Why 20 Mule Team?
Twenty-mule teams were a solution to the transportation problem of moving millions of pounds of borax from remote mines in inaccessible Death Valley to the railroad at Mojave.
Originally, teams of eight and 10 mules were used. But the 165-mile trek proved to be too much for these teams. According to local legend, Harmony Borax superintendent J.W.S. Perry and a muleskinner (or driver) named Ed Stiles came up with the idea of hitching two 10-mule teams together. The result was 100-foot-long team that took 10 days to carry 10 tons of borax one way across the desert.
Three men operated the 20-mule teams, which were actually 18 mules and two horses. The mule teams hauled more than 12 million pounds of borax 165 miles in the five years between 1883 and 1888. During this time not a single animal was lost, nor did a single wagon break down. In 1894, a steam traction engine named “Dinah” was brought in to replace the mules, but she proved less reliable, and was eventually towed back to town by the mules she tried to replace.
After the mules were replaced by a new rail spur, the Pacific Coast Borax company added the name 20 Mule Team to Borax. The symbol was first used in 1891 and registered in 1894.
(Heritage photography is provided courtesy of Rio Tinto Minerals)
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