Have you ever wondered while driving by or down Mule Academy Road in Fishersville how it got its name? Many years ago, a man living down the then dirt road in the hollow did indeed train mules to do many chores. They were an economic necessity and he had a thriving business.
The mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. The saying, “stubborn as a mule” should really be “stubborn as a donkey” for the mule has a milder temperament than the donkey. While mules tend to be independent, they have more patience than either the horse or the donkey. They are also more sure-footed, hardy, harder of skin that allows greater resistance to sun and rain, have harder hooves, live longer lives and generally eat less than the horse. They can carry 20% of their size as dead weight (cargo as opposed to live weight who is a rider) and can travel 20 miles without a rest.
These animals are true “work horses” of the equine family. They have been domesticated for thousands of years. They pulled the barges down the canals along tow paths, plowed the fields, carried supplies over uneven terrain to build tunnels, hauled goods to the market and were the soldier’s best friend pulling the many wagons, cannons and supplies into battle. The United States Army still uses mules in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. Mules were used inside and outside of ore mines. Inside, they would pull the ore cars to the mine entrance after the men extracted the ore from the veins. Outside, they were used to pull the heavy wagons to their destination. In Death Valley, twenty-mule teams were used to pull a wagon containing 10 tons of borax from the mines to the nearest rail spur, approximately 165 miles away.
While not as handsome as the horse or as costly, they got the work done. You usually don’t hear of “mule thievery” or being shot for stealing a mule. And it’s hard to picture a dashing young man astride a proud mule seeking the hand of his fair maiden.
Waynesboro farmers and orchard owners made extensive use of mules. Until the invention of the tractor for the field and the truck for the highway, mules did the work. As the story has been told, Rose Cliff Fruit Farm, formerly located on the South River at the eastern end of the current Ridgeview Park, was one of the largest apple packing businesses in the area. They had several mules, but one in particular was a favorite. Paul, a white mule, would be sent, unescorted, into the mountain pulling an empty wagon. At the assigned stop, the pickers would fill the wagon and then send Paul, again unescorted, back down to the packinghouse. As he approached the N & W railroad crossing, he would stop to check to see if trains were coming before he crossed the tracks. Other mules who were not as patient as Paul were not so lucky and were hit and killed by the train.
During the prosperous years of 1892 to 1902, Basic City had a mule-powered trolley. Starting at the front of the Belmont Hotel where the two railroads crossed each other, the mule trolley would carry passengers down Commerce Avenue to Main Street. At the intersection of Main and Wayne and turning left, they would continue down to the Brunswick Park and the Brunswick Hotel (now Grace Lutheran Church). The park at that time extended to Loth Spring at the curve on Arch Avenue, near the entrance to the Greenway. It would circle around and then head back up South Wayne. At the intersection of Wayne and Main a spur went up North Wayne Avenue to the C & O station on Ohio. And the cost was a nickel. Ideas to convert the mule-powered trolley to an electric trolley never materialized. The trolley ran on rails and after the trolley was no longer running, many of the rails were sold to the Crimora Ore Mine. The rest of the rails were paved over after vehicular traffic became the preferred method of transportation.
The Amish community still uses mules for plowing their fields, but will use a horse to draw their buggy.