By Judy Brandon: CNJ Columnist
My husband tells the story of his grandfather in the early days of farming in the hot and arid land near Phoenix. It was remarkable that the dry desert was turned into cotton producing fields by using ditch irrigation and row water.
Many times Charlie’s grandfather and his family would work in temperatures well above 110 degrees, stopping in the middle of the morning to take a break and then going back to work late in the afternoon when the heat had subsided somewhat.
The story goes that the hired help would pick the cotton, and then the cotton was loaded up on the cotton trailers drawn by mules. Once the trailer was loaded up, the mules took over. Those mules had made the trip to the gin countless times through the years. Using the same procedure and the same route each time, the mules could be trusted to remember and go it alone. Sometimes someone would ride in the wagon, but the rider was “hands off” — they had to do nothing to guide the mules.
The signal to get going was given and the mules would start their steady clop down the dirt road to the cotton gin two miles away. Once at the railroad track that ran between the field and the cotton gin, the mules would stop at the track, wait and check for trains. Then they would cross the tracks and head for the gin.
When they arrived at the gin, the mules would stop on the scales. There the trailer of cotton was weighed. Then with the prod of the attendant, the mules would go on to the next stop, to the big vacuum tube where all the cotton was sucked out of the trailer and into the gin.
When that procedure was finished, the mules would go back to the scale house and once again, the empty trailer was weighed. That task ended, the next command was given and the mules consistently and faithfully headed back to the farm two miles away. Everyone knew that the mules would return home.
The mules had made the trip for so long, they knew which way to go.