in front of my foot. I stepped into his curled snout, and ­that elephant hoisted me up to his back.  It was the most exciting elevator ride to the second floor of any building I’ve ­ever taken.”

In all my bicycle adventures, the Coffin Man showed me that anyone can live their dreams.

Read more posts by Frosty Wooldridge here.  Frosty is a blogger for JenningsWire.


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