I still don’t know what Nels’ outfit looked like, but most freighters who ran those routes did so with gigantic wagons, constructed with 14-foot-tall sides to haul as much cargo as possible. Often there might be three or more of these creaking monstrosities hooked together and pulled by ten horses or five to seven yoke of oxen. The wheels could be seven feet tall and four inches wide. They only made about 15 miles a day in rugged country, or maybe 25 miles on flatlands.
For a time in the history of Idaho Territory just about everyone who could put together some teams was a freighter. It was a lucrative business, far more certain than prospecting for gold or silver. When there were no railroads to carry goods, freight wagons brought everything to communities and mining camps. Even after they laid rails across southern Idaho, freight wagons still lumbered over the dirt roads to outlying communities. During the winter, pack trains were often the only way into mining districts.
Another thing I likely had wrong about Nels’ operation was where he sat while driving his teams. He probably rarely sat at all. Many of the big wagons had no seat. It wasn’t necessary because the teamster walked alongside the teams the whole way. That explains another minor mystery for me. Nels often walked into Shelley from his homestead on the Blackfoot River. He never had a shortage of horses, but he often chose to walk. It was nothing compared to walking between Corrine and the mines.
If you want to see what freight wagons looked like, watch for news about Wagon Days, held each year on Labor Day Weekend in Ketchum. They typically parade six enormous ore wagons through town.