Campaigning carriage offers rides in Bigfork

by Mackenzie Reiss
| June 17, 2020 1:00 AM

Watching Gene Bushnell’s stagecoach drive down the lane was like taking a step back in time as it bounced past the Buffalo Saloon pulled by a pair of Belgian draft horses. Bushnell stopped in Bigfork last Friday to offer rides on his handcrafted carriage while campaigning for President Donald Trump’s reelection. The stagecoach features an image of Trump’s face on the side along with the words, “Ride for the brand.”

“I built it from scratch — a pile of oak and a pile of iron,” he said.

Bushnell spent close to $30,000 to construct the stagecoach which is a replica of the 1880 Abbot and Downing Concord. The Troy resident plans to cover 667 miles from Troy to the North Dakota border, offering rides and sharing his political philosophy along the way. The stagecoach also led a parade celebrating Trump’s birthday last Sunday in Kalispell.

Bushnell also wanted to share the pioneer values, which he considered to be grace, gumption and grit.

“I feel that God put the dream in me to go across Montana and honor the pioneers,” Bushnell said. “They weren’t looking for handouts, they weren’t looking for somebody to take care of them. They had goals and dreams, and they had the gumption and grit to follow through with it.”

Bushnell’s grandparents were homesteaders themselves and settled in the Landusky area where his mother was born in 1913.

And while Bushnell had 50 years of contracting experience under his belt, he said building the stagecoach was a “whole different ball of wax.” His Trump-themed carriage is the fifth one he’s constructed so far. He was first inspired to build historic stagecoaches as a means of showing off his horses in parades. As of Friday, Bushnell estimated that he’d given 60 rides in communities between Troy and Bigfork, including Eureka, Whitefish and Columbia Falls. The rides were free, but donations were accepted to help defray his travel expenses.

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$ID/NormalParagraphStyle:Gene Bushnell, of Troy, readies his Belgian draft horse, Jim, to pull the stagecoach he built.

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$ID/NormalParagraphStyle:Chardee Timis, Brylee Wildes, 2, and Cathy Osborn ride inside Gene Bushnell’s stagecoach Friday morning, June 12.

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$ID/NormalParagraphStyle:Joshua Ragan drives a stagecoach built by his cousin, Gene Bushnell, in Bigfork last Friday. Bushnell used the coach to raise awareness for the pioneer values and President Donald Trump’s reelection.