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There's a lack of connection between the many well known things named Conestoga and the town itself. It seemed like the place should have been bigger, because we had something that other small towns that considered themselves our rivals did not. There was no Marticville Creek, no Letort Wagon, and not (yet) even a Creswell Landfill. We felt proud of our town, but that pride was for things from the past. Growing up in Conestoga meant growing up in a place lost in the past.

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Illustration by Mark D. Ruffner, 1973
I never saw one of these in Conestoga, but my dad's business partner, Bob Good, kept one in a barn on his farm in Rohrerstown where they worked. Mr. Good would drive it in parades around the county. The mules he kept to pull it were fun to visit on Sundays when I was a kid.


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photo of Conestoga Rifleworks percussion plains rifle by collectorsfirearms.com
Anytime the boys get together to talk about firearms there will be arguments. Some will say it's a Pennsylvania rifle. Some will say it's a Kentucky rifle. This one has Conestoga Rifleworks stamped into the the barrel and cast into the lock. We called them Conestoga Rifles where I'm from. My neighbor Bobby Fulton needed to drive out of state to buy the powder to shoot his.


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If you ever wondered why these are sometimes called stogies, here's a clue- they grew a lot of tobacco and rolled a lot of cigars around Conestoga. Of course, some people say that there's no connection.


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The Conestoga River was still just a creek when I was living nearby. Mighty twisty. It had been dammed and channeled and turned into a commercial waterway way back, run by the Conestoga Navigation Company, but that project was eventually abandoned as unprofitable. The name was applied to the Conestoga Traction Company when trollys ran throughout the county, then changed to the Conestoga Transportation Company when busses came along. Kinda makes sense, all about moving people and stuff, like the wagons did.

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All of this harks back to the early inhabitants of the region, who were known as Conestoga indians. The name is all that's left of them, and it's probably not what they called themselves anyway. Somehow they got stuck with it.


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(this does not end well)
The natives were massacred, the wagon-building and rifle-making and iron-casting and powder-making and cigar-rolling trades died off or moved on, but the brand survived. Conestoga, meaning People of the Tent-Pole?

Conestoga as a town was growing, even thriving, in the 1950's and 60's. But it never again had anything attached to it as famous as these brands. Unless you count the first successful private space launch- Conestoga I in 1982.

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192 miles up! Y'all remember that, right? See the little covered wagon on the side there?


Conestoga house