The American Mule Museum (AMM) continues to collaborate with Laws Railroad Museum and the Death Valley Conservancy to build a Death Valley 20 Mule Team exhibit.
The latest update is that the fiberglass mules have been placed in the exhibit. They are harnessed and hitched to the Borax wagons. Work continues at the exhibit site and the next step is to develop interpretive installations to add educational elements to the exhibit.
This collaboration is one of the ways the AMM is using funds raised by members to uphold their mission while continuing to work towards a location to house the Mule Museum.
Submitted by Jennifer Roeser and written by Wendy Bailey
The "Best Show Harvest Spectacular" in Woodland, California, was an absolutely amazing experience. The show was a nostalgic remembrance of the evolution of farming here were Gargantuan steam tractors blowing their lonesome whistles, early combines chugging away, and a host of beautifully and carefully restored antique farm equipment. At the center of the show was the thirty three mule Schandoney hitch driven by George Cabral who is 85 years young and Gene Hilty in his mid 70's. Each a master teamster who has devoted his life to learning the fine art of driving large hitches.
The setting at Woodland was delightful, a field of buckskin golden wheat aglow in the sun and ripe for the upcoming harvest. The hitch progressed throughout the week, 33 different mule personalities, and as many handlers would come together to develop a huge hitch, cooperating and working as one. It was amazing to experience mules and harvester working in a peaceful harmonious coexistence; magically transporting one back to a different way of life.
The harvester, a 1905 Holt, was an archaic monstrosity and a wonderful thing to behold in its uniqueness. Its own specialized crew worked tirelessly to keep it running, and assured us that like a mule, it had quite a personality of its own. While engaged, the huge harvester made a howling grinding noise that became the soothing sound of wheat production circa 1905. When the harvester had passed, there were bountiful sacks of wheat lying in the field to be picked up by a following wagon.
Toward the afternoon, the hot sun beat down relentlessly. The humidity required sheer endurance of man and mule for the determined production and yet never a complaint or disagreement was ever heard. Expert teamsters like Jimmy Glynn never took a break while the mules were hitched. The camaraderie, friendships forged, tall tales, and the day's events retold over a delicious meal and surrounded by restored chuck wagons made it a week to remember.
Near the end of the week's activities, George Cabral and Gene Hilty passed on the lines of the mighty 33 mule hitch to the new and younger generation of master teamster Luke Messenger, leaving behind the legacy to be continued. As the organizer of the event, Luke Messenger had led the production with a serene tact and diplomacy which had an amazing effect on mule and man, bringing out the best in both. How he could pull this off with all of the demands of the event placed upon him was beyond me. His whirlwind of non-stop activity and immeasurable energy and hospitality earned the respect and fondness of all.
To bring the entire event into perspective and give appreciation of today's conveniences arid amazing farming production, there was a demonstration given by Tony Moules who had grown up in the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal. As a boy he had harvested and thrashed wheat by hand as they did not have motorized tools on the island until 1976! We witnessed firsthand the laborious and time consuming effort that reaping and thrashing wheat required. Tony caught his breath and explained how they creatively built their own thrashers from tree branches and oxen hair; the only tools and materials available to them. And we thought the 33 mule drawn harvester was a lot of work! Tony finished by reminding us of how extremely privileged we are to live and work in the United States. And what a country we live in where we can relive the past to help us appreciate and build the future.
33 Mule Hitch
By Rick Edney
In August of 2010 my friend Luke Messenger called me to talk about a huge responsibility he had accepted, organizing a large mule hitch to pull a restored 1905 combine at the antique farm and harvest show in Woodland, CA. This was done in 2008 with 27 mules but this time there was a challenge to put a 32 mule hitch together. He told me not to plan any early season pack trips for the summer of 2011 because he was already counting on my mules and my help. I couldn’t refuse a chance to work with master teamsters such as George Cabral and Gene Hilty to say the least being a part of recreating history.
My son Wes and I traveled to Woodland on Saturday June 25th where we found our camp was already being set up on the edge of the field of wheat that we would be harvesting. We had brought our 5 draft mules and my saddle mule that we intended Wes to ride to help with crowd control. George Cabral arrived later that day with his 4 mules then Cathy Smith with hers. We had a 4 sided picket line with a large stack of oat hay placed in the middle. By mid week we will have 33 mules tied to it.
