The Mobile Pigeon Loft is right up there in importance with Fire, Police and Ambulances as a Public Service Vehicle, that performs a vital role in War and Peace Times. The homing pigeon is a variety of domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica) derived from the rock pigeon, selectively bred for its ability to find its way home over extremely long distances. The wild rock pigeon has an innate homing ability, meaning that it will generally return to its nest, using magnetoreception. This made it relatively easy to breed from the birds that repeatedly found their way home over long distances. Flights as long as 1,800 km (1,100 miles) have been recorded by birds in competitive pigeon racing. Their average flying speed over moderate 640 km (400 miles) distances is around 80 km/h (50 miles per hour) but speeds of up to 140 km/h (90 miles per hour) have been observed in top racers for short distances. Due to this skill, homing pigeons were used to carry messages as messenger pigeons. They are usually referred to as “pigeon post” or “war pigeon” during wars.
The sport of flying homing pigeons was well-established as early as 3000 years ago. They were used to proclaim the winner of the Olympics. Messenger pigeons were used as early as 1150 in Baghdad and also later by Genghis Khan. By 1167 a regular service between Baghdad and Syria had been established by Sultan Nour-Eddin. In Damietta, by the mouth of the Nile, the Spanish traveller Pedro Tafur saw carrier pigeons for the first time, in 1436, though he imagined that the birds made round trips, out and back. The Republic of Genoa equipped their system of watch towers in the Mediterranean Sea with pigeon posts. Tipu Sultan used carrier pigeons. They returned to the Jamia Masjid mosque in Srirangapatna, which was his headquarters. The pigeon holes may be seen in the mosque’s minarets to this day.
In 1818, a great pigeon race called the Cannonball Run took place at Brussels. In 1860, Paul Reuter, who later founded Reuters press agency, used a fleet of over 45 pigeons to deliver news and stock prices between Brussels and Aachen, the terminus of early telegraph lines. The outcome of the Battle of Waterloo was also first delivered by a pigeon to England. During the Franco-Prussian War pigeons were used to carry mail between besieged Paris and the French unoccupied territory. In December 1870, it took ten hours for a pigeon carrying microfilms to fly from Perpignan to Bruxelles.
Historically, pigeons carried messages only one way, to their home. They had to be transported manually before another flight. However, by placing their food at one location and their home at another location, pigeons have been trained to fly back and forth up to twice a day reliably, covering round-trip flights up to 160 km (100 mi). Their reliability has lent itself to occasional use on mail routes, such as the Great Barrier Pigeongram Service established between the Auckland, New Zealand, suburb of Newton and Great Barrier Island in November 1897, possibly the first regular air mail service in the world. The world’s first ‘airmail’ stamps were issued for the Great Barrier Pigeon-Gram Service from 1898 to 1908.
Birds were used extensively during World War I. One homing pigeon, Cher Ami, was awarded the French Croix de guerre for her heroic service in delivering 12 important messages, despite having been very badly injured. Crewman with homing pigeons carried in bombers as a means of communications in the event of a crash, ditching, or radio failure. During World War II, the Irish Paddy, the American G.I. Joe and the English Mary of Exeter all received the Dickin Medal. They were among 32 pigeons to receive this award, for their gallantry and bravery in saving human lives with their actions. Eighty-two homing pigeons were dropped into the Netherlands with the First Airborne Division Signals as part of Operation Market Garden in World War II. The pigeons’ loft was located in London, which would have required them to fly 390 km (240 miles) to deliver their messages. Also in World War II, hundreds of homing pigeons with the Confidential Pigeon Service were airdropped into northwest Europe to serve as intelligence vectors for local resistance agents. Birds played a vital part in the Invasion of Normandy as radios could not be used for fear of vital information being intercepted by the enemy. From Wikipedia.org
The Mobile Pigeon Loft was introduced in France and Flanders in the early stages of the First World War, remaining in use until the mid 1920s. By 1918 there were over a hundred used on all parts of the Western Front. Each vehicle contained fifty to sixty carrier pigeons in the care of an NCO and fatigue man.. Brian Young.
