photo of the week

A Congenial Mule Skinner

Even on rural roads, one simply does not expect the good fortune to encounter a mule-drawn wagon.  I was even more fortunate that the mule skinner was a congenial man, more than willing to share his knowledge and life-long experiences with mules.


Sunday, January 19, 2014
Pine Buff, Arkansas

Author’s Note:

Cruising down a road in Hempstead County, Arkansas back in February, 2009, I happened across a man and his mules.  The man was Gaylon Wilson.  The mules were Mattie and Ruth.  He was kind enough to stop what he was doing and answer my incessant questions about his mules, mule wagons, and whatever else I could conjure up at the time.  Turns out, the wagon was state-of-the-art as wagons go and the mules were happy campers.  It’s a story you don’t run across often, so here it is again.  Meet Gaylon, Mattie, and Ruth.


Joe Dempsey 

PS:  You can see more of Gaylon, Mattie, and Ruth at Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.

Gaylon in command

A Break from the Truck Route

Gaylon Wilson is livin’ the dream.  He still works at his day-job, as an over-the-road truck driver for a large bakery.  He likes the job, and it leaves him time for his wagon and mules.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Meeting the Mules and the Mule Skinner

First Published on Sunday, February 8, 2009
Pine Buff, Arkansas

Calling a covered wagon “state-of-the-art” seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.  Take a gander at Gaylon Wilson’s covered wagon and the idea immediately starts to make sense.

For openers, the mule skinner is perched in a nicely upholstered captain’s chair with electric adjustments.  Passenger seats are similarly commodious.

Gaylon and his mule team, Mattie and Ruth, half-sisters, were out for a Saturday afternoon constitutional on Hempstead County Road 20, north of McCaskill, Arkansas, when I first spotted them.  I hailed Gaylon, he called the mules to a halt, and we introduced ourselves.

He was listening to the Arkansas agin’ Mississippi State basketball game on the wagon radio.  I had been listening to the same game in the truck.  That made us immediate friends.  The first thing we did was voice our approval that the Razorbacks were ahead.  Unfortunately, later in the game, the Bulldogs, expressing their displeasure at that condition, reversed the game’s fortunes.

With the mandatory sports talk taken care of, Gaylon told me more about his rig.  It has hydraulic automotive brakes and clear roll-down curtains — “ case there’s a change in the weather,” ala Oscar Hammerstein.  There is a small closet in the back, and although I did not ask, I’d wager there are “comfort” facilities behind the nicely polished door.

Built by Texican Junior Griggs

Junior Griggs built the wagon.  A businessman in Como, Texas, who caters to mule aficionados, Junior is also the source for tack and the rigging necessary to hitch mules to the wagon.

This wagon is not the only wagon in the family.  Gaylon’s wife also has a wagon and team.  Sometimes they rig up both wagons and form their own Wilson family mule train.

I asked Gaylon how long he has been interested in and involved with mules.  “All my life,” he said with a smile.  “That’s 73 years.  I was born on Pearl Harbor Day.”  At 73, that would have been December 7, 1935.

I’m no expert at mule teams hitched to wagons, but I do know enough to say with confidence that a couple of mules could pull a wagon with less harness and attendant tack than Gaylon has applied here.  It’s obvious that Brother Wilson is serious about doing things right.  If you look closely at the arrangement, it is also patently obvious that no detail has been overlooked.

It’s Biblical. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”

Photo Notes

Both shots, hand held Nikon • D300 AF-S Nikkor 18-135mm f3.5-5.6G ED • ISO 200 • Wagon and mules 1/160@f6.3 Gaylon in the driver’s seat • 1/40@f4 • Post processed with Photoshop CS3 Extended, Photomatix and Genuine Fractals Print Pro.


see more
See more mule shots and a couple of observations on our blog,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.

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