Sunday morning I harnessed my 5 draft mules, leaving my riding mule Buckwheat tied to the picket line. George saw this and asks why I wasn’t harnessing him. I explained that we had tried to break Buckwheat to harness years ago but he was non-compliant to say the least. George, in his soft voice told me to harness him “we’ll see what his problem is”. Gene overheard the conversation and added, “No way were leaving that big boy out of the hitch”. “OK,” I replied, “just remember it was your idea, not mine”. We hitched my 6 abreast on the large training cart then hitched 2 of George’s mules as leaders then we chained my flat bed truck loaded with hay to the back to be used as breaks. Buckwheat kicked, lunged and bucked all the way down the field before settling down; then he just insisted on doing most of the pulling himself.
Soon another load of mules arrived so we put another team of six behind mine giving us 14. It didn’t take long before they were all driving well so we decided to hitch them to the Harvester that we intended to use and get them used to the terrible noise it makes when engaged in gear. The anchor truck was also moved to the harvester for safety. Believe it or not but when we put the machine in gear those mules pulled so hard that the pickup was dragged with wheels locked up for quite a ways before they excepted their predicament. That got our hearts pounding. We decided to stack more hay on the truck. All 14 began driving well and we were making progress when the machine broke down, ending our training session for the day.
Tuesday morning found us back out on the training cart, while repairs where being made to the combine, but soon lightning was flashing and thunder was getting close so we headed in not wanting to be caught out in the field asking for trouble. It rained one and a half inches that day leaving our camp completely under water. That was also the day that most of our remaining participants arrived. When people pulled off the paved road that is where they had to stay the night. The mud was unbelievable; Luke pulled pickups out with his Draft horses.
It was the next afternoon before we could resume training again, using the large cart. A new team of six was hitched in front of mine and things were going smoothly when the six-up evener broke at the pin. The metal evener slammed into the hocks of my mules and they jumped right into the metal eveners of the team in front. Fortunately they all stopped, as mules do, and let us help them without panicking and causing more injury to themselves. I had a bit of doctoring to do but they would all be back to work in the morning. I started personally checking all this old equipment each day before hitching any mules to it as did Luke and Gene.
By now our camp had grown fairly large, I’m guessing close to fifty total. We assigned each team of six to one person and he recruited helpers from the 20 some teamsters that showed up to help. The goal was to recreate an old time harvest camp and that’s exactly what we had become, working from sunup to sundown. Every evening there were chores to do, from trimming hoofs to repairing harness. We were constantly repairing harness. Fact is we had a repair shop set up under a large oak tree. Everybody pitched in to help and the camp cooks kept us well fed. After dark a few of us would gather for a cocktail and a story or two then we would hit the bunks exhausted. We had become more than a camp we had become a community.
By Thursday we were running out of time but fortunately all the remaining mules were fairly bomb proof except for Norms bay mule, Lucy, who had never been in harness before. Just in case we needed an extra, we decided to give Lucy a crash course on the training cart with 5 other well broke mules. She managed to knock down three men before we even got her hitched and then the real rodeo was on. So far I liked Lucy because she made Buckwheat look like a real gentleman. Down the field we went with Lucy doing her best to break free, she was right on the verge of hurting herself when she just stopped her rebellion and walked out like she belonged there. We traveled a short distance before she again threw another fit this time giving in a little quicker. Gene advised us that she would probably try one more time and sure enough he was right. After that third try of rebellion, she accepted her new job. That was all the time we had to spare on a mule we didn’t intend to use any way.
The storm had cost us a day and a half and we only had 26 mules on the harvester. We planned to get an early start Friday morning, adding our last team of 6 right before our first show.
