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    Posted 9 months ago

    (222 items)

    How long must someone crastinate before becoming a pro? 59 years ago I purchased a 20 mule team borax model kit, 1/67th scale I believe. I had been a big fan of the TV show Death Valley Days. I listened to the show on radio until we got our first TV set in 1956. When the kit was purchased I had big plans to put it together right away. Funny how life gets in the way. The kit was stashed away in a closet and remained there until two months ago when I needed a project to keep me busy. What a challenge! The kit is a myriad of tiny parts requiring the use of tweezers to assemble. Would have been easier before arthritis reared its ugly head. Arthritis aside I managed to complete the assembly. First was assembly of the diorama for the kit to mount on using model railroader how-to videos found on the internet. Thank you guys. Is this a record for procrastination?

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    1. Watchsearcher Watchsearcher, 9 months ago
      That’s so pretty serious procrastination! At least you finished it so your descendants will, hopefully, appreciate it and not store the box ‘to infinity and beyond’ (to quote Buzz Lightyear). ;^)
    2. Newfld Newfld, 9 months ago
      Terrific mule team model, fabulous assembly job
    3. TheGateKeeper TheGateKeeper, 9 months ago
      Thank You all for the love and the kind comments.
    4. keramikos, 9 months ago
      TheGateKeeper, Cool. :-)

      I learn something new all the time.

      It turns out that these teams typically were not composed of twenty mules, but rather eighteen mules and two horses. I guess a name like "Eighteen Mule and Two Horse Team doesn't roll off the tongue. };-)


      Twenty-mule teams were teams of eighteen mules and two horses attached to large wagons that transported borax out of Death Valley from 1883 to 1889.


      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.


      The teamster drove the team with a single long rein, known as a "jerk line", and the aid of a long blacksnake whip. 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.


      Poor mulies, but then they're notoriously stubborn, probably a by-product of being smart.
    5. keramikos, 9 months ago
      Here's an interesting piece about the use of mules as pack animals in Saguaro National Park:
    6. Watchsearcher Watchsearcher, 9 months ago
      Have you ever experienced the Molokai Mule ride in Hawaii? You must put your trust in a mule to deliver you in one piece down a cliff face, 1700 feet change in elevation from top to takes about an hour and a half on a narrow trail with many hair-pin switchbacks....all you can do is pray for your mule to be sure footed!
      The objective of the trip is to tour Kalaupapa, Hawaii’s old Leper colony.....educational, disturbing, lovely, memorable.
      Mules are probably the only animals with the strength and endurance, sure- footedness and lack of fear that could manage that trail.
      I have much respect for mules after that experience. They deserve more credit than they get. :-)

    7. fortapache fortapache, 9 months ago
      That is really great with the diorama. My model building days seems to have come to an end because all my paint dries up.
    8. keramikos, 9 months ago
      Watchsearcher, Yes, they deserve more credit -- and sympathy. That story about pack mules getting attacked by a mountain lion after their human was disabled haunts me.

      As to why mules are better suited for work in the desert and/or rough terrain:
    9. keramikos, 9 months ago
      TheGateKeeper, I can't quite tell: are the wheel animals in your diorama horses?
    10. TheGateKeeper TheGateKeeper, 9 months ago
      The kit came with 20 mules, no horses.
    11. keramikos, 9 months ago
      TheGateKeeper, Hmmm. Well, I don't recall whether the Death Valley Days show used all mules, anyway.

      This source provided some interesting factoids:


      They WEREN'T 20 mule teams ! They had 18 mules and 2 horses - Clydesdales or Percherons as the Wheelers.


      Large horse breeds like Clydesdales or Percherons make sense.

      This source makes no mention of horses at all, but provides this fascinating tidbit about the mules:


      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.


      About the kit:

      Other 20 mule team model kit enthusiasts:
    12. keramikos, 9 months ago
      I found a diagram showing how the team would negotiate mountain curves. The labeling is a bit problematic because all of the animals are called mules, but the text of the article itself does say that the two wheeler animals were horses:

      Here's another interesting tidbit:


      The few details we have of the Death Valley trail are from Ed Stiles, who hauled on the Daggett route. Stiles, who lived on until the 1940s, recalled that the journey from the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley would begin at sunrise. By noon, they would stop and feed the mules and water them as they stood in their harnesses. The trip would continue until sunset when the team would have traveled about 17 miles. Sometimes the team traveled at night or early morning to avoid the worst of the daytime heat, as Stiles recalls:

      "One of my big chores was to keep a close watch on 80 hoofs. When any of them needed attention, we turned out at one o'clock in the morning and got an early start. Then, after we had covered our distance for that day, I still had three or four hours of daylight left to do some shoeing."


