20 Mule Teams and the old Apache Trail
Well howdy folks I'm Hank Sheffer and I'm here again this day with Mr Larry Hedrick we have another tale for you that I think you're really going to enjoy but it's not about gold and silver but you're going to have fun with this one too you know in our travels we've been to a lot of places and met a lot of people exploring the true to life history and legends and lore here in the Mysteries of the Superstition Mountains we've talked about the native people building extravagant cliff dwellings we've explored the causes and effects and the travesties caused by the indian wars we've talked about the creation of useful fertile agrarian land that was produced out of desert areas we've talked about the building of modern thriving towns and cities where nothing has existed before and we've talked about the men and women whose vision and entrepreneurship laid the very foundations for what we see in our day-to-day lives today and of course we've talked at length about gold and the many treasures that these old mountains have become famous for we have seen such a wealth of adventure through our historical storytelling to me one of the most amazing accomplishments attributed to this area is the incredible construction of the Mesa Roosevelt road and of course the Roosevelt dam itself in fact we even did a video on that that you can go back and see but with all that said would you believe that one of the things that has intrigued me as much as anything and don't think I'm crazy now but I have to wonder how all these freighters managed to get all that material and the supplies up to the Roosevelt dam by way of that skinny little road called the Apache trail using 20 mule teams to pull these huge wagons I just can't figure out how they did that well I know Larry Hedrick the co-founder of the superstition mount museum has been messing around with horses and teams and whatnot for a long time can you help me out with that Larry well you know my family moved to California when I was three years old in September of 1941 and uh my first experience was a horse was right then where we've got a picture of me and my brothers on a little pinto and uh you know during the war broke out just a couple of months after we got there and you know there were some trigger happy soldiers at that time there were there were spotlights in the air and every time a plane flew over the they cut loose and then there was a story about a submarine Japanese submarine and all that and my folks put my brother and I on a bus back to Oklahoma and my grandfather had a an old horse there that he had for years and and that horse was trained to just say go get the cows and he wouldn't go get cows my grandpa put me on that horse and no saddle no reins and said hold on to his mane there and he sent the horse off to get the cows I didn't have to do anything I just you know and i only say this not to anything about the expertise of horses and stuff but as a child I had no fear of horses yeah well my real experience didn't happen until i got to Arizona and that was in the late 50s and my dad was living in a trailer court down here in mesa and a lady there had a horse that she corralled across the street and it needed exercising a lot and I rode the devil out of that horse and but really uh you know in 75 I met uh Tom Kollinborn and we started taking trips in the mountains and if anything will get you seated in a horse and stay on a horse it's the ups and downs and yeah then there was some pretty dangerous stuff going on there and and that's where you really get your confidence when you can go in there and come out and and never have fallen off your horse and I even brought a team of mules i only got one picture of that team of mules but they were big mules and when I bought them the fella didn't really say much about them except they were broke to ride and broke full and I didn't trust them very much so I had an old army jeep so I rigged up a double tree and hooked them up to the bumper of that jeep and I drove around all over out here and of course i could step on the break and throw it in reverse if I had to is that like whoa whoa and uh I bought the mules because I had a three inch ordinance rifle civil war cannon and limber and I want to we were in a lot of parades with the caliber unit that I developed and I wanted to be able to pull the cannon in a parade with those mules but everything worked perfectly on a rubber tired vehicle but the moment i hooked them up to iron wheels that one one mule just took off at the end of the story and i never did trust that mule to put him in a parade because of that I'm really intrigued about the cavalry what was the cavalry thing you mentioned well because of the fact that I had the cannon some civil war reenactors contacted me and when we got involved in the civil war reenacting uh some other guys wanted to make cannons and I bought some wagons off an indian reservation in New Mexico for the wheels and axles to make cannon with and after I'd made two or three cannons for other guys a fella heard that I had all these wagons I had 20 of them and that's covered in another episode by the way but um he he wanted to he wanted to make me a deal and he invited me down to his place and he opened up this shed he had 20 McClellan saddles in there oh my goodness and bridles and everything and i traded him a saddle and a bridle for a wagon and that's how the calvary come into being and for the next 15 years we've done public and non-public reenactments and that was one of the most interesting hobbies I was ever involved in it one time we went with fort wachuka over to the chirokola mountains were one of the fifth calvary guys or six calvary guys uh owned on the ranch and if you got captured you got thrown in the grain bin and if you didn't get out you were out of the game for the rest of the night so it was a wonderful hobby and I really enjoyed it in your travels with all the horses whatnot did you ever deal with Red Wolverton seems like everybody who's ever dealt with a wagon or horses or stunts or anything else has bumped into Red Wolverton at one time or another yeah red Wolverton was managing Apacheland and you of all people ought to know that but I got to know red very well