Mule Day's pull extends to Marshall County

Friday, April 3, 2009
Paul V. Smith's big mule is called Shorty. The Percheon Horse Mule is 19-hands, two-inches tall, meaning from hoof to the top of his shoulders the horse is six-foot, six-inches high.

POTTSVILLE - Mule Day may be Saturday in Columbia, but the beasts of burden pulled a wagon train on Monday to Henry Horton State Park from their overnight encampment here on land provided by a well-known cattleman behind Marcy Jo's Mealhouse.

"I am happy that the people can use this property, and for me to play a little part," cattleman Bud Mitchum, 75, of Spring Hill said about hosting the 2009 Mule Day Parade's men, women, mules and wagons that formed a wagon train Tuesday morning, first headed south on U.S. 431 (Franklin Pike) and then east on State Route 99 (Sylvester Chunn Highway).

It's not hard to track a wagon train since its progress is marked by the sounds and remnants of the animals' trail. On the highway's paved shoulder it was: Clippity, clop, clippity clop; Stop and plop; Clippity, clop, clippity clop.

Beyond the benefits of natural fertilizer for his land, Mitchum says he enjoyed the free meal and entertainment in a tent with stripes of red and white with bluegrass music by the Sugar Ridge band from Columbia.

"We fed 131 people Monday night," Mule Day Committeeman Dee Cee Neeley said. "I thought the economy would bring down the attendance (at the encampment.) But it's up."

There were approximately 93 people ready for the wagon train last year during the week preceding Mule Day, Neeley said. This year, he counted 110 riders.

Neeley is one of about two-dozen people on the committee. He's in charge of the parade that goes through Columbia tomorrow, but he's also been coordinating what might be called the kick-off event, although the kicks have nothing to do with pigskins.

"I've been putting this wagon train on for 14 years," Neeley said. "I co-chair everything away from the park" in Columbia.

This is the second year the mule train has been camped on Mitchum's land. Previous encampments have been at Wartrace in Bedford County and St. Joseph southwest of Lawrenceburg.

This year, at Petersburg, the campers were all talking about Shorty.

Paul V. Smith, proprietor of Smith's Farm at Crossville, Tenn., brought the 1,975-pound Percheon Horse Mule that stands 19-hands and two-inches from hoof to shoulder.

For those who may not recall the way to measure such livestock, a hand is four inches, so Shorty is six-foot, six-inches high - not counting his head and ears. To top it off, Smith says he thinks Shorty's ears are a little short.

He may also be larger in the jaw, as Smith states forthrightly, but that mule is big, an animal that is, literally, something to look up to.

That's not all.

"I'm going to try to get him up to 2,500 pounds," Smith said of Shorty. "He'll be nine years old in a couple of months."

This summer, Shorty is destined to pull a plow, the mule trainer said. The work will strengthen the mule and make him heavier.

Like Tennessee Walking Horse trainers, Smith is clear about his job. It is training, but in a world with horses, broncos and donkeys, even Smith's business card says it: "Breaking mules to work." Mule and horse-drawn farm equipment doesn't work well with wild burros, broncos or mules.

"He's got a good trot, and the record [height for a mule] is 19-hands and one-inch," Smith said, quickly describing Apollo, the other big mule: "He's dead."

The difference between Shorty and Apollo is one inch. No check was made on Smith's point. He spoke with quiet and reserved pride about his big mule.

"There are prettier mules," Smith said, standing next to Shorty, "but he has good confirmation" of the breed when comparing the mule's body to what is considered a real mule.

That is, of course, contrasted with a half-breed, which raises a point made early by others at the camp.

"You wouldn't have a mule without a horse," explained Lowell "Cowboy" Amrine of McEwen who carried a jug and a bucket of water to his horse, Bailey, in a barn on Mitchum's farm.

Mules don't normally reproduce, although there are rare reports of a few that have done so. Mules are a product of a horse and a donkey.

"I like horses, too, but mules are smarter than horses," Smith said, "and they're lower maintenance."

Smith, 46, has been coming to Mule Day for decades.

"Best I can remember, I was eight years old," he said of when he first attended a Mule Day in Columbia. "I try to get into the parade each year.

"This is the Super Bowl for mules," Smith said. "But Bishop, Calif., has a growing show."

Smith is a third-generation proprietor of Smith's Farm to buy, trade, break and sell mules.

Danny Fraley of Murfreesboro is participating in Mule Day activities with two of his mules: Lucky and Leroy.

Like Smith, Fraley has his mules pull a plow.

"I put out a two-acre garden with them," Fraley said. "I give away the vegetables to widow women, 'cause they worked their husbands to death."

At the camp, there were other tales that were borderline true, including one from a Marshall County school bus driver.

"Everybody says I'm from Marshall County," Jerry Parks said. "I even drive a school bus for the county, but when I come out of my driveway, I'm in Marshall County. My house is in Maury County."

Then there's Carol Tisher, a self-described potty puller. That's the driver of a rig that hauls portable potties used by the folks riding in the wagon train.

As for those who pull the wagon train, it's: Clippity, clop, clippity clop; Stop and plop.