It was show time and all 32 mules were in position, the truck was still anchored to the back of the harvester, and out walkers had lead ropes on all the mules on the outside of the hitch. We not only had to worry about our safety but now there were several hundred spectators to worry about. George climbed the Jacobs Ladder, a platform high above the wheel team; from there he would drive the two leaders using 90 foot lines. We had lines to the six wheelers along with the swing team in front of them; I would drive these mules from my position at the base of the ladder using the bottom rung as a seat. From here I could hold them back somewhat and help with the 90 degree turns we planned to make. Luke led the leaders forward stretching the fifth chain tight then George called “Molly” and we were off. The machine makes a terrible whine and the wheelers and swing team about pulled my arms out of their sockets but after a few yards I was able to get them collected. Everything was lining out well but then we had to stop for adjustments. We no sooner got started again and we had to stop because the machine broke. A quick repair and off we went again. Each time we started it got harder for the leaders to start the whole hitch; it was evident that we needed a third mule to help the lead team. A glance at the picket line showed one lonely mule left standing there, Lucy. We moved another broke mule forward and replaced her with Lucy. She made a big commotion for a while but finally resigned to the fact that this was her job to do. Soon we felt we could trust the mules so the truck was unchained from the back of the Combine and soon the out walkers unsnapped their lead ropes and stepped aside. We were now a working 33 mule hitch. One of the show organizers did some research and informed us that this was the first time since 1934 that a 32 mule hitch has been used and we just broke our own record with 33.
Saturday morning went much smoother. Gene drove from the top of the Jacobs Ladder while Luke trained Wes to do his job up front. We were once again plagued by equipment problems and made several stops but the Harvester crew worked on the machine all thru lunch break and informed us it was ready to go. After lunch George and Gene stood off to the side, it was time to hand the lines to the next generation. They had preserved this art as long as possible and made a tremendous effort to pass it on. It was up to us to keep it going.
Luke climbed the ladder and smiled down at me with a gleam in his eye. “Are you ready for this?” he asked. “I’ve been ready since you called last August,” I replied. A nod to Wes and he led the leaders forward till the fifth chain was tight and straight. “Molly” Luke hollered and we made the smoothest start yet. At the first turn Luke started to swing the leaders right and all the teams fell in, I held my wheelers and swing team straight until the combine reached the end of the stand of grain then let the swing team fallow while holding the wheelers in the turn. A perfect turn and we were lined back out heading across the bottom of the field. We had so much trouble before I kept expecting to have to stop. We reached the end of the field and executed another perfect turn; then another. The sackers riding the harvester were working their butts off keeping up with the grain coming down the chute. Our last turn we pivoted that machine on a dime and headed back to where we started, a full trip around the field without a stop. What a great feeling of success.
Sundays show was again hampered by equipment problems and we finally had to shut the machine down all together. At a hundred and six years old you have to expect some break downs. Doesn’t matter, we had our triumph. Hopefully we’ll get another chance to make history in the future.
The mules that will be placed in the exhibit are here and waiting for construction to be completed before they are hitched to the wagons.
A boardwalk is being installed to help cut down on the dust stirred up by walking through the building. The finishing touches are being completed.
Holly at about age 6, about to ride out of Onion Valley to Charlotte Lake.
The American Mule Museum has a new newsletter editor and she has also recently joined the Board of Directors. Holly Subia is a fitting addition to the AMM: She grew up in Bishop California as Holly Nash and spent most of her summers in the high country of the Sierra Nevada. Her first job was at Rainbow Pack Outfit where Mark Berry and crew taught her about working stock in the Eastern Sierra. Holly got the bug and spent most summers packing mules at various pack stations on the east and west side of the Sierra Nevada and spent five seasons in Yosemite as a mounted back county ranger. She has recently returned to living in the Eastern Sierra and has joined some old friends and made some new friends that are enthusiastic about mules. She looks forward to sharing her love of mules by working with the AMM and helping everyone appreciate all that mules have done for us, here in the Eastern Sierra and beyond.
I love the versatility of mules. Not only can they pull my wagon and farm implements but they can also carry my hunting camp into the mountains then pack the venison out. Let me tell you about an interesting project that seems to combine the skills of both disciplines of mulemanship.
The water flume and head gate at East Lake in the Hoover Wilderness had been in need of repair for years. The water from this lake is used by several cattle ranches in the Bridgeport area so a joint effort was made to repair it. As it is in a wilderness you can only travel by foot or horseback which made transporting materials to the job site a bit of a challenge. Most cowboys are good packers and every ranch has a pack saddle and panniers in the tack room to be used mainly for packing salt out to the range cattle. This chore was usually assigned to a green colt which helped round him out to a well seasoned ranch horse. However, the materials for this job were somewhat unusual so I was asked to come up with some ideas that didn’t require a helicopter and possibly utilize my more experienced mules.
