Hoeven honors Kleinknechts for tourism

Sunday evening participants and staff sat on the grounds of Fort Seward and listened to Ramrod Delno Kleinknecht spell out the rules of the road for the 41st Fort Seward Wagon Train this year headed to Wimbledon.

Phyllis and Delno Kleinknecht look over the certificate from Gov. John Hoeven recognizing their contribution to tourism in the 40 years of their involvement with the Fort Seward Wagon Train. State Sen. Terry Wanzek, left, presented the award on the governor's behalf. Toni Pirkl The Sun

Sunday evening participants and staff sat on the grounds of Fort Seward and listened to Ramrod Delno Kleinknecht spell out the rules of the road for the 41st Fort Seward Wagon Train this year headed to Wimbledon.

The 135 adults and children, many already in period dress for the re-enactment of a pioneer trip across the prairie, included a drop-in for the evening. State Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-District 29, was there to give Delno and Phyllis Kleinknecht a certificate of recognition by Gov. John Hoeven for their 40 years of involvement with the Wagon Train.

"The governor recognized Delno and Phyllis for their contribution to North Dakota tourism and their service to the state," Wanzek said after presenting the couple with the award. "When you mention the Wagon Train, you immediately think of Delno and Phyllis, who have been instrumental in making this happen. They well deserve this recognition."

It's been a labor of love, according to Phyllis, ever since the couple first encountered the Wagon Train in 1969.

"Delno's mother mentioned the Wagon Train and asked if we wanted to go along," Phyllis said.


Delno was hooked immediately, she said, and "he bought a team to go on the ride the next year."

Within a few years, Delno was on the Wagon Train Board of Directors and the couple were a permanent part of the annual adventure. Delno became the train's ramrod and Phyllis its registrar in 1977.

"I was the register for 25 years and then I passed it on in 2002," she said.

Delno remains the ramrod, whose job it is to make sure people stay safe and healthy throughout the trek. This year it's 63 miles that participants can walk, ride in a wagon or on a horse, if they've brought one. The weeklong experience includes wearing period dress, camping out and cooking over an open fire. Pioneer crafts and music in the evening are also part of the experience.

Although in period dress, Phyllis isn't riding in a covered wagon this year. She's riding in a modern vehicle in the support convoy, which brings up the rear of the Wagon Train. The support group includes ambulance personnel. Bjorn Ringdahl, owner of Jamestown Ambulance Service, explained during the ramrod's briefing, the possible problems that could occur. He emphasized the importance of seeking medical aid even if the problem seems minor.

Phyllis doesn't miss the lack of conveniences and modern comforts on the trail ride. For her, the experience is all about the people. She's lost count of the number of people who have participated, as well as the states and countries they are from. She does remember that the youngest to make the trip was 9 months old and the oldest was about 85. Both managed just fine, she said.

"We've met so many wonderful people," she said. "By the time the trip ends everyone has become a family. They stay in touch with each other and get together when they can."

As they were growing up, the Kleinknechts' three children always made the trip. Phyllis said that once they turned 18, however, they could decide for themselves. There was a year Phyllis stayed home with the baby, but Becky Kleinknecht Cutler went with her dad. It was her first trip. She was 3 years old and, her mother said, Becky rode the whole way on the horse, Queenie. Cutler doesn't remember the trip, but she said she wouldn't miss the experience. She and her family continue the Kleinknecht tradition.


"For us, it's been a wonderful experience and a good family experience," Phyllis said.

She praises the staff, many of whom started out as participants and come back year after year to help make it a memorable experience for first-timers.

"They make it look easy. They're phenomenal and such an asset," she said. "They're the reason we have such a great reputation."

As long as they're able, Phyllis said, they'll continue to be a part of the Fort Seward Wagon Train. Each year it's a new experience for them, even after 40 of them.

"Each Wagon Train has its own personality," she said.

Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at

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