Other References: C. P. Beauchamp Walker. “Pigeons For Land and Sea Service,…” Journal Of the Royal United Service Institution. Vol. 36 No. 171 (May 1892); C. P. Beauchamp Walker. “Use of Pigeons As Messengers In War and the Military Pigeon Systems of Europe.” Journal Of The Royal United Service Institution. Vol. 30 (January 29, 1886); G. J. Larner. “The Homing or Carrier Pigeon In Warfare.” United Service Magazine. Vol. 22 new series (October 1900 to March 1901).
Bill & Lyn Neel left Eugene, Oregon on Wednesday June 28th and flew to Washington DC to be one of the sponsors of the 20 Mule Team & Borax Wagons returning to the Capital. The Original Team & Wagons were last in Washington DC 100 years ago for the Inaugural of Woodrow Wilson in 1917.
The original Borax Wagons that were still in existence in the mid-1900’s, were retired to museums. In about 1940 a new set of wagons was built for parades and advertisement by Borax. Over the years of use, these new wagons also began to show age, and it was decided to retire them in 2016. Dave Engle of Engle Coach Works located in Joliet, Montana was commissioned to build a new set to the exact specifications of the originals. Dave went to Death Valley where there was an original set of wagons sitting in the hot desert sun outside the Harmony Borax Mines. After extensive measuring and with many pictures, he created the new wagons and brought them out of his shop on December 23, 2016. They were shipped to Bishop, California where the 20 Mule Team owned and trained by Bobby Tanner of Reds Meadows Pack Station is located. The team and wagons had their debut in the Pasadena Rose Parade on January 1, 2017 to much fanfare. Originally it was planned to send the team and wagons back to Washington DC for the Inauguration of Donald Trump, but the Secret Service cancelled that idea due to security. It was then decided to take the team and new wagons back to the Capital for the 4th of July Parade, and a plea was sent out to all mule folk asking for sponsors. We learned of this endeavor in March of 2017, and became sponsors.
The middle of June 2017, the wagons and mules were loaded and started the weeklong trek across the country to Washington DC to be shown in the Capital 4th of July Parade. Garon & Donna Stutzman of Grove Creek Mules in Centerville, MD made arrangement to host and house the entire outfit. We made arrangements to share our sponsorship with The Carriage Association of America (CAA). At our level of sponsorship we were invited to four spots to ride in the wagons in the parade and participate in many of the sponsor activities the Stutzman’s had arranged. We asked Dr. Tom Burgess, the immediate past president of the CAA and his wife Gloria from Bridgewater, VA to join us as representatives for the CAA sponsorship.
As our adventures continued, we arrived at Dulles Airport on Thursday afternoon, June 29th, rented a car and drove to Kent Narrows on Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland where our Hotel was located as this was close to where the mules and wagons were stabling for their stay in our nation’s Capital.
Friday morning we drove the short distance to Grove Creek Mules to meet our hosts and the others involved in this massive project. As we came up the drive, the two new Borax Wagons and the old Water Wagon were sitting next to the barn. Their size is impressive. The rear wheels are about seven feet in diameter and the outer rim is close to a foot in width and the steel almost an inch thick. The wagons are beautiful, all natural wood in finish, and look incredibly stout to carry the heavy borax ore they were designed for. Empty, the wagons weigh 8,000 pounds each. The 18 mules and 2 horses that serve as the wheel team were in a large pen nearby.
Borax Wagons Waiting By The Barn
The Stutzman’s live on a beautiful estate on one of the inlets of Chesapeake Bay. Their large barn has stalls for their mules, a large area with a few antique autos, plus normal barn equipment. The upper floor of this barn contains a huge grange hall or meeting area called the Muleskinners Club. Here is where we spent many wonderful hours meeting with others, and enjoying the food created by Chef Dave Perry who Donna Stutzman had hired for the week to provide breakfast, lunch & dinner to anyone who was interested.
