James Eaton - mules ( more details)
MS. ROSS: How about taking care of the animals, when you were responsible for driving the mules and hitching them up and all, what were your responsibilities then?
MR. EATON: Well, if the drivers, if they worked all right, what I mean, and not actually abuse them or nothing, what I mean, to keep them working, you know what I mean, fairly working, but not just digging in as hard as they could, you know what I mean, along as they was pulling the boat at a good walking pace, I'd say, why, that was all we cared for, what I mean.
And see that the - after harness and collars was all right, what I mean, wasn't rubbing or making their shoulders sore, you know what I mean, rubbing them and stuff like that there in their faces and everything. If we had a good leading mule, why, we never had much to worry about. If the mules go by their self, why, we'd have a muzzle we'd put over the lead mule, because sometimes - they'd know it, they was smart, they wasn't too dumb, they'd stop and graze, you know what I mean. As soon as you wasn't driving them. We'd put a muzzle on the lead mule, why, he would take care of them pretty well, you know what I mean.
And my dad, he was very particular, what I mean. Just like on driving, he'd never want you on that mule's back. He always said, why, they got enough to do pulling the boat without you getting on them, you know what I mean.
Lots of times we had to walk maybe eight, nine mile level, what I mean, and think nothing of it, in bare feet. After night or dark, daylight or anything, what I mean. And my youngest sister, when we first started out, what I mean, I was about nine years old, I guess, somewhere around in there. My sister was two years younger than me, why, after night, he used to put me and my sister together to drive, and the minute the old gates was open, going downstream, the minute the old gates was open, why, we would - the boat started coming out of the lock, we'd hoof it down and get the mules back. Scared, you know, a little bit scared.
And went along, all right, Dinkie, — he called me Dinkie then - it's all right, Dinkie, he said, get off, hit the ground, he'd say, and I'd say, all right, Daddy. And we both had to get off then. I never will forget it.
But they - the mules, I don't know, they was the most surefooted animal. They just had a sixth sense of anything in front of them, I don't care how pitch dark, you couldn't even see, why, lots of times it was so dark we'd have to hold to their traces, what I mean, after nights, and just walk along beside of them. But the old mule, he knew where he was going then. Well, there was flumes along the canal, what I mean, different places, and maybe after midnight you'd come by one of them places, be drunk or something, they'd wander off and cross the lock gates, what I mean, and get on the towpath side and maybe pass out right in the towpath and there'd they be, you know what I mean, and the old mule would never step on them. They'd be laying in his track; the old mule just went around. Maybe you wouldn't see him, you'd say, in there, Jack, thought maybe he'd be headed for the bushes or something, you know what I mean. And first thing you know, why, there'd be maybe a man laying there, passed out or something.
Yeah, they was really wonderful. That was practically the only thing they could use. They couldn't use a horse. Horse wasn't no good. They tried it several times, what I mean, and they couldn't use them. They couldn't make them - they was clumsy, for one thing, and wasn't as surefooted as the mule, you know what I mean.
They tried it later years, at canal ford and canal quit, and it never panned out, what I mean. So they just stuck with the mules then.
MS. ROSS: Any particular kind of mules, favorites of yours, or any particular place that you got mules that you thought were better than others?
MR. EATON: Well, we mostly got ours from down near - well, we did get some from
Williamsport there for awhile, then down there at Green Ridge, I don't know whether you heard of the people or not. Higgins?
MS. ROSS: No, I don't believe I have.
MR. EATON: Well, his name was Joe Higgins. He raised mules and they'd rent them to the
Canal Towage Company the C & O Canal, I guess, for so much a year, you know what I mean, and actually that was the closest place for us to get mules, you know what I mean, that distance, you know what I mean. And we generally got our mules there from him, what I mean. And in the later seven or eight years, before the canal quit. And our last trip up, why, when we tied up in the fall of the year, why, we rode the mules down and they'd winter them there, you know what I mean, and boating would start, open up in the spring, why, we would go down on the train and get off at Green Ridge Station and then get the mules and ride them back up the towpath, what I mean.
We rode them clear into Williamsport one time, what I mean, for winter quarters, yeah. My brother and - he was a little older than I am, and lots of times they rode freight trains back, you know what I mean.
James Eaton, Martha Ross
C&O National Historic Park
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Md.); Washington County (Md.), History