U.S. Borax predecessor Pacific Coast Borax released scale models of the famous 20 Mule Team in the 1950s as a promotional item. In the 1980s, David Eyre, proprietor of a rock shop in Boron, Calif. (where
the U.S. Borax mine is located), was granted exclusive rights to sell the remaining supply. When the supply was depeleted, Eyre sought and eventually received the company's permission to remanufacture
them, but as of 2018, it has not happened.
The History Behind the Scale Model.
Your 20 Mule Team is an accurate I/67th scale
model and authentic replica of the great twenty mule
team wagon train of Pacific Coast Borax Company
(now U.S. Borax) which, over 100 years ago, hauled
borax across the blistering deserts of Death Valley.
These great mule teams traveled 162 miles from
Furnace Creek in Death Valley to Mojave,
California; and from the mines at Old Borate to
Dagget, the nearest railroad points. Their routes
carried them over some of the most forbidding land
on the face of the earth.
There was not a single house or any other sign of
habitation along the Death Valley trail. One stretch
of 60 miles was without water. In the summer,
temperatures ranged from 136 degrees to 150
The twenty mule teams could cover from 16 to 18
miles a day. Camp was made on the desert floor each
night. The one-way trip, from mine to railroad point,
took about ten days.
THE BORAX WAGONS
The borax wagons, said to be the largest and
strongest of their kind, were built in Mojave,
California. The rear wheels were 7 feet high. The
front wheels, 5 feet high. Each wheel had steel tires 8
inches wide and 1 inch thick. The spokes of split oak,
measured 5½ inches wide at the hub and 4 inches
wide at the point. The axles were made of solid steel
bars, 3½ inch square. The wagon beds were 16 feet
long, 4 feet wide and 6 feet deep.
The two wagons held 25 tons, or a carload, of
ulexite, the borax ore. Two of them, together with a
trailer tank wagon that carried 1200 gallons of water,
constituted a train. Each borax wagon weighed 7800
pounds, and the combined weight of the two, loaded,
(exclusive of hay, grain, and other provisions) was
more than 60,000 pounds. However, there is no
record that one of them ever broke down on the trail
during the many years they were in service.
DRIVING THE 20 MULE TEAM
The mules were all selected for their intelligence and were
trained to answer to their names. Commands were given
by the driver or "skinner." He controlled his team by
shouting orders, calling the mules by name, and by means
of a long "jerk" line. The "skinner" rode the "nigh-wheel"
(left hand) mule. He held the "jerk" line which was 120
feet long. It ran through rings on the harness of the nigh
animals up to the leader. A light iron rod called a jockey
stick, with a snap hook on each end, connected the
leaders. One end of it was fastened to the chin strap of the
"off' (right hand) mule. The other end was fastened to the
hame ring on the offside of the nigh mule. A steady pull on
the line caused the team to go to the left. A jerk turned
them to the right. Hence the name "jerk" line.
THE 20 MULE TEAM DRIVER OR "SKINNER"
The driver had to know his mules and to be able to handle
them under all conditions. He had to be a practical
veterinarian to take care of them when they got sick, a
blacksmith to replace any shoes that came off, and
something of a wheelwright to make any needed repairs.
One of the best drivers was Bill Parkinson, better known
as "Borax Bill." He had a most eloquent vocabulary to
awaken the necessary amount of energy in balky mules.
On occasion, he backed up his verbal commands with a
long black-snake whip.
The driver's assistant was called a "swamper" and his
duties were numerous. In going up grades, he had to get
out and walk beside the team. In going down grades, he
operated the brake on the rear wagon. When the train
made camp, he assisted in unhooking and unharnessing the
mules and in feeding them. He gathered fuel for the fire,
cooked the meals and washed the dishes.
The building of railroads to all portions of the Great West
rapidly limited the necessity for the "twenty mule teams".
Before long the 20 Mule Team wagon train and "Borax
Bill" were relics of the past. They did, however, perform
an interesting and useful part in the service of man and the
development of our country.
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