Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ed Stiles

I've recently had a major clear out of my working space.  It's been about five weeks now so I think the new regime is going to stick.  I used to have lots of little bits of paper around, but now I've managed to stop the habit.  It was easier than giving up fags, I can tell you!  However one little thing I've kept close to me is a postcard I collected from the 20-Mule Museum far out in the desert at Boron.  It portrays one of the mule teams along with one of the handlers - Ed Stiles.

In case some of you townies have forgotten what a mule looks like this is one - long ears and very straight back.
Now poor old Ed was a muleskinner and his life was extremely hard.  He helped to drive a wagon train of twenty mules 165 miles across the Mojave Desert from Death Valley to the small town of Mojave itself. His job was to sit astride one of the last two animals in the train, often in temperatures of 130˚ F in summer; the twenty extremely stubborn creatures under his control must have created quite a challenge for anyone. The teams operated from 1881 until 1898.

Apparently maneuvering this wagon train around was a sight that spectators would turn out for – Ed and his two fellow handlers would use short tugs on the reins to go right and steady pulls to go left. Quite how responsive the mules were is not mentioned, but you can be sure they didn’t always perform according to the owner’s handbook.

Along with him was a driver, who sat aloft the huge wagons which were loaded with borax, and at the back was the “Swamper,” who was responsible for manning the brakes and also the cooking and dishwashing.  They lived on a diet of beans and occasionally some bacon.  They were described as silent, bad tempered men.  Can you wonder?

So the reason I keep Ed and his mules prominently on my desk is to remind myself when things don't go right, that life could be a damned sight worse - I could be Ed Stiles, and that would be no joke!


  1. Is this picture of some of our past colleagues?

    Happy New Year, Mate.

    8 7 2 2 8 6 8 :)

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