The first item was the gate itself which was a large aluminum plate measuring 4 feet by 4 ½ feet and 3/8 inch thick weighing 75 pounds. This seemed simple; I could hang my large pack boxes high on the sawbuck and bridge the plate across then tie a box hitch to hold it all together. The next items were two pieces of 4 inch channel iron 8 feet long. Okay, we’ll hang those on each side of a mule angling over her neck in the same manner you would carry a couple of fence post. The last item was the real challenge, a threaded screw rod used for opening and closing the head gate when a large wheel is turned. This stainless steel rod measured 1 ¼ in diameter by 14 feet long and weighed 80 pounds. Too long to pack on one mule so I made a couple of platforms to sit on the sawbucks then attached a swivel devise to the platforms and then welded a cradle, made of horse shoes, to the swivels. My plan was to bridge the screw rod between two mules. The swivel devises would allow them to navigate the sharp turns with the rod spanding between them as long as they worked together. I’ll admit this was not an original idea but I’ve only heard about this method and never actually seen it done.
I chose Maude and Suzy; the two mules I felt would be most tolerant for this strange assignment. We felt confident after a short practice and were ready to go but then the whole project got put on hold for two years.
When the call finally came that all was a go for our little packing job there was no time for another practice. I was also informed that there will be a couple more items than we first talked about, two 8 foot 4x4’s. No problem I’ll just take another mule and hang these 4x4’s just like the channel iron.
We all met at the trailhead and all the ranches were well represented with Top hands. We loaded the first two items as planned but the 4x4’s turned out to be 4x6x10 foot timbers. I scratched my head, we could load these like fence post if we had an 18 hand mule otherwise they will drag the ground like a Travois. What we ended up doing was lashing the timbers to either side of the screw rod and loaded the whole thing on the two swivel mules. The timbers with the rod were all three guys could lift onto the mules. It seemed awfully top heavy to me but there was no way to counter balance it now.
I will tell you that I wasn’t as confident as before but up the trail we went and to our delight the two mules learned to work together real quick. Remember that these are Draft mules that are accustomed to working together on a wagon tongue and other farm implements so this just came natural to them. Fortunately we had some minor switchbacks on the trail to practice on before we came to the “Chute” which is a series of steep switchbacks only 15 yards apart. If you have ever tried to carry a large couch up a stairway then turn through a narrow doorway then you might have some idea what these two mules were accomplishing. As the lead mule makes the turn around the switchback she is now traveling almost 180 degrees in the opposite direction of the second mule with the rod and timbers suspended between them. Maude did get pushed into the rock wall at the first switchback but Suzy learned to slow her pace allowing Maude time to recover and continue on up the trail. Maude in turn had to slow down long enough for Suzy to make the turn behind her. They performed this maneuver a dozen times on the climb up the Chute.
It was several miles up the canyon to East Lake and we only had to stop a couple of times to make some minor adjustments. All the materials made it to the dam intact and were off loaded to the relief of Maude and Suzy. What a great feeling of success, one that I’m sure is shared with my long eared friends.
By Rick Edney
The fiberglass mules will soon be joining the wagons in the Borax 20 Mule Team exhibit at Laws Railroad Museum. The mules have been purchased with a generous grant provided by the Margaret Pillsbury Foundation.
An early Spanish Friar looked eastward toward a distant range of mountains and exclaimed “una gran sierra nevada,” translated to mean a great snow-covered mountain range. Thus, Friar Pedro Font named a truly grand mountain range, the Sierra Nevada Range of California. At the beginning of the 20th century, America was changing and California’s Eastern Sierra was no exception. Moving from an era of exploration and settlement, with the advent of automobiles and more leisure time, people were searching for adventure and recreation opportunities. The Sierra Nevada was the backbone of the state, and many looked toward that high mountain range to explore new adventures.
Horses and mules have been right along with us through this period of transition over 150 years. Having served for thousands of years as the first mode of transportation horses and mules have transitioned to mostly serve recreationists. Mules were the work animals used in: maintaining and building access trails, packing in supplies and camping equipment, and enabling Americans to reach scenic campsites into road-less mountain wonderlands. Packers fine-tuned their packing skills and became guides for visitors, leading adventure-seekers to remote campsites and educating them how to enjoy their extended stay as true mountaineers.
