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Stories from Bernie's current trip - a mule voyage from Canada to Mexico

Sounds like Bluegrass
February 26, 2008


Spring training at RiverEarth.com
Outside Raeford, NC

With the February days growing ever-longer, mule Polly and I contemplate getting fit for Leg II of our Canada to Mexico mule wagon journey. Last year, we traveled from Neptune, Saskatchwan to Hill City, SD.

Then winter struck. Polly and I came home to North Carolina to do the program tour for the new “Too Proud to Ride a Cow” book.

And I got lazy.

Now it’s time for Polly and I to get back in shape.

Somewhere in my dormancy, I started playing the dulcimer. About the same time, a friend told me of an old feed mill where they played bluegrass on Friday nights. Hmmmm….. My brain may have been winter addled but the notion of taking a road trip with mule Polly and my dulcimer suddenly made sense.

So last weekend I hitched Polly to the Lost Sea wagon for a road trip to Fords Bluegrass Mill in Hamlet, NC. Nothing like a little dobro and fiddle to get us in shape for the upcoming voyage.
Along for the outing were my long time wagon training friends Tash and Kenny.


Tight trail to bluegrass


Big puddle, open road

Traveling the sand roads that traverse the Hoffman Gamelands north of Hamlet, NC was a gentle reminder that wagon travel, though romantic, is filled with puddles, lightening, and dry axles (some wagon wheels rely on heavy grease for lubrication. Loose the grease, well, you get the picture…).


Tash checks the axle grease on his Army wagon

Two days later, we arrived at Fords Mill Bluegrass.


Welcome to Fords Mill Bluegrass

In its early days, Fords Mill really had been a feed mill. Built by current owner James Ford to sell feed and farming supplies to local farmers, the mill operated for decades.

Then James Ford retired. In 2002, he converted the mill into his own Friday night bluegrass concert hall.


James Ford

The plan was simple. Bring in 3 to 5 bands, always on a Friday night, and let folks come for a listen. As a perk, James would be able to play his 1929 American Standard bass.

Now for those of you who haven’t been close to a bass, suffice to say, this instrument is large. It’s nicknames denote heft: bull fiddle, double bass, upright bass. It’s so big, it’s nice to have someone open doors for you when you show up with this behemoth relative to the fiddle.

It’s so big, that when it’s played solo, you can feel what ever you’re made of vibrate inside you.


The hand that built the Mill

It’s so big, according to James, “that if there’s a bluegrass band playing out here in the summer, on the porch, it’s the only instrument you can hear up the road.”

To hear James and his bass, click the player below.

Want to see and hear James Ford play some live bluegrass on that 1929 bass? Here’s how to find him:

Fords Mill Bluegrass
Hamlet, NC
Fridays at 7:30 pm
Contact:James Ford
ph 910 895 6253

Posted Tuesday February 26, 2008 by Bernie
Listen to A Warning From Polly's Last Owner
February 19, 2008


Tash

When I bought mule Polly from my buddy Tash, he assured me she was a great mule for pulling a wagon across the Lost Sea. Then he informed me using Polly as a pack mule wasn’t such a hot idea. Seems Tash and Polly had done some work with the US Army teaching soldiers how to work with mules.

Polly hadn’t co-operated.

To listen to Ronald’s version of the story – click below.

Point taken, Tash. Point taken, Polly…

Posted Tuesday February 19, 2008 by Bernie
How Much Can a Mule or Horse Pull?
February 13, 2008

It’s only February and the first daffodils are blooming in Southern Pines, NC. Time to get mule Polly in shape for Part II of the Lost Sea Expedition. That’s the wagon journey we’re taking from Canada to Mexico to learn more about the inland sea that covered the Great Plains 80 million years ago. (In Part I, we spent 6 months in 2007 traveling from Canada to South Dakota).


Mule Polly and the Lost Sea wagon on virgin prairie
North of Dagmar, Montana

Getting Polly legged up is really more about getting out with friends than getting her fit. Typically, three our four of us head out with our wagons and carts to visit a little-known corner of North Carolina – from bluegrass music at Ford’s Bluegrass Mill in Rockingham (a mill converted to pickin’ venue) to shark’s teeth in Aurora.

Interesting is what a wide range of equines and vehicles gather for these informal outings. Here’s a typical procession.


Vic’s miniature (L) keeps up with Kenny’s draft team ®
Outside Wagram, NC

From Vic’s miniature horse that weighs 200 pounds to Ken’s draft team that weighs 15 times as much, somehow, they all go the distance.

Which begs the question. How much can a horse (or mule) pull?

This question was not lost on the US Army which, in a 1917 manual wrote that, “an average draft mule can pull on a level 80 lbs. (traction) at 2.5 miles an hour for 10 hours every day, or, in other words, can pull 80 lbs. over 25 miles of average level roads every day.” In real terms, this meant that a team of 4 draft mules, which weighed about 4,500 pounds, could pull a loaded Army wagon, which weighed around 4,500 pounds, 25 miles per day.


Ronald Hudson’s Army wagon
High Falls, NC

Okay, so that’s the government engineer’s answer to how much a mule can pull on a daily basis.

Another way to think of it is like this. One a firm, flat surface, a draft mule can pull its own weight 20 to 25 miles per day.

I call it the RiverEarth 1:1 rule.

This rule of thumb bears out remarkably well in real life. Last summer, mule Polly, who’s a small draft mule, easily pulled her wagon 80 miles in 4 days. Polly weighs 900 pounds – the wagon about the same.

Okay, so the 1:1 rule works great for draft mules. But what about the smaller equines?

This question crossed my mind this morning as I was feeding a friend’s horses breakfast. She raises miniature ponies. While they were eating, I was piddling around on the Lost Sea wagon, and in a moment of idle thought wondered, “what would a 200 pound pony look like hitched to a half-ton wagon…?”


The Lost Sea wagon

So I grabbed Jester and put him in the shafts. It looked like this.

Clearly, imagination had over run common sense and the 1917 Army manual.
Jester pointed this out to me.


“bernie. this is a clear violation of the 1:1 rule”

Which raises the question. If a wagon dwarfs a miniature horse, then just what can the critter pull?

Easy. Just remember the RiverEarth 1:1 rule. This rule scales almost as well for half-ton draft animals as it does for miniature horses that weigh 200 pounds. Okay, so you won’t be able to drive a mini 25 miles per day. But hitched to a light two-wheeled cart, you can expect a fit pony to pull its own weight (and then some) 10 to 15 miles per day – a very practical distance.

That’s why, when friends and I hit the road to listen to bluegrass, my view from the Lost Sea wagon looks like this.


Vic’s 15 mile-per-day rig as viewed from the Lost Sea wagon

Enjoy.

Posted Wednesday February 13, 2008 by Bernie


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