After meeting the Stutzman’s and those guests who were around, we set up our booth for the Carriage Association of America and the Copper Windmill Ranch. We were offered a prime location, the alcove just outside the main entry to The Muleskinners Club. We hung our banners and CWR photos we had brought of our mules & some of our wagon collection. Later that afternoon, Jack Day, a past Board Member of CAA and current chair of the Carriage Museum Of America arrived with his wife Marge from their home in Monkton, MD with the CAA magazines, literature and photos of some of Jack’s vehicles, which we added to the wall near ours. As guests arrived for the evening affair, we were asked many questions about CAA and handed out the information we had. Our other CAA guests that evening, Past CAA Board Member Harry Hassan and wife Anne and Mike Zaetta drove in from Virginia to join us.
The Sponsors Dinner that evening was a lovely affair. About 200 attended and Chef Dave provided an exquisite meal of BBQ New York Roasts, divine crab cakes, salads and other side dishes, plus an elegant dessert of mule cookies covered with fresh fruit and whipped cream. The tables were decorated with miniature bales of hay with flags, and there was 20 Mule Team memorabilia scattered around the room. Garon Stutzman introduced the main participants, Bobby Tanner from Bishop, California who owned the 20 mule team and his crew; Dave Engle from Joliet, Montana who built the new wagons: and the various sponsors who helped make it all possible. A western band provided constant sound, and after the meal and announcements, all were encouraged to join in for some dancing.
CAA Table at Sponsor’s Dinner – Anne & Harry Hassan, Jack Day, Lyn Neel, Marge Day, Mike Zaetta, & Bill Neel
Saturday was an off day, so Bill and I made a trip to Washington DC to see some sights. Our hotel was about an hour and one-half from the downtown area of DC where The Capital Mall is located. Traffic was not bad getting into the city, and we were amazed we could find a spot to park very near The White House. We had booked a Segway Tour for 6PM that evening to see the Capital Area including the many memorials and federal buildings. We found a parking spot right in front of the Segway dealer who offered the tours. We were early, so walked down to The White House and viewed the parks, the protesters and noted all the security. Later that afternoon, after a light supper, we walked back to where our tour would start, and met our guide. We headed out toward The White House, our first stop, only to find that since we had been there that early afternoon, a new chain link fence had been erected in front of The White House closing off the main White House Park and limiting our getting very near. There were more police in the area all with assault riffles, and it looked like a war zone. We headed onto the Capital Mall and started visiting the memorials including the WWII Memorial and the Viet Nam Memorial, which were really moving. We glided past the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial and generally seeing most of the area including the Old Post Office, which is now the Trump Hotel. Our three-hour tour was fascinating, but we certainly noted the amount of chain link fencing that was everywhere, the number of guards and police, and all the roads blocked to traffic.
Sunday was the scheduled Meet and Greet Day for the 20 Mule Team in the 4-H Park near the Stutzman’s farm. We arrived at the farm about 9AM as breakfast was just finishing. They were starting to harness the mules.
At about 10AM, the mules were hitched to the Borax Wagons and ready to head to the 4-H Park, about 4 miles away. Those who were not going to ride in the wagons during the parade were offered an opportunity to ride to the Park. Since we were going to be riding in the parade, we went ahead in our car, and waited at the Park for the entourage to arrive. We put up our banners where we hoped they would display well, and waited for everyone to arrive which they did at 12 noon…right on time. We were also pleased that Jack & Marge Day and Harry and Anne Hassan made it back to the park to enjoy the afternoon and visit. The turnout for the event was huge and the staff was unable to keep people from parking in the area Garon had set aside for the mules to perform. When the team and wagons arrived, they were only able to pull into the grounds. There was no room to even make a circle in the field. The crowd swarmed around the team & wagons, petting the mules, climbing on the wagons, enjoying a hotdog from a local vender and talking to those who were responsible for making this historic event happen.
Late in the afternoon, after some of the vehicles were moved, those who wanted to ride were given an opportunity to experience a short ride in the wagons around the large field we were in. About 4PM, the final rides were given, and the team and wagons headed back to the Grove Creek Mule Farm. We drove back and reached the farm just as the wagons were nearing, and watched them swing into the barnyard area to be unhitched. After each mule was unharnessed and groomed, they were taken to the nearby pen where food and water awaited them
Mules Entering the 4-H Park for Meet & Greet
Home from the 4-H Park – Mules In Front of Muleskinners Club
. A BBQ Chicken Dinner was offered to those who wanted to stay, and we all retired to the Muleskinners Club for another wonderful meal and a rather late night of visiting with our host and friends we had met.
