Lovelock artist Don Bridges with a steel oxen he designed for his California Trail monument.
Lovelock artist Don Bridges with a steel oxen he designed for his California Trail monument.
A famous part of Pershing County history is about to be memorialized by a Lovelock artist. The steel sculpture will symbolize the pioneers who rested at an oasis known in the 1840’s as the Big Meadows. Here, the settlers found the grass and water their animals needed before crossing the dreaded Forty Mile Desert.

According to news reports at the time, hundreds of people and thousands of animals lost their lives in the Forty Mile Desert. Modern travelers can cross the desert in less than an hour but it could take days for the emigrant’s wagons pulled by slow-moving oxen to cross the desolate area south of Lovelock.

Three steel oxen, a wagon and signage are taking shape in Don Bridges’ outdoor metal fabrication workshop. The sculpture is intended to symbolize the grit and determination of the emigrants as they followed the California Trail thousands of miles across the country including the Lovelock Valley.

The new sculpture should be visible by June at the 105 exit and the south entrance to Lovelock. The location will make it visible to freeway drivers and railroad passengers. The project has been funded by a $30,000 federal grant for history projects according to Bridges’ daughter Heidi Lusby-Angvick.

The grant had been matched with $30,000 worth of state and local contributions including land, site preparation and labor. Rye Patch Gold covered the cost of a steel interpretative sign for the sculpture.

All that’s needed now is a permit from the Nevada Department of Transportation, Lusby-Angvick said.

“The metal is cut, it’s being welded together and we’ve got the mapping done of where we are going to put it in the island,” she said last week. “That information has been submitted to NDOT for approval so we can move forward with our art work on that plot of federal highway land.”

The project resulted from a “confluence” of ideas involving county officials, Lusby-Angvick, her father and Bureau of Land Management Winnemucca District Archaeologist Peggy McGuckian. After convincing NDOT officials to clean up the freeway corridor, county officials were looking for new installations to attract visitors. Her father came up with the California Trail sculpture design and McGuckian said a federal grant could be available for such a history project, Lusby-Angvick said.

The sculpture will augment a BLM display on the California Trail outside the nearby Marzen House Museum in south Lovelock. The “Marzen House Museum California Trail Outdoor Exhibit” will include interpretative panels and a decorative trail between the installations, Lusby-Angvick said.

The sculpture could be part of a regional tour to include the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko.

“Peggy was positive about this project because there’s nothing like it on the freeway in this direction,” Lusby-Angvick said. “It reinforces this is the way the trail went and this is the Big Meadows where people rested before crossing the Forty Mile Desert. It’s funny how all the pieces just fell into place.”

Lusby-Angvick will invite dignitaries to the sculpture dedication ceremony that could happen in June.

“I’d love to invite everybody and this is the city’s 100 year anniversary celebration,” she said. “We’re shooting for June but I don’t know how this NDOT permitting process is going to go. NDOT cleaned up that site and it was a great start.”

The silhouettes of the oxen and wagon will be outfitted with water barrels, hand tools, iron pots and other items. The sculpture will be about 60 feet long and surrounded by purple-flowering Russian sage.

“The people driving down the freeway will see it and the railroad passengers will see it,” he said. “It will look three dimensional hopefully.”

Bridges said his costs and some of his time will be covered but there is no profit being made in the history project. The sculpture will be permanently mounted on steel pipes he’ll sink into the ground.

“It’s not a money-making thing, it’s more of a city pride thing,” Bridges said. “You drive the whole highway 80 from New York to San Francisco and you don’t realize that this is the trail. We’re big into following the 1849 trail out there in the desert.”