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Mule drivers journey through county

Staff writer

Many people travel south for the winter, but it’s probably safe to say that very few if any use the mode of transportation that two men from Wisconsin are using.

Harvey Baumgartner and Richard Meunier recently traveled through Marion County on their way to New Mexico riding in a homemade wagon pulled by mules named Jack and Jim.

The retired friends, who live on a farm in Wisconsin, decided they wanted to do something different. Their rugged features mark them as having an outdoors lifestyle.

Baumgartner had worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho using pack animals to supply fire lookout stations high in the mountains. When he retired at age 56, he moved back to Wisconsin and built a subsistence farmstead from scratch using native materials.

Meunier had lived on a community farm in Tennessee that uses draft horses for fieldwork. The men each had daughters who were acquaintances, and they became friends when their daughters introduced them.

They spent the past summer building a wagon similar to those used by sheepherders. They call it “Spirit Wagon.” It is furnished with bucket seats, bunks, a kerosene lamp, and a portable stove. Lattice trim adorns the front.

Sadie, an Australian Shepherd accompanies the men. Her favorite spot is in a side door where she can look out and watch traffic go by. They travel up to 25 miles a day, stopping between 4 and 5 p.m. in small towns or at whatever farmstead happens to be available on their side of the road.

Every two weeks or so, they spend two nights and a day at one stop to give the mules and themselves a respite.

On main highways, they travel on the shoulders of the road. They went through Marion and Hillsboro Friday, having spent Thursday night on the Doug Kjellin farm northeast of Marion on U.S. 56/77. Kjellin’s sister, Mary Beth Bowers, gave them some frozen hamburgers and a square bale of alfalfa for their mules.

The men were curious about Hillsboro because that is the name of their hometown in Wisconsin. They live just five miles from Mount Tabor. Baumgartner has a house made of sod, and he was curious to see the Adobe House (Museum) at Hillsboro.

After the men arrive at their destination “somewhere in New Mexico,” they plan to spend a few months, and then head back to Wisconsin in March.

“It’s a simple life, and we’ve met a lot of nice people,” Meunier said.

Last modified Nov. 3, 2011

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