The Wagon Pulled Us Together
December 1994

“The Wagon Pulled Us Together,” Ensign, Dec. 1994, 48–49

The Wagon Pulled Us Together

After the funeral of Orson P. Callister, his eight surviving children sat surrounded by mementoes in their parents’ living room. The family had buried their mother, Annie Francella, a few years earlier.

Those items given to the parents by a particular child had been returned. However, a few special items remained, including a little cast-iron wagon that was old and battered.

The wagon dated back to 1921, which had been a tough year for the Callister family. They had little money for food and clothing, and they were barely able to hold onto their farm. Christmas morning dawned crisp and cold that year, but the children did not anticipate any gifts. When they meandered into the living room, however, they were astonished to see several presents under the tree. There was an apple for each family member, and a small gift for each of the two girls. The six boys all received one gift to share: the little cast-iron wagon. With a removable green wagon box that rested on a red chassis, the toy was an exact replica of the large McCormick-Deering wagons used by farmers early in the century. It was drawn by two little iron horses.

The brothers were thrilled with the beautiful wagon, but they wondered how six independent boys could share one toy.

For the first few days, the boy who finished his chores first would claim the wagon, and the next two would each play with one of the horses. Before long, however, the toy became a magnet that drew all six brothers together. They built dirt roads, leveled small fields and lined them with fences of stick and string. They erected miniature shingle barns and potato cellars. A real crop of grass was planted and irrigated with small ditches. Loading the wagon high with sticks, seeds, or grass, the brothers pulled it back and forth hour after hour, day after day.

As the years passed, however, the older boys played with the wagon less frequently. Soon Orson was off to college, then Hyrum and Eldon. Rulon found his way into the military, and Marion went to law school. After Lovell, the youngest, left home, the little wagon became the toy of a new generation: the Callister grandchildren seemed attracted to it by some magic. Most of the wagon’s green and red paint was chipped off by then. No one knew what had become of the two iron horses.

It had not been difficult to divide the other possessions. Even ownership of the house itself was easily resolved when the house was given to Orson and Edna in appreciation for Edna’s many months of caring for Grandma and Grandpa during their illnesses. But how could a toy all six brothers had owned and shared be given to only one? The wagon was a symbol of a family that had pulled together in times of poverty and heartache. It was an unselfish gift from wonderful parents who sacrificed much so their sons and daughters could experience educations, missions, and other opportunities.

Finally, Eldon broke the silence and suggested that the brothers draw straws for the wagon. The fourth son, Rulon, came up with the shortest straw. Reluctantly, he stepped forward and picked up the little wagon with his large, calloused hands. He returned to his chair but held the wagon fitfully as the evening wore on, recalling how one brother had loved the wagon more than anyone else loved it. It was Eldon who had inspired the building of miniature farms and who had played with the wagon with greatest delight as a child.

It was Eldon, too, who kept the grown-up family playing together by returning with his family to Idaho each summer and pulling the other hardworking Callister men away from their farms to enjoy family fishing trips and outings to Lava Hot Springs.

As the gathering was about to close, Rulon rose to his feet. With tears streaming down his ruddy, farm-worn face, he walked across the room and handed the little cast-iron wagon to Eldon. “You need this,” he said. “It meant more to you than to anyone else.” The room was quiet and the others silently wept as the two grown men embraced.

Once again, the little wagon had been shared. Once again it had pulled a family together in the midst of difficult times. Though the wagon is now held by the Eldon Callister family, it remains a symbol of unity and love that belongs to all the posterity of Orson and Annie Francella Callister.

  • Jerry E. Callister serves as president of the Merced California Stake.