This is a story about an old black mule I got to know and thought a lot of. His name was Old Pete. Old Pete was owned by my late father-in-law, Orval Mossbarger. He had a 100-acre hill farm on Sunfish Creek Road. In his younger days, he had logged all over Pike County for different fellows and they all said he was good at his job.
Also, back in those days, when the young men got the corn cut and shocked, some of them would go north and cut corn on the big farms, then come home when winter got here and trap for fur-bearing animals. A lot of those young fellows would find a nice, young lady, settle down, work on a farm somewhere and make a living for their family.
In those days, the fellow who worked on a farm, who had a family, was furnished with a milk cow, could keep chickens, and in the wintertime, would get two big hogs to butcher. That would keep the family in pork until the next fall.
My father-in-law married a local girl whose name was Nancy Birkheimer. They went north and my father-in-law worked on farms, and as time went on, moved back to Pike County and started farming on his own, plus to help pay the bills would take a logging job.
In those days, there were no bulldozers, skidders and whatever. Everything was done with horses, mules and oxen. The logs were hooked to a horse or whatever the logger had to work with. The men who did the logging had to know what they were doing in the woods because it was a very dangerous job. I can tell you that.
There were several sawmills around the neighborhood; people such as the Locks, Barkers, and Bill Wynn had sawmills, and there were several little mills too. People like the late Dock Harris, Fred Leslie and probably several more. Most of these fellows sawed ties because there was a big demand for railroad ties. I don’t know what a good tie brought, but some of the men hewed a tie out of a log by hand.
A good log horse, or a mule, was in big demand in those days, and so were oxen, but that will be another story.
My father-in-law, as far as I know, never owned a tractor until later on down the road, and that was a good many roads, too. He used horses and mules.
If you have never worked a team of mules in the field, you missed out a whole bunch. It was always a pleasure to work on a good team of mules. When you started turning over a furrow in the field and could smell the aroma from the soil, you know you were in high heaven.
My father got a big black mule off a horse trader by the name of Junior Stevens, Jr. He was a horse trader through and through. He operated a saw mill and did some logging, plus would make trade deals for about anything. I don’t know how my father-in-law got Old Pete, but I do know this good mule came right out of the log woods. One of the gentlest mules I have ever seen in my life. As the old saying goes, Old Pete knew his stuff. You could work him without lines; he knew “Gee” and “Haw”. Gee, to the right, and Haw, to the left. “Whoa” to stop and “Back” to back up. He was good in the garden, snaking firewood out of the woods, and also, Old Pete was used in the cemetery to haul dirt away from the graves. Old Pete was just an all-around good mule.
I don’t know how old Old Pete was, but I do know whoever broke him to work did a darn good job. My father-in-law had an old hit-and-miss engine that he used to cut up slab wood for the wood stoves that were used in the house to heat with and for cooking. When a drag of wood was brought to the wood yard, Old Pete never moved a muscle, that is, all but his ears. Old Pete kept in time with the burping of the engine.
Old Pete has been gone for many years now, but I always liked to work him.