      I imagine that the skill and dedication of the animal handlers were in no small part responsible for this:


      Between 1883 and 1889, the twenty mule teams hauled more than 20 million pounds of borax out of the Valley. During this time, not a single animal was lost, nor did a single wagon break down — a considerable tribute to the ingenuity of the designers and builders and the stamina of the men and mules.

    13. keramikos, 9 months ago
      TheGateKeeper, Don't feel too polite to tell me to stop. };-)

      I found another drawing of the mountain curve maneuver, along with detailed descriptions of the various mule team members' functions:

      Although this seems like it might be a typographical error with regard to the date:


      re Wagons

      The first wagon (Lewis Lead) was built entirely of hardwood by employees of Horace Lewis in 1889.


      But I was encouraged to read this:


      On the wheelers, there’s also “breeching”—a strap that wraps around the hindquarters to prevent the wagons from running into the back of the animal. The wheelers would be the only assist from the team in slowing down the train.


      Large draft horses or no, getting hit by the wagons would hurt. From what I've read, it's actually the primary reason (and not passenger comfort) that the famous Abbot-Downing stagecoaches had a leather suspension system.
    14. TheGateKeeper TheGateKeeper, 9 months ago
      Don’t stop on my account. You are on a roll. I’m enjoying all the info you’ve come up with. Thank You.
    15. keramikos, 9 months ago
      TheGateKeeper, You're welcome. And thank you. };-)

      Sometimes I fall down a rabbit hole, and it turns out nobody enjoys it except me.

      I've been enjoying this particular rabbit hole, because I've had a soft spot for mules ever since I first encountered Francis the Talking Mule.

      BTW, that Abbot-Downing stagecoach trivia was part of another rabbit hole I fell down a few years back.

      What I read was that the makers came up with the leather thorough braces to try to prevent the wheeler animals from coming into contact with any unforgiving stagecoach hardware when they were going downhill.

      Aside from any relatively modern notions about animal cruelty, you did not want to be literally out in the middle of nowhere, and find yourself short one or two draft animals because they had been severely injured by the stage coach.

      I tried to find the same references again today, but came up just a bit short. This is the best I can do for now:


      The stagecoach is as much a part of the lore and romance of the “old west” as the horse and cowboy. Built almost entirely by hand at the Abbot Downing company in Concord, New Hampshire, more than 3500 of these coaches were shipped all over the world. The first Concord stagecoach was built in 1827. Costing $1200 - $1500, these coaches weighed more than two thousand pounds. The Abbot Downing Company employed leather strap braces, called thorough braces, under their stagecoach bodies which gave a swinging motion instead of the jolting up and down of a spring suspension. This was not for the comfort of the passengers but rather as shock absorbers for the team of six horses.

    16. keramikos, 9 months ago
      A few more links, and then maybe I can let this go. }:-)

      This UK modeler forum has pictures of the kit, and it looks like the diagram and explanation of the mountain curve maneuver is in there (although the wheeler animals are described as mules):

      Modern replicas of the 20 mule team borax wagons, plus a video of the maiden voyage:

      Some scenery in Twenty Mule Team Canyon:;aggregationId=&albumid=101&filter=7
    17. Celiene Celiene, 9 months ago
      I LOVE all the info, Keramikos!! I fall down that SAME rabbit hole quite often myself!
    18. keramikos, 9 months ago
      Celiene, Yep, them rabbit holes can be quite a trip. };-)
    19. LazyBoy LazyBoy, 8 months ago
      I really enjoy your collection .. the depth of detail and the amount of your research shows in all your post in all 10 years here ...really well done ...thanks for posting here in CW land '-)) ...have a safe weekend..
    20. TheGateKeeper TheGateKeeper, 8 months ago
      Thank You LazyBoy for your kind comments.
    21. LazyBoy LazyBoy, 8 months ago
      So are you writing a book on all of this or all ready put one out AKA.... or your thinking about it ....?? smiling.
    22. TheGateKeeper TheGateKeeper, 8 months ago
      Maybe in 59 years.
    23. LazyBoy LazyBoy, 8 months ago
      Whats your hurry,.... well when you must go there will be a big vacuum of information lost to the west and the world..and I'll never get a signed copy by you ... '-)) later
    24. TheGateKeeper TheGateKeeper, 8 months ago
      I shall put an e-signature on my site that will suffice until the book is published.
    25. LazyBoy LazyBoy, 8 months ago
      Hey I can get into that ...smiling ...Here's my 2 cents....
    26. inky inky, 8 months ago
      Probably not!!..but wowza!.. how beautiful is that, I’d have on my shelf any day along with my glass..finished of course..;-)..

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