A fascination with wagons began for Guenter Liebiech long before he knew anything about the migration of the Mormon pioneers in the 1800s.
Before joining the Church in Germany in 1969, Brother Liebiech had memories of another era when he traveled in a wagon - back to his home in Germany after being exiled in Poland and Czechoslovakia during World War II. His mother had fled Germany with six children in 1946. When they finally were able to go home, it was by wagon.On July 10, Guenter and his wife, Christa, joined a wagon train of a different kind - the 1997 Sesquicentennial commemorative train that has trekked across Nebraska and Wyoming in a re-enactment of the first Mormon pioneer wagon train in 1847. The commemorative wagon train crossed into Utah July 15.
The Liebiechs arrived as the wagon train was enjoying a well-deserved rest day at historic Fort Bridger in western Wyoming and immediately became engrossed with the re-enactment activities. Driving two of the wagons that Brother Liebiech himself has built over the years, they will stay with the wagon train until it enters the Salt Lake Valley on July 22.
Relating his story through Todd Zenger of Salt Lake City, who learned to speak German while serving a mission in Switzerland, Brother Liebiech recounted how wagons have played an important role in his life.
After returning to Germany, he became a soldier in the German Army and he first learned about the Church while in this service. He and Sister Liebiech both were baptized on May 31, 1969, after investigating the gospel for four years. They had two children then and subsequently had two more.
The Liebiechs came to know the stories of Latter-day Saint pioneers and the amazing migration across the American midlands in the 1800s.
"I gathered all the stories I could," said Brother Liebiech. In addition, he began to build wagons. To date, his hobby has resulted in eight wagons. In his home near Hamburg, Germany, he operates a large sheep ranch, where the vehicles can be useful.
Eight years ago, the Hamburg stake president came to call, and Brother Liebiech thought he might want to see the wagons. The real purpose of his visit was to call Brother Liebiech to be bishop of the Lauenburg Ward.
In time, the ward got a new meetinghouse, and then-Bishop Liebiech thought that was an opportune time to put his wagons to good use. He organized a "train" and on Dec. 11 and 12, 1992, the wagons traveled through the German communities en route to the church house, where they "circled" the building and remained during the dedication services. More than 20 young people and six adults were involved in driving the wagons.
The event attracted the attention of the news media in the area and articles were published, including a picture and summary in the German version of the International Magazines, he said. "It was something very newsworthy and poignant."
When the Liebiechs learned of the sesquicentennial wagon train, Brother Leibiech arranged to have two of his wagons sent by boat to the United States and then shipped to Utah.
At the end of the 1997 adventure, he will donate one of the wagons to the Church and give the second to a son who is attending BYU. The Liebiechs will return to Germany at the end of July with new wagon stories to add to their journals. He is now a high councilor in the Hamburg Stake and she is president of their ward Primary.