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Borax 20 Mule Team Wagons


The Borax Wagon adventure has begun. After several years of planning, searching, drawing and calculating, the reproduction of the Borax wagons that hauled borax out of Death Valley from the Harmony Mine, are about to begin. Thanks to the persistence of the members of the Death Valley Conservancy, of which my privilege to meet with have been Henry Golas and Bobby Tanner, progress has been continually moving forward in a desire to preserve a special part of Americana history in the 20 mule team Borax wagons and the big-hitch era. The wagons pictured here are on display at the Harmony Mine, just outside of Furnace Creek in Death Valley. A couple of skeleton gears are also on display at the museum in Furnace Creek, but these wagons at Harmony appear to be the only surviving wagons, of this size, that hauled Borax from the mine to the rail head 165 miles away. There is one set of wagons very similar to these wagons that are still being pulled and they reside at the mine at Boron. These wagons are hitched to by Bobby Tanner and his 20 mule team at Bishop Mules Days annually, and on occasion for training purposes. Bobby has been taking his 20 mule team hitch to Ketchum Wagon Days in Idaho for about 15 years and hitching to their silver ore wagons, very similar in size to the Borax wagons, but still not as massive. These wagons are estimated to weigh in, empty, at 7800# each. They were designed to carry an additional 10 tons of borax, each, hitched in tandem, along with a water wagon in tow as the third wagon. All this was operated by two men, a jerk line driver, or mule skinner, and a swamper who ran the brake on the second and third wagon and helped attend to the needs of the two men and mules. At this time the axles are nearing completion and 18 hub blanks have been turned and drying. Whether the hub blanks will dry sufficiently to be useable for this time schedule is yet to be determined, but 10 are in Death Valley undergoing the effects of the 100+ degree summer temperatures. Anticipation is growing as several donors are offering their assistance in the project, along with numbers of donors who have helped this dream grow over that last several years. If you are interested in donating to this monumental project please contact me for information as to Mr. Golas’s or Mr. Tanner’s addresses. This is being organized through the Death Valley Conservancy and all monies are directed to them. When the axles arrive, we will shortly thereafter begin construction of the gears and wheels. Because of the magnitude of the wagons, and the significance of the project, I will be posting video clips of the progress to help everyone watch the steps involved in their construction. We appreciate your interest and involvement with this momentous adventure. Thanks to Henry and Bobby, and many, many others, who are driving forces behind this event. Garon Stutzman has written articles for Mules N More magazine which are well worth reading, giving some helpful insights to the projects progression. Mr Stutzman, and his wife Donna, were gracious enough to donate 18 large white oak blocks from which to make the hubs from. They were still at 40% moisture a year ago so it has been a challenge to bring them down in moisture content to make them useable. Time will tell. These wagons have been invited to participate in the 2017 Rose Bowl Parade, so obviously time is of the essence. They are also looking for an official invitation to the 2017 Inaugural Parade in Washington D.C. So stay tuned as we attempt to help make this possible. Best regards. Dave Engel Engel’s Coach Shop