A plowboy’s challenge
Seldom does a day pass when I’m working in my garden that I’m not reminded of the long, sweat-drenched days I spent in the fields plowing a mule when I was a boy growing up on a farm.
A mule’s plow lines and the handles of a Georgia stock were placed in my hands at age 11. He was a fast-paced Tennessee mule who was broken in the woods snaking logs. His focus was seeing how fast he could get from one end of the row to the other.
That suited me fine. The sooner the plowing was done, the better were my chances of getting to go fishing.
When I’m struggling with a roto-tiller to prevent the weeds and grass from overtaking my garden, I’m reminded of how uncomplicated that task was when I was a plowboy. My mule worked at the same pace from sunup to sundown, energized by eight ears of corn and an armful of hay three times a day. My roto-tiller has to be serviced periodically and is always subject to a breakdown. In addition, I have to supplement it with a hoe to keep the rows clean.
Our two mules were key to the success of our farming operation. They worked long and hard almost every day from March to August. They were well-fed, and their safety was of paramount importance. They rested from Saturday at noon to Monday morning, and we were not allowed to ride them during that time.
Our family purchased a tractor for farm use when I was teenager; however, it didn’t replace the mules. It was used primarily to prepare the soil for planting.
My father refused to add planting and cultivating equipment because our fields were on two hillsides, making tractor cultivation difficult.
We rented land from neighboring landowners to expand our farm operation in the late 1940s and early1950s. Most of it was located a half-mile to a mile from our farm. To reach it, we had to cross a 100-foot rickety wooden bridge with mules and plow stocks.
That adventure was more than enough to put both mules and their handlers on edge.
While no load limits were posted, school buses were not permitted to use it.
Our approach to the bridge was always apprehensive. The mules would begin balking and snorting at the sight of the bridge, and we’d have to pause to get them settled down.
With plow stocks hitched behind, they’d take baby steps until they got halfway across and then start running.
We’d hang on with plows bumping the bridge floor until we reached the dirt road on the other side. We’d sit down and rest until we caught our breath, knowing we’d have to do the same thing again on our way home.