Ben the Wagon Boy
Parts of Chapter 1 and all of Chapter 2 from Ben the Wagon Boy
All quoted material is in italics.
by Howard R. Driggs copyright 1944
Little Ben had a healthy, happy childhood in his Ohio home. Of course he could remember almost nothing about it; for when he was about five years old he was taken by his parents to another home by the Mississippi River. Nor did he learn, until he was older, why they had given up their home where he was born in 1837, and made the long journey to a new one.
It had all come about, as his parents [Shadrach Ford Driggs and Eliza Elizabeth White] told their questioning son, because some Mormon missionaries had come into the Ohio village, and converted a number of the people there to the gospel. Ben’s father and mother, his four grandparents, with some of his uncles and aunts and their neighbors, had been baptized into the new church. Others had made fun of them, and had caused trouble for them because they had accepted what they believed was the truth; so they decided to gather with other folks of their faith in the city of Nauvoo, in western Illinois.
Little Ben did recall how his mother cried when she left some of the friends who had come with her from Vermont. He remembered, too, the big covered wagon his father, with the good help of Mr. Woodbury, had made. He was all excitement when they hitched “Mack,” their black horse, and his brown mate to one of these “homes on wheels,” then drove away with their relatives and friends along the road that led towards the west. Nor did he ever forget Bones, their dog, who barked for joy because he was being taken along with his little master. . . . (pp. 2-3)
Three weeks . . .passed--days of travel, nights of camping out under the stars--and then the journey ended. As they neared the “Father of Waters,” the prairies of Illinois broke into rolling, wooded hills. Among these the little caravan wended its way until finally . . .they glimpsed the Mississippi [River] and then Nauvoo, the Beautiful . . .
How his parents and grandparents solved the vexing problem of getting settled, he hardly knew; but they were not long in finding or building homes in Upper Nauvoo.
His father bought a roomy house on a large lot--just the place for a lively boy to romp about. Across the road was a large wagon-shop, of which this skilled workman was soon made foreman. Not many months had passed before another baby boy came to give added cheer to this new home. Ben was, of course, delighted with Paul, as his little brother was named. . . .(pp. 4-5)
One of the places that claimed Benjamin Woodbury Driggs’ interest
. . .was the big wagon shop across the road from his home. It was such a busy spot, with the song of saws, planes, hammers and other tools making music all day long.
“Don’t get too close to these workmen,” his father would keep warning the interested boy; “and leave the sharp tools alone.”
“But I want to make me a wagon, Daddy. Why can’t I do it?”
This pleading usually resulted in Ben’s getting some boards, with a few tools, and a place out of the way where he could hammer to his heart’s content.
Then came a joyous day. His father promised to make him a little wagon--exactly like the big ones--for his birthday. It would have to be done after regular work hours, perhaps in the evening, when all was quiet at the shop. And Ben must promise not to bother the workers or tease his father while it was being made.
He was quick to promise. Away he went in high glee to tell his mother.
“Just think, a really true wagon like the big ones--all my own,” he exclaimed. “I can take baby brother for rides, Mother, and I can bring things for you from the store. Won’t that be fine?”
The mother agreed it would. In her heart she was about as happy as her little son.
It was nearly a month before the Maytime birthday would come. Ben could hardly wait. When his father really did begin to create the wagon, it helped. Day after day, as he could find time, the master workman put his skill into the creation. As it began to develop, he grew in interest in what he was making to gladden the heart of his boy. A day before the birthday the little wagon was finished--with a coat of paint to make it a thing of beauty.
On the morning Ben was seven years old, he woke to find his dream come true. There in the living room was his wagon. Tears were in the mother’s and the father’s eyes as the happy son gave them both a loving squeeze. Then out he went to run up and down the street and show his little friends the rare gift.
True to his promise, Ben did take his baby brother for many a ride. He also ran errands for his mother, most willingly, whenever she asked him to go. Ben and his dog, Bones, became a familiar sight around the streets of Nauvoo.