and in fact the calvary was out there a couple of times and we had a steak fried he was running the steak fry and stuff and I I got to know him so well that when one time he was taking his concord stagecoach and his six-up team to Apache junction for to be in the Lost Dutchman parade and uh I was amazed that he left me to drive that uh six up for a while and you know there's a there's a picture here of how you're supposed to hold the reins and I just reached around and put my fingers over the range just like he had his and he handed them over to me and he didn't say a thing to me you know I did and driving along on a straightaway everything was fine till we came to a long sweeping curve and that's where I made my first mistake i assumed those horses would naturally follow the road not so right off into the desert we went and you know that's when I learned that uh when you're driving a six-up is not like anything else two up four up doesn't compare to a six-up those horses are trained to respond to those reigns and they're going to do exactly what you tell them and if you don't tell them that's why I ended up in the door exactly right and I know there's got to be times that you can't tell all the horses to turn at the same time you've got to turn the leaders first and the swing team second and the wheelers last and I don't know how you I don't know how you do that with a six up I can see moving telling the turn the the leaders with the raines or the wheel horses with the reins but every time you do that the swing team's going to get some motion so I just don't I just don't understand how that's done and anybody out there in the audience that knows how that's done we'd appreciate you knowing it because listen I looked it up I tried everything I've talked to several people about it and they really didn't have an answer and they tell me I asked a couple of people when we were looking for that they said I never really gave it any thought well that doesn't help us at all so anyway you know red was interested in buying Apacheland it was up for sale and every time he went in and tried to make a deal the price went up every time so he finally got discouraged with that and he moved to Tucson and he worked with OldTucson studios and still does as far as I know except I just heard day closed but he knew I had military saddles he knew I had wagons he knew I had a cannon and he arranged to rent all that stuff for the movies when the need came up and and I remember this one specific time he you know the hubba bubba bubble gum commercials you remember those oh I sure do. yeah big bubbles no trouble! and so Red rented one of the wagons off of me for one of these commercials he also rented saddles for another which mike calvary wasn't involved in or just the equipment but on this one particular thing it called for a wagon race and he hooked up two of his horses to my wagon and uh they didn't tell me who was supposed to win you know it was a race and there was about 20 wagons and buggies wagons all kinds of things involved in this race and I just turned the horses loose and man I beat everybody never never thought a thing about it who was supposed to win well it turned out it was red's daughter wagon was supposed to win and we had to reshoot that race and uh anyway uh as we got to the bottleneck where we were all coming together at the end of the race uh I was pulling on the reins to slow the horses down and they were responding but very slow and uh I didn't know red was behind me on a horse and as soon as red said whoa those horses responded immediately so you know they know your voice I'll tell you that and it helps a lot to have for those horses to know verbal commands like that it's ironic that you mentioned commercials with reds but I did too I actually worked with him and we used that stagecoach that big concord is and my partner Don Plummer at the time we were all ghosts the commercial was called ghosts and there's a picture a scene that we shoot where my partner is walking down the boardwalk at Old Tucson down in Mezcal and the stagecoach goes by and the stagecoach is a ghost too because you can see my partner through the stagecoach but here here comes red with that six up and that that concord stage and just went right by and it was it was kind of a a placid moment it was just ghost on ghost but working with red was always okay well let's do this maybe we'll do that you know everything was just really relaxed but he knew what he was doing at all times well now that we've talked about all that we've talked about two-ups we've talked about the four-ups and the six-ups but getting back to the topic that we started with are these 20 mule teams how in the world did they make that happen how did they make those work because they don't have rains on every mule do they I mean they nothing silly like that but how did they do that I wonder how many of our audience has ever heard the term i don't know that guy from Adam's off ox you know by the time you get to it off ox your relatives are pretty distant but I want to explain that before we start this because that really cuts them they think you're not you know you have the near horse and you have the off horse you have the near mule and you have the off meal and that's where the word off ox comes from he's the far one because they the riders usually ride the near one now for example we have a picture here of a civil war cannon team pulling a cannon with a six up and all the uh soldiers are riding the near horse not the officer on the left side on the left side and that's important to know because when when you're dealing with large teams that's also the case on a 20-mule team the driver is usually riding the wheel horse on the near side and he's controlling everything from that position uh your teams are the ones that are hooked right to the wagon the first team is the wheel team and these are usually horses even even with mule teams they're they're bigger they're stronger and when you get into like a silver king mine where you see four wagons and 20 mules uh the the wheel team is the one that's really putting the power into getting that thing moving although they're being helped by the other ones they're the wheel team is a strong team they're the low