Consequently the packing and outfitting industry was born in the Sierra. As these new businesses grew and prospered into an industry unique to the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Packers’ Association developed. These farsighted men called it the High Sierra Packers’ Association, consisting of two units. These units were; the Western and the Eastern, representing each side of the range. They soon recognized the need to advertise and promote pack trip vacations and opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and exploring. Sports shows were created in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area to cater and advertise to the emerging recreatiors. Packers and resort owners were at the forefront of this emerging market, manning the informative booths and introducing recreation opportunities to the public.
In 1969 an especially heavy winter kept mountain trails blocked by snow late into the season. This limited recreation opportunities. The local packers and the Forest Service Trail Supervisor discussed business remedies. They wondered if they could create a spring event focusing on packing competitions in Bishop. These intrepid Founders of Mule Days wanted to create an activity that would show the value and versatility of mules. They envisioned an event that could bring visitors from afar to Bishop to celebrate the hardworking, humble mule. In May of 1970, they launched the first Mule Day as one-day event. Suceed they did, and Mule Days has grown to six days of shows and the largest non-motorized parade in the country. Mule Days has been successful beyond their dreams and we honor their vision.
With that same spirit, the American Mule Museum seeks to carry forth that tradition by paying tribute to mules. These are the reliable mules who built the West, carried us to the tops of mountains, and entertain us. They inspire our cheers every Memorial Day weekend – the sturdy American Mule.
Join us as we carry this vision a step further into the future. Check out our website for updates and sign up for our newsletters! www.mulemuseum.org While at Mule Days, be sure to visit our Annual Silent Auction in the Douglas Robinson Building, Wednesday, May 22nd – Sunday, May 26th, 1 p.m.
By Jennifer Roeser
Dugan was a special animal from the day of his birth. Unfortunately he really wasn’t wanted by his owners, but luck was always on Dugan’s side. Dugan’s mother was a beautiful registered quarter horse and her owners were looking forward to a beautiful colt who would be a success in the show ring. Imagine their surprise when a long eared catch-colt arrived instead. They were so disappointed and did not want the tiny mule colt. Andy, their neighbor, loved mules and packed into the Sierra Nevada backcountry every summer. Andy offered to take the little mule and raise him on a bottle.
The little black mule foal, was named Dugan and he thrived on the offered bottles and people’s affections. He soon grew to be a beautiful mule; sleek and shiny, gentle, friendly and mischievous. He was broke to be a pack mule and joining Andy’s string of riding horses and pack mules. Andy was a professor and enjoyed spending his summer vacations packing into the backcountry wilderness of the Eastern Sierra with his animals.
When the Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit acquired the five “stall mates”, Dugan was 5 years old and he went right to work as a pack mule. But he soon proved his exceptional ability to jump out of the mule corral. Early one morning the packers noticed Dugan was missing, nowhere to be seen. Dugan was later found happily snacking at the hay stack. Later that morning, a trail ride left the yard and Dugan was sighted happily following the group out of the yard. Next, Dugan turned up in the dude horse corral and was returned to his rightful place in the mule corral. Again, he was seen following another trail ride down the trail. Everyone wondered, “Hmm – what was going on!” It was soon discovered that Dugan was jumping out of the mule corral. He would cannily hide out in the forest while the pack trips went out. Once the coast was clear, Dugan would jump into the Dude Horse Corral or slip into a trail ride as the group was leaving the yard.
Hunting season soon arrived with very early mornings. One experienced group of hunters that had ridden with Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit before planned a trip to Deer Creek. The group would just be gone for the day and would go without a guide. One man in the group was new but the old timers assured the pack station that he would be coached by them and all would be well. Just at daybreak, as the group was riding up the trail the pack station cook looked out the window and saw Dugan following along. The packers assured the cook that Dugan would soon return to the yard. But this time he didn’t! Later that afternoon, who should come riding into the yard alone? The “new guy” from the group headed for Deer Creek. And he was riding Dugan! The man was carrying his rifle, riding without benefit of saddle or bridle. He was clinging to Dugan’s scanty mane and somehow staying a muleback. Dugan, head held high, proudly carried the hunter into the yard. Dugan knew right were to go! He stopped at the tie racks, he had clearly been watching the riding horses. Open mouthed, the pack station crew stood amazed. The hunter casually slid off Dugan and nonchalantly told his story as though this was not at all unusual.
