THE JERKLINE AND IT'S USE IN THE FREIGHT LINE DAYS

Rugged mountains

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Buhl, Idaho 83316

In the 1800's at the town of Ketchum, Idaho, the Fast Freight Line, owned and operated by Horace Lewis - was in operation. Many freight outfits were in operation. Horace Lewis, ran one of the biggest freight lines, having outfits running from two wagons to five wagons. They pulled with from six head of mules to twenty-two head driven by a man called a Mule Skinner, the larger number of teams were driven with the Jerk Line.

The team working on the tongue was called the Wheel Team. The team on the end of the tongue was called the Pointers. The teams in front of the Pointers, up to and behind the Leaders were called the Swing Teams. From the lead wagon a long chain was used to which stretcher bars were fastened to which each team was hooked. The roads in the rugged mountains in Idaho were very crooked and rough, in fact, mere trails. Sixteen mules or eight teams strung out are over 100 feet and in order to make precipitous mountain passes and sharp curves the teams had to step over the long chain and pull to the outside of the turn in order to keep the wagons from missing the curve and going into a gultch or canyon. The Skinner, rode the left Wheel mule and drove through the hame rings up to the Leaders. When the rope was jerked, the left mule threw his head up, a butt strap caused his head to go right thus pushing a jocky pole from the lower ring on his hame to the bit on the right mule, making the right mule turn to the right. A left turn was by pulling steadily on the rope, turning the left mule and the jocky stick pulling the right mule. As stated, all teams were taught to step over the chain on sharp turns as each came to the curve. The rope was not in the hame ring on the Pointer team and when they came to the curve they in turn stepped over the chain and pulled the tongue out as far as possible on the curve. Hame bells were on the Leaders to warn other drivers of the approaching freight wagons.

These peculiar freight wagons have 7 foot side boards and the hind wheels are 7 foot high. Coke was hauled, ore and freight - sometimes the distance of 250 miles. The rive wagons were built in Ketchum, by two blacksmiths in 1889. At one time, Sam Sanders, drove twenty-two mules on five wagons hauling 44,000 lbs. With each large outfit was the Mule Skinner and a Swanner, who helped by manning the brakes, harnessing and feeding the mules. In those days, each mule was supposed to pull a ton of freight.

We have been fortunate in having the freight wagons preserved today and each year, the town of Ketchum holds a Wagon Days Parade and for the past four years, a friend of mine, Richard Hill and myself, have been taking mules and working them and driving in the parade.

The Rocky Mountains are in the background, the highest point 'Mount Baldy', This is a picture of the Horace Lewis freight wagons at Ketchum, Idaho in 1964 Wagon Days Parade.