THE JERKLINE AND IT’S USE IN THE FREIGHT LINE DAYS
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
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.
Lewis Kosseth Brown: Building for the Future
Read about an early Washington settler puts down deep roots of innovative genius.
Identification of Advance-Rumely Engine Needed
Owner of an Advance-Rumely steam traction engine in the Netherlands needs help with learning its history.
Maynard’s Last Old Steam Engine Ride
Honoring Maynard Westgaard with a final ride on an old steam engine, his restored Case steam tractor.