It seemed that somehow the “new guy” had become separated from his hunting buddies. He spotted a buck and remembered that he had been told not to shoot from horseback. He got off his horse and sighted in on the buck. He aimed, fired, and missed. Only then, did he notice the dust kicked up by his quickly departing horse. He then remember that he was also supposed to tie his horse securely to a tree and then aim and shoot. So, he found himself lost, afoot and with no deer to show for his trouble. He began trudged along the trail he hoped was headed in the right direction to locate his buddies, or his horse. After a while he began to worry a little. Suddenly, a friendly unsaddled mule appeared, like a gift from heaven, and the mule walked right up to him. “Well,” he thought, “I can ride him to find our group.” Dugan had come to the lost hunter’s rescue. Not knowing anything about Dugan, the hunter managed to climb on the mule’s back with his rifle, clutching to Dugan’s mane. The man put his faith in Dugan to find the rest of the group. However, Dugan amazingly and unhesitatingly marched back to the pack station with a new found purpose.
The “new guy” did not located his partners nor his horse as Dugan carried him to the pack station. But the man was very happy to find himself back at the pack station sipping coffee, telling his story, and enjoying the cook’s offer of a late lunch! After hearing this tail, several packers looked at each other and one declared, “Well heck, we could use a saddle mule around here!” The rest of the hunters, and the missing horse, joined up with a packer and his string of mule returning home. They were happy to find their lost friend in the kitchen sharing the tale of his adventure.
What Dugan was trying to tell us all along was that he was a riding mule, not a pack mule. Dugan was quickly saddled, a packer hopped aboard and Dugan proudly made circles around the yard. That night Dugan was put away in the dude horse corral and begin a long, successful career as a saddle mule. From that day forth, he never again jumped out of his corral because Dugan knew he was in the right place. Dugan carried many people, young and old, through the mountains on day rides and pack trips. While riding Dugan, a young rider was once overheard asking his mother, “Mom, why does this horse have longer ears than yours?” If that young rider could have heard Dugan answer; he would have heard, “Because I am better. I’m a MULE.” -By Marye Roeser
Forest Service mules join Smokey Bear in the 130th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade
The theme of the 130th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade, January 1st, 2019, was “The Melody of Life”. The United States Forest Service entry was, U.S. Forest Service pack mules celebrate Smokey’s 75th Birthday. The entry highlighted the fact that mules have supported Smokey in his mission to spread the message of preventing wildfires.
Susie, a lovely Forest Service mule shows off the “Smokey Bear” panel celebrating Smokey’s 75th Birthday. Mules have served significant roles in supporting wildland firefighters since 1905. They travel long distances into the wilderness to supply firefighters and rangers. Smokey & his mules – perfect partners!
The American Mule Museum congratulates the Forest Service packers, firefighters, mules and of course Smokey for an incredible display of service and history.
The American Mule Museum (AMM) is working together with Laws Railroad Museum and the Death Valley Conservancy to build a Death Valley 20 Mule Team exhibit. This will be the first collaborative instillation the AMM has participated in and it will be located at the Laws Museum, four and a half miles north of Bishop on Highway 6.
A new building has been constructed to house this exhibit that will include reproductions of the wagons the 20 Mule Team pulled in Death Valley. Two of the three wagons are already on site. The wagon used to haul water is still being constructed and will hopefully be on site by Mule Days. The funds to build the three wagons were raised by the Death Valley Conservancy. This group collaboration will result in a unique venue to tell the history of the 20 Mule Team. The AMM has ordered a team of fiberglass mules to represent the Wheelers, or the mules that pulled closest to the front of the first wagon. Around this main installation will be exhibits that share the impact mules have had on the local area and the Western United States. Interpretive displays will share history of mules in the area and the jobs they performed including work related to agriculture, transportation, mining, and recreation.
This collaboration is one of the ways the AMM is using funds raised by members to uphold their mission while continuing to work towards a location to house the Mule Museum.