Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Borax 20 Mule Team Scale Model Kit.
Assembly Instructions.

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 degrees.

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, 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.


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 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.

LW3365: Download individual pages here.


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Postal Cover 1891


Hauling Borax


Hauling Borax


U.S. Borax Annual Report 1971


Scale Model Instructions

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