Monday Bill and I had planned to do more sightseeing, but we needed to go back to the Grove Creek Mule Farm to pick up the banners and photos we had left. We arrived about 8:30AM, had a bite of breakfast and started to see vanloads of Amish and Mennonites from Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania arriving. They were coming to see the mules. What a delightful event. We cancelled our sightseeing and stayed. Most came with their families, and we all enjoyed visiting with them and answering their questions. The mules were again harnessed and hitched to the wagons, and rides were given around the Grove Creek Farm. Lunch of Hamburgers and freshly cooked French Fries were served followed by Hot Fudge Sundaes.
After lunch the massive task of loading the wagons on a flatbed trailer for travel into Washington DC was started. The trailer was larger than most with an extended front that was raised above the main bed. The Water Wagon was winched on first sitting on the raised part of the trailer, and then the other two large wagons were pulled on. Watching this transpire was amazing. The harness for all the mules was loaded into a trailer that also had a bobcat tractor in the back to aid in loading the wagons if necessary. The mules would travel in two large stock trailers that held about 12 animals each.
Mid-afternoon, we left as we had decided on the advice of Jack Day to move to a hotel in downtown Washington DC for the remainder of the trip to be nearer to the Parade route and the 4th of July festivities. We reached the city and went to where the 20 Mule Team was to stage the next morning so we would know where we would need to be to meet them, then headed to our new hotel for a light supper and to retire for the night.
Gloria Burgess, Lyn Neel, Tom Burgess, Bo Tanner (Tanner’s son) and Bill Neel in Parade
Tuesday we met up with Tom and Gloria Burgess and Gloria’s brother who drove them in from his home just across the river in Maryland. We took a cab from our hotel to the staging area only to find we could not get very close as now all the streets around the Capital Mall were completely blocked with large buses parked at a diagonal to keep anyone from driving into the area. Again, police and security were everywhere. The cab driver let us off about 3 blocks away and we walked down to the wagons and mules, which were already being harnessed. The parade was to start at 11:45AM and we were about Entry #120. We had a long wait before they told us to load up but enjoyed viewing the other floats nearby and all the activity that goes with staging a parade.
Riding in the wagons in the parade was quite an experience. Bill and I were able to stand in the front wagon right above the wheel team on the tongue. A heavy chain goes from the end of the tongue of the front wagon up to the lead team. Each pair of mules is attached to this chain by a lighter individual chain. The mules in the middle of the hitch are really just trained to follow the mule in front.
Center Chain and Harness for each set of mules
The lead team is very broke, and does most of the work. They wear Hames bells, which give a wonderful constant ring. When on the road, the Hames bells had a purpose, as they would alert other teams and wagons that someone was coming. The wheel team is horses, and the left horse is usually ridden by Bobby Tanner or one of his crew.
View From the Wagon of Team – note Jerk Line on left side of mules
There were also many out-walkers to help if there was a problem, and the lead team had an outrider with a line to the left lead mule. The rider on the wheel horse holds a “jerk line”. This line is strung along the harness of the left or near mules up to the lead left mule to control the team. This rope guides the direction the team is to go. A steady pull and the lead mule heads left bringing the rest of the team. A series of jerks and the team will move right. The two sets of mules in front of the wheel team are called the “Point Teams”. During a turn, the outriders will guide these “point” mules in the opposite direction of the main team to keep the wagons on the road. As the turn is made, the chain moves into the legs of one of these mules. When the chain that is between them touches the leg of the mule, that mule will “jump the chain”. When the team straightens out, the mule will jump back. It was fun to watch the mules jump the chain when we made a turn. The wagons have very large brakes on the rear wheels, and the man next to me was operating the brake on our wagon with a huge lever.