gear getting that's it started and and that's that's the one the near one that the the driver is usually riding then you have the swing teams that's the ones in the middle and then you have the leaders the the two horses the two mules at the very front of the line which may be they're all hooked to the same chain which may be 150 feet long how would you do that with rains you can't have rains to every one of those teams so there's only one line that goes to the near sided not near-sighted he can see pretty good the near side leader mule and he is that one line is attached to him and he's attached to the other leader by a solid line so whatever he does forces the other one to do the same thing but there are no other lines to any other of the teams of all of them together they are trained to voice commands every one of them which meant the driver had to know the name of every mule to be able to give courses Jerry, Jack ye! ha! you know left or right you know and and they had to actually jump the chain when they went around curves in fact we have uh we have some photographs of a 20-mule team with with horses as the wheel team being trained and there's several people riding alongside of them because these are these are being trained and there was a tremendous amount of training that had to go into these mules and some of them if they didn't work out they were eliminated from the new new ones brought in and trained to respond to these voice commands and our first picture here shows the the first team although they're all swing teams between the wheels and the leaders the first team is actually hooked to the tongue of the wagon and they're called the pointers and when their names are called out ge! or ha! to to go left or right the the one they have to one of them has to jump the chain and that moves the tongue of the wagon turning the wagon away from the curve because if they didn't do that they would eventually the wagon would rub up against the side of the turn and and depending how steep the turn was you know in our second one we have pictures of two teams jumping over on on they're all on the same on the same side of the deal and uh and pulling away from the turn so the wagon doesn't hit the sides of the cliff or whatever they're up against we have a picture here that shows uh a mule actually jumping the chain of course when the when the curve straightens out he's got to jump back and after a while he he may do that on his own but mostly they got to be told when to do it and I'm not sure if the mules knew the driver's name but I didn't it's just like red when red said whoa they they knew they knew his voice and when that when the the driver says Jerry Gee! you know he knows what to do this gets pretty complicated for one man to know all these mules and that my goodness gracious. now and the next picture we got we found on the internet was the mules pulling wagons making a great s turn and actually this shows swing teams jumping on opposite sides of the chain because it had this big s turn and they had to do that in in order to keep keep from having a wreck and we've also got a picture of a wreck here that we want to show that shows that the very best the new ones the bunch they can also make mistakes well we've talked a great deal about this and it's really interesting to me what these guys were doing with 20 mule teams is truly amazing it's not incredible i read some place just with the 20 mule teams that they talk about with the borax you know that they were running as many as six to eight teams back and forth every day so there were 16 teams of these 20 mule teams running in a day and i mean these guys that were that were piloting this stuff had that's just amazing to me and they were pretty highly well paid from what I understand I was just truly flabbergasted with the amount of the weight and the freight that these guys pulled um three of those wagons was over 70 tons plus the weight of the wagon which was seven or eight times it's just miraculous to me but anyway that gets us back to the Roosevelt dam that we were talking about earlier in the Roosevelt road which of course we know is Apache trail which is an incredible an incredible feat in itself and unfortunately as popular as that road got to be as it stands right now it's been closed for over a year because of a couple of rock falls it's an important road and it seems like we ought to be able to get that thing open somehow or another well yeah you're saying they was running 16 teams with these borax places you know they were running anywhere from 20 to 60 wagons a day on Apache trail and we have a we have a picture we have a drone shot here uh of what's left of the old Apache trail the only place really left of the old Apatche trail and you you talked earlier about that skinny little road if you think that how would you like to meet a team coming down while you're coming up on this road this this video is something else and it shows the old bridge abutment the bridge is no longer there but uh the the the stonework is still there and this is really the only place that you can see any of the original Apache trail that give you some idea of how narrow it was and what it must have been like to go around these corners and also the you know the teams coming back from the dam probably weren't carrying anything so all other teams had right-of-way and it was their responsibility the empty ones it was their responsibility to make sure that when they came to a curve or downhill or something like that to make very sure that there wasn't somebody coming up if you have a team coming down and a team going up how does one know that the other one is doing what it's doing because they they don't have radios.
