Thursday, February 7, 2008

20 Mule Team .....what?

Here is a fascinating piece of mule history that has ascended to full trademark status. Today, the 20 Mule Team Borax trademarked logo is widely recognized, but probably holds an understated place in our collective consciousness. The legendary effort to get raw borax ore out of Death Valley by mule train ended in 1889, lasting just over five years. 120 years later, we still think of Borax when we think of 20 Mule Teams. How did you fill in the blank when you saw the title?

The story of the 20 mule team should hold particular fascination for the mule afficianado. Relating it all would be redundant, but there are some highlights worth mentioning here. The fascinating basics are thus:

Between 1883 and 1889, the twenty mule teams hauled more than 20 million pounds of borax out of Death Valley. The company didn't lose one mule or have one wagon break down during this time.

Each team pulled two wagons that held 10 tons each and a steel water tank behind for the consumption of the mules. The total gross weight each team pulled was 36 and 1/2 tons.

The round trip was 330 miles and went from nearly 200 feet below sea level to over 2,000 feet above. It covered some of the most unforgiving country in the world--over crude roads blasted into the desert.

"Swinging the team around a curve in a mountain pass tested both driver and team: one mistake could spell death for all. As the team started around a sharp curve, the chain tended to be pulled into a straight line between the lead mules and the wagon. To keep the chain going around the curve and not pull the team straight over the edge, some of the mules were ordered to leap the chain and pull at an angle away from the curve. These mules — the pointers, sixes and eights — would step along sideways until the corner had been turned. Swinging a curve successfully was an awesome demonstration of training and teamwork." Borax: The Twenty Mule Team.Published by U.S. Borax Inc.Undated (1980s-'90s)

"Chosen for their intelligence and ability to lead the others, the first two mules in the train were aptly called the "leaders." The next 10 mules were known as the "swing team," workers that did not need special training beyond responding to commands such as "stop" and "pull." Following the swing team came the "pointers," "sixes" and "eights" — the pairs specially trained to leap over the chain when the mule train turned a corner. These mules were trained to respond to commands by name. Finally, the "wheelers" were the last pair in the train. These mules, or sometimes draft horses, were the largest and strongest of the pack animals." Borax: The Twenty Mule Team.Published by U.S. Borax Inc.Undated (1980s-'90s)

Teamsters used whips made of rawhide that were 24 feel long. Some were reputed to be able to flick a mule's ear 25 feet away. Using the whip required two hands and full body input.

Check the links below for gripping historical reading. There you will find facts, legends, and some insights into the men who lived this job.


Mike said...

Ha ha Im first. Uh oh, I can see Pauls next adventure....20 mule teams into the uintah mountains hauling up a summer home in the back of a wagon. Then he will comute back and forth to work in St george with his team of mules bringing back a wagon full of fish to sell at the market.

Paul said...

Can you imagine??? It would take 3 weeks to get there and another 3 to get back that way.

WoW said...

You need to get a couple of baby bull moose (like the one in the picture I emailed) to raise with your mules and train them to be the last in the train.

Sugarbeet King

BonBon said...

Ha Ha! Mike! That was funny!

Pineapple Princess said...

Ya Mike, that was funny but why would you go giving him ideas like that? He'd eat all the fish before he got to market.

I admit I do have some Borax on my dryer. I bought it for a science experiment where you add glue and borax together to make cool silly putty. Does it really work for laundry?

That was some amazing info. on the process. Old timers just don't get enough credit. Neither do their teams!

sharebear said...

Hey, maybe you're on to something, Paul. When the day comes that we have to travel to Missouri and we don't have cars, we'll know who to come to.

Tamster said...

lol--y'all are funny! That doesn't sound like a very enjoyable ride (to Missouri) if you ask me, but I suppose it would be better than walking! :-)

Wendy in Alaska said...

Borax reminds me of washing Bonnies, Susans, Jeremys cloth diapers by hand. Thanks for digging up that memory!

Mom used to use it in the stinky diaper wash.

Finish Line said...

why do you guys always take the funny comments?