One sad event occurred. Garon, our host, did not have enough drivers for all the vehicles that had transported the mules, wagons and equipment, and at the last minute he had to jump in one of the trucks and help move it to where we were to reload at the end of the parade. The crew had been given instructions by the parade staff on where they were to go. When they reached this area, security refused to let them enter and told them to head off to another road. They suddenly were sent on to Virginia, and by the time they got the rigs turned around and back to where the wagons would load, the parade was well under way with no time for Garon to return to the wagons. How disappointing for him as he had put so much time, effort and money into putting on this affair. We all felt terrible.
It was very hot and humid during the parade, and we all were “wilting” by the time we reached the pick-up point. Fortunately the Stutzman’s had brought lots of iced bottles of water, and pop, plus Chef Dave had made Ham & Cheese Sandwiches on Croissants, Cookies and we all feasted on the side of the road while the mules were unharnessed and the wagons then loaded onto the flatbed trailer.
Loading one of the wagons
All Wagons on Flatbed ready to head home
With the parade over, Tom & Gloria went to find some family they had spotted in the parade crowd and we hailed a cab and returned to our Hotel. We all were to meet up later for whatever evening plans we felt up to doing. The Concert On The Capital Mall was featured, as were the fireworks to follow. The weather reports were indicating heavy rain showers during The Concert, and by the time Tom and Gloria returned to us, we all agreed that sitting out in the rain was not what we wanted to do. We all wanted to see the fireworks, and after a light meal in the Hotel Lobby Bar, we took a cab to the Washington Monument area where viewing was supposed to be good. Our cab driver again could not get very close. As we found earlier, all roads into the Mall area were blocked with buses and/or dump trucks loaded with sand, and security was tight. We walked as near to the Washington Monument as possible where a chain link fence prevented us from moving closer to the Monument itself. We could have walked about a half a mile further to a security entrance to get on the Monument lawns, but opted to stay where we were. We were very near one of the viewing stands from the parade, and the chairs in the stands were available for us to sit in, so we had a comfortable seat, although our view was through the chain link fence.
The fireworks were not a disappointment. They were even more spectacular than they look on TV. After the 25-minute show, we were happy to find a willing cab to take us back to the Hotel. Tom and Gloria left with her brother to go back to his home. It had been a long day – but what an experience. While getting ready for bed that night we watched on TV an earlier broadcast of The Concert On The Mall, and were glad we had made the decision to not fight the crowds and rain.
Military Funeral at Arlington with 4 White Horses, Caisson and horse with boot backwards
Wednesday, we packed and headed to Dulles Airport for our late afternoon flight back to Portland, Oregon. As we left Washington DC, we passed by Arlington Cemetery and decided to make a stop to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Finding a gate that would let visitors in was difficult. Most were locked or part of the military. We finally found an open gate with no guard and drove in. We drove around the Iwo Jima Memorial. We passed acres of graves and began to realize we were the only car in this area. Not sure where we were, we continued on until we finally reach a military policeman just standing in the middle of the road. After explaining what we wanted to do, he was nice and directed us to a nearby parking area, which was very close to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As we got out of the car, a band began to play, and we suddenly were viewing a full Military Funeral complete with 4 white horses, the caisson, a horse with boot turned backwards followed by the family heading to the gravesite. We stood in the shadows quietly watching in awe. After they passed, we walked up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just as the changing of the guard was just finishing. We watched for a while, then went back to our car and headed to the airport for our long
6-hour flight home.
What a trip this had been. We saw a lot, enjoyed meeting new friends, renewing old friendships, loved the experience of the 20 Mule Team and Wagons, the Parade and all the activities surrounding this event. We feel grateful to the Stutzmans for the incredible job they did to organize the Borax 20 Mule Team’s return to Washington DC. They were responsible for making it all happen along with the help of the willing sponsors and the Tanner and Engle families and their numerous crew. It was truly a highlight in our lives and we will treasure the memories.
Our travel blog hasn’t quite turned out how we envisioned so we’re going to change our focus a bit. We will continue to post travel pieces here but we’ll also be posting carriage related material that is maybe a bit more complex than is right for the Facebook page but isn’t quite the right fit for The Carriage Journal either. We’ll be posting weekly, probably every Tuesday, so stay tuned! We’re excited about all the possibilities.
Helping preserve our horse-drawn heritage for over 50 years.