well that's true but the the lead teams had a an extension on their leather goods to to hang bells off of and you could these were good-sized bells these weren't little dinky things and then you could hear them quite a distance but just like you're gonna be on the freeway doing uh 70 miles an hour and you want to switch lanes it's always best to have a visual yes that can't hurt and not depend on somebody honking their horns so I really suspect that the empty teams did a visual before because you know this this one drone shot we're showing is almost half a mile long and I don't think you could hear those bills half mile away so you got to make darn sure there's nobody coming because what would you do on a skinny thing with a drop off like it if you met each other oh my goodness we talked about that wreck before I started to think what a wreck would be like i heard a guy tell me one time i asked him about if there were any wrecks and he says yes yes or was and and you never get over hearing that sound of mules screaming as they're being drugged over it's uh I wouldn't want to see or hear any of that I don't know but you know some of these teamsters you know with a 10 up or 12 up which was common would team together and when they got to places like fish creek hill the back team would stop unhitched their mules and attach them to the back of the lead wagon so you had mules pulling them down hills but you had mules behind them dragging them back and this this was specifically to involve avoid having any wrecks now in fact uh did did they have 20 mule teams on Apache trail well you know we've got all kinds of pictures of 10s and 12s and stuff like that but yes actually there was a there was a group as near as I can count had 24 teams 24 24 they were hauling the steam engine up to Roosevelt dam and here's a picture of of the tremendous long line of uh it looks like a mixture of horses and mules but that steam engine was big and it was heavy and they and it it took a lot of pull to do that why were they taking the bloody thing well he's taken up to Roosevelt dam yeah I guess he was yeah and unfortunately highway 88 is closed now because of the woodbury fire and the monsoon storms that caused a landslide that has blocked the road and we're all very concerned you know in 1987 state route 88 was made into a scenic highway and it is a very popular place even even teddy Roosevelt was amazed by the beauty and grandeur of Apache trail and all my relatives and friends that come out here I take them to fish creek hill and of course it's closed now and my understanding was in the beginning they said they weren't going to open it but the state has got some federal funds to to to make sure that it happens but I also hear that that they they plan to wait until the vegetation regrows so they don't have to do it again real quick but that doesn't make sense to me either because every every good monsoon season we have the grass grows and when the summer comes it dies and it burns down again and there's there's been landslides before and there'll be more after realistically I don't think most people understand not only the commercial value of the Apache trail I mean it was it was really important back then getting the Roosevelt dam we know that but in this day and age the commercial value of getting from Apache Junction or down from the north into some of these tourist areas to see tortilla flat or whatever is really important but it's also important in a lot of other ways besides the commercial there's the tourism but there's also the importance that nobody thinks about of what this road does because it cuts off it's the hypotenuse in a triangle just for the police departments and the fire departments to get the places and I know you've done research on that with a number of cars you you told me what the number of cars were going through this and it it amazed even me well yeah in preparing for the museum we had to show that that there was sufficient traffic to warrant supporting a museum and we got the ADOT statistics in 1980 when they had traffic counters in two or three places on Apache trail and at one particular point before you got to the museum they had 21 000 cars a day going to 21,000? 21,000 cars a day going through that counter and it also showed that 260 cars a day were going to Roosevelt dam the whole way the down fish brick hill all the way to the Roosevelt dam the only other statistic I could find was I looked it up on the internet just just yesterday in 2009 they estimated not from a counter but they estimated that sixteen thousand cars a day were going up Apache trail and I you don't know where that cutoff was because there weren't three traffic counters because a lot of people just as you pass museum go over to work with about a thousand people living over there but anyway they said that 400 cars a day were going all the way through in 2009. and so here it's another 12 years or so and I have to assume that when Apache trail closed because of the slide that probably 600 cars a day were making all the way through and with with uh 88 closed at fish creek you know the.... this closure and the fire caused the people at the Apache lake the marina the restaurant all the other stuff that goes on up there forced them to sell out and I have it on good authority that you know it's 20 miles from Apache lake to canyon lake sure and the four the Maricopa county sheriff's office is charged with patrolling Apache lake and now they can't go that 20 miles they've got to go all the way around through Miami yeah and that's 110 miles which means that's 220 miles every day how many times that the sheriff's office is having to go up to Apache lake and although ADOT may save some money by not opening up Apache trail until until the vegetation grows back which is going to burn down again the sheriff's office have to go bankrupt so I don't know I just I would love to see them go ahead and open it up because it isn't the first rock slide that's ever happened and it's not going to be the last and if if nothing else happens between now and the next three and a half years before they think the vegetation going to grow back what's going to happen to the economy up there at Apache lake because you know once other people once something closes down and you go find another place it's hard to get back so we've seen the importance of what this trail really holds and don't you find it pretty incredible that we can't get that fixed with everything we have today when they built the thing they had a bunch of guys out there with wooden shovels and picks and a bunch of jackasses and they built the thing to start with and now all we got's a bunch of jackasses and that's just another mystery thank you for watching this episode of Mysteries of the Superstition Mountains you