The boy, with his father’s help, soon rigged up a little harness, and trained the clever little animal to pull the wagon and the young master, but only around the streets near home. Knowing that Bones was fond of chasing cats, the father was afraid there might be a mad chase after one some day, with a broken wagon and an injured boy as the result.
One of the favorite errands Ben liked to do for his mother was to go down Mullholland Street through the business part of town, and on past the lot where the great temple was being built, to Parley P. Pratt’s store. Shops along the way were full of interest. It was a stirring sight also to see the workmen shaping and placing the stones to make the stately building rise. Besides, at the Pratt store, there were some good things to buy. Ben always remembered the sweet molasses shipped up the Mississippi from New Orleans. It wasn’t quite so good as maple syrup, but it did make buckwheat cakes taste almost as good. Frequently he would bring a jug of this molasses home to mother.
Her caution to him was, “Now, don’t let the grass grow under your feet; and don’t try to hitch Bones on your wagon. He would likely run away and spill the molasses over everything.”
The thought of losing the sweets was enough to bring obedience about the dog. Ben did not always heed the advice to hurry home, however, and one day this brought real sorrow into his young life.
He paused near the temple lot to watch a workman carving a stone. The chip, chip,chip of the chisel, driven deftly into the hard substance, was so interesting a process that Ben forgot how time was passing. Nor did he notice that two of the other workmen had also paused to look intently at his little wagon.
What brought the boy back to himself was hearing one of these man say, “That wagon would be a mighty handy thing to haul our tools about the yard.”
Then to the startled lad he said, “Sonny, how would you like to let us have your wagon to help build the temple?”
“Oh, no,no, I couldn’t do that,” replied Ben.
“Isn’t your father the boss of the big wagon shop?” the man questioned.
“Well, we’ll talk to him about it.”
Frightened at the thought of losing his precious wagon,Ben sped for home with Bones at his heels. There, bursting into tears, he exclaimed, “Mother, you won’t let them take it away, will you?”
“What are you talking about, boy?” his mother asked.
“Some men at the temple asked me for my wagon to haul their tools; and when I said I couldn’t give it to them, they said, ‘we’ll see your father.’
“Perhaps they were just joking, Ben. Come, you’re late for dinner. Now eat something and you’ll feel better.”
But the boy could hardly eat anything. Finally his father came in and before his son could tell what happened, the two men appeared at the door.
In the kitchen with his mother, Ben heard one of them say, “It would be a great help, brother, to keep some of our best tools together and to take them from place to place.”
“Well, let me talk it over with the boy,” replied the father. “He is mighty proud of the little thing; but perhaps he will give his consent, if he sees things as we do.”
That night Ben and his father and mother had a good heart-to-heart talk.
“You see, son, everybody is giving something to help build the temple,” said his father. “I know just how you feel about it and I am not going to force you to part with your wagon. My heart is in it, and your mother’s, too. But just think about it. Ask your Heavenly Father tonight when you say your prayers to help you decide what to do. It is the house of the Lord that is being built. Perhaps even a little boy like you can help.”
Ben’s mother had only this to say, “I know you will do what is right.”
As she took him to his bed, she kissed his tear-stained face, patted his rumpled head,and walked away to let him say his prayer alone.
Next morning a little boy, drawing his wagon and followed by his faithful dog, made his way down Mullholland Street and over to the temple lot. Walking up to the man who seemed to be foreman, he said simply, “I’ve brought you my wagon to help the men build the temple.”
Looking into Ben’s frank face, the kindly man replied with feeling, “God bless you, boy. I know what this means to you. No one has made a greater sacrifice to help build the Nauvoo Temple. Your gift will help. God bless you.” He gripped the boy’s shoulder gently.
Ben bravely held back his tears, as he walked home with Bones by his side. (pp. 9-14)