Horse-drawn hearse has honored local heroes for more than two decades.
The words are simple, but profound. After each service, a plaque is handed to the family. It reads, Down the lane slowly I'll go Ever so gently I'll pull this carriage. My task is no burden for the honor is great. With courage and pride he died for his country. So with dignity and grace, I will carry him home. With each strike of my massive hooves His soul will soar in the heavens above. In the years to come may you remember this day With memories of a giant black horse, That gently bore your hero to his final rest. Down the lane, slowly I'll go. Duke—Wellington Carriage Company. But now after two decades, Duke and his hearse are walking their path back home. Wellington Carriage Company owner Lorraine "Rainy" Melgosa has decided to retire after providing a service that has honored local heroes over two decades. Started in 1993, Melgosa, of Manzanola, and her brother, Barney Clancey, started the horse-drawn hearse service, specifically catering to fallen heroes, veterans, police officers and other throughout Colorado and neighboring states. After losing their dad in 1991, and not able to find someone within southeastern Colorado to provide a horse-drawn hearse for his funeral service, Barney and Rainy decided to start looking for a hearse, horse and trailer. They found their hearse, a 1867 James Cunningham & Sons, which is known as the "Cadillac" of hearses, in Pennsylvania for what Rainy says was a bargain price of $8,400. Her first horse, "Mike," a Percheron. was purchased in North Platte, Neb., for $3,000. Barney and Rainy worked together for nine months, until Barney was ready to call it quits. Rainy on the other hand, wanted to keep providing this service to the families of fallen heroes so she took it over in January of 1994, and with the help of siblings, nieces and nephews, she was able to continue. Melogsa provided the horse-drawn hearse for over 700 funerals, 54 of which were active duty or killed in action casualties. She often traveled hundreds of miles to many states, providing a service for people she did not know. Although every funeral was emotional and there were times when she thought about retiring, she kept going. "I thought about the veterans and active duty soldiers I had the honor to take to their final resting place. They were complete strangers to me, but they still fought for my freedom," said Melgosa. When asked if there was one funeral that sticks with her to this day, she immediately became emotional as she told the story of Sarah Moseley, a 12-year old girl who died from equine encephalitis, a very rare disease. "Sarah was about the same age as I was when I got my first horse. Her horse walked along the side of mine for her funeral procession. It was heartbreaking to know that what she loved the most killed her." Rainy said choking back tears. Providing this type of service requires sacrificing money, time traveling and the physical work of preparing and maintaining the carriage and horses, all of which Melgosa provided without hesitation. "I feel like I can help with healing by offering my service to the families. It is one of the worst days of their lives. It is a huge emotional burden, but I like to think of it as a blessing," Melgosa said. She has become more than a friend to may families whom she helped through their darkest hours. Danny Dietz, who served as a Navy SEAL, was killed in a shoot-out with insurgent forces in Afghanistan in 2005. Melgosa was honored to provide her service for his funeral and in turn, the Dietz family was forever grateful and wanted to give back to Melgosa. They knew she had just lost her horse, Mike, and they wanted to buy her a new horse. "I don't let anyone buy me a cup of coffee, much less a horse, and I had already bought Lady," said Melgosa. However, the Dietz family was insistent and sent her a check for a big portion of what it cost her to buy Lady. Her last funeral was for SFC Liam Nevens, a member of the 19th Special Forces, Colorado Army National Guard, who was killed in Afghanistan. SFC Nevens was buried in the Fort Logan National Cemetery on Oct. 2, 2013. His family wanted him buried in Arlington, however, his mother lives in Denver and she wanted him buried near her. Lt. Col. Mitch Utterback, with the Colorado National Guard organized SFC Nivens' funeral to replicate an Arlington funeral, with military escorts, band and the 19th Special Forces Honor Patrol, who escorted him to his final resting place by setting a perimeter, just like they did while on patrol with SFC Nivens. "Lorraine Melgosa is one of the finest citizens currently living in the United States. The service she provides to our country and soldiers' families is so rare. When people like her come into our lives, it is newsworthy. But the dignity, honor and respect she shows needs to be honored at a much hight level. People get Congressional Medals for things like this. I am hopeful that someone will recognize her at a higher level." said Lt. Col. Utterback. "Oct. 2, 2013, was a dark day for me, as I said good-bye to the love of my life. Lorraine and Duke were there to hold my hand and deliver Liam to his final resting place in Fort Logan National Cemetery. The heaviness really hit my heart as the carriage looped its way around the sea of graves. As I tried to wrap my mind around this new reality, Lorraine comforted me, expressed thanks for Liam's service, and remarked on my strength for loving an American hero. I am honored that my hero got the farewell he deserved. and touched that Lorraine and Duke's last service was for such an honorable man. The genuine kindness I received from Lorraine that day will never be forgotten." said Julie Huynh, fiancee of SFC Liam Nevens. During her career, she has owned three Percheron horses. Her first, Mike, died in 2006. She had him for 13 years and he served in over 500 funerals. Lady, her second Percheron, was with her for four years and over 150 funerals. Duke, whom she purchased in April 2010, is her current horse and is named after her father. "My dad hated his name of Wellington, so he went by the nickname of Duke," said Melgosa. The decision to retire was not an easy one for Melgosa, but her health and the work that goes into maintaining the business is getting too much for her to handle. As the only horse-drawn hearse in the state of Colorado, she was hopeful that someone would want to carry on the business, so she was elated when the Colorado National Guard expressed an interest. "I'm so grateful that they want to carry on. They have the manpower and the resources to keep it going, and for such a great cause," said Melgosa. She will let them use her carriage and her horse with one stipulation, the horse comes back to her when it dies. "I want Duke back with me when he dies. All of my horses are buried on my property," said Melgosa. The Colorado National Guard is in the midst of meetings and logistics of what it would require to continue offering this honorable and patriotic service. Although retired, people can still learn about Duke through his Facebook page: Duke the Funeral Horse. where people can see many photographs of funeral he and Melgosa have provided.