Twenty-mule team

Twenty-mule team

:"For information on the cleaning product, please see" Twenty-Mule-Team Borax.

Death Valley, California] Twenty-mule teams were teams of eighteen mules and two horses attached to large wagons that ferried borax out of Death Valley from 1883 to 1889. They traveled from mines to the nearest railroad spur, 165 miles (275 km) away in Mojave, California] . The routes were from Furnace Creek, California to Mojave, California, and from the mines at Old Borate to Mojave.

In 1877, six years before twenty-mule teams had been introduced into Death Valley, Scientific American reported that Francis Marion Smith and his brother had shipped their company's borax in a 30-ton load using two large wagons with a third wagon for food and water drawn by a 24-mule team over a 160-mile stretch of desert between Teel's Marsh and Wadsworth, Nevada.

The twenty-mule team wagons were among the largest ever pulled by draft animals, designed to carry 10 short tons (9 metric tons) of borax ore at a time. The rear wheels measured seven feet (2.1 m) high, with tires made of one-inch-thick (25 mm) iron. The wagon beds measured 16 feet long and were 6 feet deep (4.9 m long, 1.8 m deep); constructed of solid oak, they weighed 7,800 pounds (3,500 kg) empty; when loaded with ore, the total weight of the mule train was 73,200 pounds (33.2 metric tons or 36 1/2 short tons).

The first wagon was the trailer, the second was "the tender" or the "back action", and the tank wagon brought up the rear.

With the mules, the caravan stretched over 180 feet (55 m). No wagon ever broke down in transit on the desert due to their excellent construction. []

A 1200 U.S. gallon (4542.49 L) water tank was added to supply the mules with water en route. [ Desert Magazine June 1940] There were water barrels on the wagons for the teamster and the swamper. Water supplies were refilled at springs along the way, as it was not possible to carry enough water for the entire trip. The tank water was used at dry camps and water stops.

"Desert Magazine" June 1940, confirms that the primary water tank was 1200 U.S. gallons. This detail is also given in "The History Behind the Scale Model." [ The History Behind the Scale Model]

An efficient system of dispersing feed and water along the road was put in use. Teams outbound from Mojave, pulling empty wagons, hauled their own feed and supplies, which were dropped off at successive camps as the outfit traveled. The supplies would be on hand to use when a loaded wagon came back the other way, and no payload space was wasted. There was one stretch of road where a 500-gallon wagon was added to take water to a dry camp for the team that would be coming from the opposite direction. The arriving team would use the water and take the empty tank back to the spring on their haul the next day, ready for re-filling and staging by the next outbound outfit. [Of Myths and Men: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Twenty Mule Team Story, by Ted Faye, Proceedings Fifth Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory]

The teams hauled more than 20 million pounds (9,000 metric tons) of borax out of Death Valley in the six years of the operation. Pacific Borax began shipping product by train in 1896. [ [] Buckboard Days in Borate, Desert Magazine, September 1939]

The horses were the wheelers, the two closest to the wagon. They were ridden by one of the two men generally required to operate the wagons, and were typically larger than their mule brethren. They had great brute strength for starting the wagons moving and could withstand the jarring of the heavy wagon tongue, but the mules were smarter and better suited to work in desert conditions. In the "Proceedings Fifth Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory," two articles discussed freight operations in the Mojave with specific details on the use of mules and horses. "Of Myths and Men: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Twenty Mule Team Story," author Ted Fave discussed how the teams were assembled, trained, and used. "Nadeau's Freighting Teams in the Mojave," based on Remi Nadeau's historic accomplishments hauling freight throughout the desert region, gives further insight as to the superiority of mules for general use.

The teamster drove the team with the jerkline and the aid of a long blacksnake whip, used to get the attention of any mule that didn't do its share of pulling. The teamster usually rode the left wheeler, but he could also drive from the trailer seat, working the brake on steep descents. The swamper usually rode the trailer, but in hilly country, he would be on the back action available to work the brake. From the trailer, armed with a can of small rocks, he could pelt an inattentive mule and send it back to work. Both men were responsible for readying the team, feeding and watering of the mules, and any veterinary care or repairs that needed to be done. There was a mid-day stop to feed and water the mules in harness. The night stops had corrals and feed boxes for the mules. A day's travel averaged about 17 miles, varying slightly from leg to leg. It took about ten days to make a trip one way. It was not unheard of for an outfit to overnight out in the desert if there were delays. Cabins were constructed by the company for use of drivers and swampers at the night stops. [ Desert Magazine, Life on the Desert, as told to Ernest K. Allen] [ Desert Magazine, "Giant Wagons of Death Valley," by Richard A. Bloomquist]

