Thursday, March 5, 2015

DEATH VALLEY: Sand and household cleaning products

Looking at the picture on a box of 20 Mule Team Borax is one thing; standing next to a seven-foot wagon wheel, imagining the animal power needed to haul the thousands of pounds the wagon this wheel is attached to would hold, is quite another.

Every once in awhile, it's fun to stand in a huge open space and contemplate how the hell people did shit before the internal combustion engine.

Luckily sodium tetraborate is kinda just laying around on the ground out here, but still, there was mining and packing and hauling to be done with little or no motorization. And all in heat most of the country never experiences. Heat that has death associated with it.

The teams (actually mixed mules and horses) hauled 20 million pounds of borax ore in 16-foot wagons made of solid oak, weighing almost 8,000 pounds empty. The wagon trains consisted of three wagons, two with borax and one with water. They would pick up supplies along the way, left for them by an "empty" wagon train coming back the other way. Each wagon train was 180 feet long and managed to get about 17 miles every day. Basically, sheer will got borax out of that desert.

The mule teams were only hauling borax out of Death Valley for about six years, from 1883-89, until the railroad could be built to carry the powder. But the image was so powerful that the Pacific Coast Borax Company put mules on the box, where they still haul borax today -- for Dial.

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