Darrell Black has worked horses since he was 12 years old. He has used the gentle giants to haul logs and pull hay wagons, mowing machines and other horse-powered equipment, and to plow and cultivate gardens for more than fifty years.
No more! Black has turned to mule power.
Black, now 66 and retired, came by his first mule four years ago — Ace, the result of a romantic encounter between a Mammoth Jack and his Spotted Draft mare.
“You hear stories about how stubborn and contrary mules can be. Ace has never ever attempted to kick anyone. He is as gentle as they come,” Darrell said.
Ace’s gentleness is, in part, due to breeding. Spotted Drafts are known for their docile, quiet temperament and willingness to work and to please. Mammoth Jacks display easy-going, kind traits and are affectionate toward people.
Two years ago, Black obtained a then 15-year-old Mammoth Jack/Percheron molly mule to team with Ace. The two were close in size and worked together well but hardly appeared to be a pair because of markings and age difference. Ace featured flashy white stockings, while Molly was solid black.
Ace will soon be teamed with Queen, a Mammoth Jack/Spotted Draft, 11-month old molly which Black obtained from Kansas. Soon will be as soon as Black trains up Queen in the way a mule should go. Queen arrived at the Black farm on February 19 and not quite ready to learn what it means to be a work animal.
Darrell’s regimen for Queen will begin as soon as the bottom land at his Hurricane Creek homestead recovers from winter and spring rains. Queen will be hitched to a single tree and tasked with hauling an automobile tire. Black will gradually add weight to the tire until Queen is ready to team with Ace.
Darrell and wife, Tootie, have big plans for Ace and Queen. Come August of next year, Ace and Queen are slated to travel to the Loretta Lynn Ranch in Tennessee to participate in the Dixie Long Ear Wagon Train with Darrell and Tootie. The Dixie Long Ear Wagon Train is what it sounds to be. It involves daylong covered-wagon rides for the Blacks and 12-15 mile pulls for Ace and Queen. Darrell and Tootie will be living out the wagon in the manner of Nineteenth Century westward bound pioneers.
The wagon train adventure may be the first of many for Ace and Queen as mules are long-lived, maybe 40 years. “I expect them to outlive me,” Darrell said.
When working full-time for the Department of Highways, it was necessary for Darrell to lend Ace to Amish friends in Sugar Creek, Ohio. The arrangement worked well as his friends enjoyed free use of a mule and Ace benefited from on-the-job training. Now that he is retired, Darrell will have more time to provide Queen with personal training.
Tack and horse-drawn equipment does not last forever. When replacement is needed, Black purchases it at Sugar Creek. One item which Darrell has not needed to replace is the Rastus cultivator plow which once belonged to Tootie’s great-grandfather.
Visitors to the Black farm will see much more than mules and equipment. Ace, Queen and Molly share pastures with six horses. Darrell and Tootie’s menagerie includes Pearl the water buffalo.
Queen has yet to meet Pearl. The two will not make eye contact until Queen is fully accustomed to her new surroundings.