Francis Marion Smith, who came to be known as "Borax Smith," founded Pacific Borax. Cora Keagle recounted his history in an article, "Buckboard Days in Borate," published in "Desert Magazine" in September 1939 [Desert Magazine, Desert Magazine September 1939, Buckboard Days in Borate. "Borax Smith" was a great promoter and sent drivers out with jerk-line teams to major U.S. cities to promote the company's laundry product with free samples. The exhibition teams were typically mules for the promotion value, but Smith explained that in actual use, wheel horses were a standard practice. Outside contractors hauling for the company typically used mixed teams.

Joe Zentner wrote of the origins of the advertising campaign on Desert USA website in "Twenty Mule Teams on the move in Death Valley. Bill Parkinson, formerly a night watchman for the company, had to learn quickly how to drive the team when he was given the role of "Borax Bill." He was the first, but not the last driver known by that name. The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was the maiden appearance for the Team, and was such a success that "Borax Bill" went on tour.

The team eventually made its way to New York City, parading down Broadway. After that showing, the mules were sold and the wagons shipped back to California. [ 20-Mule Borax Teams on the Move in Death Valley,] The mules also appeared at the Golden Gate Bridge dedication according to "The Last Ride, the Borax Twenty Mule Team 1883 - 1999."

A short item in the "Desert Magazine" June 1940 edition mentioned that two of the original borax wagons were en route to the New York World's Fair. The item followed with the note that muleskinner "Borax Bill" Parkinson [ The History Behind the Scale Model] had driven an original wagon from Oakland, California to New York City in 1917, spending two years in the journey. [] The Mule Team also made periodic re-enactment appearances on hauls into Death Valley.

In 1958, a Twenty Mule Team made a symbolic haul out of the new pit at U.S. Borax, commemorating the transition from underground to open pit mining. [ Desert Magazine September 1961, by Lucille Weight] Other appearances for Twenty Mule Teams included President Wilson's inauguration in 1917. [ Borax Twenty Mule Team takes its final ride, Engineering and Mining Journal, Feb 1999 ] Promotional team appearances ended with an outing in the January 1, 1999 Rose Parade. The team had a shakedown outing in a 1998 Boron, California, parade. The company spent $100,000, refitting the 115-year-old wagons and obtaining harness and mules for the performance. There were no plans for additional public appearances for advertising purposes, as the company no longer had a retail product line. [ Borax Twenty Mule Team takes its final ride, Engineering and Mining Journal, Feb 1999 ]

U.S.Borax put out a paperback publication detailing the "The Last Ride, the Borax Twenty Mule Team 1883 - 1999" with many details about the history of the Team and the preparation for the Rose Parade outing. [The Last Ride, the Borax Twenty Mule Team 1883 - 1999] There is a photo of Borax Bill driving the team down Broadway in New York City with bells on every animal. Most of the time only the leaders wore bells. Another picture shows the team in San Francisco in 1917. This picture clearly shows the teamster on a horse. Another historic picture shows a working borax freight team with a mixture of horses and mules.


*cite book
authorlink = Jean Johnson, editor
title = Proceedings Fifth Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory: Remi Nadeau's Freighting Teams in the Southern Mining Camps; Of Myths and Men: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Twenty-Mule Team Story
publisher = Community Printing and Publishing, Bishop, California 93514
year = 1999
isbn = 0-912494-05-0

*cite book
title = The Last Ride, the Borax Twenty Mule Team 1883 - 1999
publisher = U.S. Borax
year = 1999

*cite book
authorlink =Richard E. Lingenfelter
title = Death Valley & The Amargosa: A Land of Illusion
publisher = University of California Press, Berkeley, CA 94720
year = 1986
isbn = 0-520-06356-2

External links

* [ Twenty Mule Team Museum]
* [ Santa Clara Valley History in Pictures]
* [ Days in Borate, Desert Magazine September 1939]
* [ Here and There on the Desert, p. 37 (manuscript page number), Desert Magazine June 1940]
* [ Mule Team Kits - the History Behind the Scale Model]
* [ Borax Twenty Mule Team takes its final ride, Engineering and Mining Journal, Feb 1999]
* [ [ 20-Mule Borax Teams on the Move in Death Valley,] ]
* [ Desert Magazine, April 1953, Life on the Desert, as told to Ernest K. Allen] ]

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