Our Right to be Outside: Three Mules

“You spot a somewhat disheveled man with three fully loaded pack mules walking though your community. What the … ?

This strange and, to many, awe-inspiring sight has been experienced by thousands of people in small towns and large cities throughout the western United States. But who is he and what is he doing? Is he lost in the wrong century? Is he homeless? Is he on a mission?

mulesThe Mules (as he refers to himself and the animals collectively) have traveled for nearly three decades through 16 states. For the last ten years they have lived outdoors. Even though he may not talk much when one first meets him, if the time and place are right, Mule will share something that he feels we should all be thinking about.

Throughout their travels, the Mules have noticed an ever increasing urban sprawl. Open spaces where they once moved through freely, and sometimes spent the night in a secluded spot, were disappearing. More and more cars filled up the roadways, and the expanding urban infrastructure seemed to serve one purpose: accommodate more automobiles.

At the same time, space for other means of self- transportation, such as bicycling, horseback riding and simply walking, were shrinking. Those alternative means of self-travel have often been confined to designated “recreation” areas. Also, as the urban environment exploded, natural habitats have vanished, or been “preserved” in spaces a fraction of the size they once were.
Mule sums it all up: “The space needed by The Mules to travel this country freely in all four directions on the landscape is being taken over by the suburban model of automobile usage, exclusively, and leaving no space for alternative venues of moving and living. In our travels, we carry that awareness and bring it to others. We’re a working model for that awareness, one step at a time, all day, every day.””

Quoted from 3 mules, via LLoyd’s blog.

The Best Invention Since The Wheel

Pack_camels“Between the third and seventh centuries AD, the civilizations of the Near East and North Africa gave up wheeled vehicular transportation and adopted a more efficient and speedier way of moving goods and people: They replaced the wagon and cart with the camel. This deliberate rejection of the wheel in the very region of its invention lasted for more than one thousand years. It came to an end only when major European powers, advancing their imperialistic schemes for the Near East, reintroduced the wheel.”

“The camel as a pack animal was favored over wheeled transportation for reasons that become obvious when the camel is compared with the typical ox-drawn vehicle. The camel can carry more, move faster, and travel farther, on less food and water, than an ox. Pack animals need neither roads nor bridges, they can traverse rough ground and ford rivers and streams, and their full strength is devoted to carrying a load and not wasted on dragging a wagon’s deadweight. Once the camel and ox are compared, one wonders why the wheel was ever adopted in that region in the first place.”

“A large share of the burden of goods in the Near East was always carried by pack animals. A bias for the wheel led Western scholars to underrate the utility of pack animals and overemphasize the contribution made by wheeled vehicles in the years before the camel replaced the wheel. The more we learn about the wheel, the clearer it becomes that its history and influence have been distorted by the extraordinary attention paid to it in Europe and the United States. The Western judgment that the wheel is a universal need (as crucial to life as fire) is of recent origin.”

Quoted from: “The Evolution of Technology“, George Basalla, 1988. See also: “The Camel and the Wheel“, Richard W. Bulliet, 1990 (summary). Previously: Camel trains in Asia, Russia and Australia.

Pack Goats

Pack goats“Goats can be excellent pack animals. A good pack goat will carry at least twenty-five percent of his body weight (a two-hundred-pound wether will pack about fifty pounds), will follow you like a dog, will feed himself along the trail and around camp, and will be a pleasure to have around. Goats have been used as a beast of burden in Europe and Asia for thousands of years.”

Read more:  1 (quote) / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5.

Picture found at American Goat.

Related: Pack camels / Pack horses.

Camel Trains in Asia, Russia and Australia

Camel train

Camelphotos.com has an interesting collection of historic camel pictures, showing pack trains, camels pulling wagons, and some camels working in agriculture and industry. Also of interest is a picture gallery of camels in India today.

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Phillips, Decker and Canadian Pack Saddles

Philips pack saddle 1 Reader BG Hearns writes: “While your link to the 1916 pack manual is of historical interest, what you ought to know is that low-tech packing has advanced considerably over that publication and anyone who wishes to pack with animals should know that there are much superior options available today. The manual describes a very difficult to use piece of equipment that is so easy to get wrong that only a few experts could ever use it properly. What your readers ought to know is that in 1924, the US army adopted the Phillips Pack Saddle which was much simpler and easier to use. Other advances in pack saddles since then are the Decker style (more) and the Canadian saddle pack, neither of which require complex knots, both of which incorporate simple, effective new design ideas, and both of which could be easily made in a small shop. Perfect for low-tech affictionados.” Thanks for the note, BG. I have added some more links to your comment.

Obsolete Technology Prints and Photograph Collections

Tissandier collection

Three wonderful collections from the Library of Congress, showing obsolete technologies.

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High-Tech Knotting: the Diamond Hitch

6a00e0099229e8883301310f88a427970c-500wi The “Diamond Hitch” is one of the most high-tech knots ever created. It was used to tie loads to pack animals. Many versions existed, not only for different types of loads but also for different types of terrain.

In rough country, where there was a frequent trouble with pack animals falling with their load, packers tied the Diamond Hitch so that the final knot was on top of the animal’s back where it could be easily reached and loosened with the animal down.

There was also a distinction between the one man and the two man Diamond Hitch. The one man version was employed by only one packer and required that he made two trips around the animal in tying it.

Detailed and illustrated instructions for tying the high-tech knot can be found in the 1916 “Manual of pack transportation“.

Update: Phillips, Decker and Canadian Pack saddles.

A Manual for the Transport of Sick and Wounded by Pack Animals

Transport of sick and wounded by pack animals

A report to the Surgeon General on the transport of sick and wounded by pack animals” (1877).