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For the week of May 30 through June 5, 2001

Big hitch to be pulled by historic jerk line

Express Staff Writer

For the first time in recent Wagon Days history, an authentic jerk line and muleskinner will haul ore wagons through downtown Ketchum during the event’s Big Hitch Parade.

Wagon Days is the valley’s biggest historic celebration. On Labor Day, residents and visitors will celebrate the valley’s mining heritage during the annual event.

In recent years, a team of Percheron draft horses pulled six huge ore wagons—each weighing three tons—down Sun Valley Road and turned right onto Main Street. It’s always been a spectacular sight.

This year the spectacular sight will have a more historic flare.

A jerk line of fourteen mules controlled by a driver who sits on the left horse nearest the wagons will pull the massive ore wagons through Ketchum’s streets.

Bobby Tanner from Bishop, Calif., will be the driver, historically called a mule skinner.

"The exciting addition will not only provide a much more authentic Big Hitch, but also create a viewer’s spectacle even more impressive than before," said Ross Copperman, Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce marketing coordinator. "The community looks forward to the authentic jerk line and the massive Lewis Big Hitch gracing our streets as it has in years past."

In historic Ketchum, wagon trains such as those from Ketchum entrepreneur Horace Lewis’ Ketchum Fast Freight Line kept goods moving—from pick axes to pianos to cloth and whisky--everything miners might need (or want) in the backcountry. They’d return with ores carved from Idaho’s mountains.

Trail Creek Road, a modern-day pathway in the gap between the Pioneer and Boulder mountains, served as a valuable link in the local economy in the 1880s. Build by Lewis for his wagon train operation, the original Trail Creek Road was steep and dangerous, inclining at 12 percent. The modern-day road climbs at a 7 percent grade.

Travel over twisty mountain roads with teams of 14 to 20 mules was quite a challenge, particularly when turning corners.

The jerk line mule team freight outfit, as it was called, is now nearly 100 years in the past, and the complicated process of turning a corner with one of the outfits is a dying art.

The challenge was (and is) to maintain tension in the chain connecting all the mules as they turn a corner.

To see how it’s done, don’t miss the Big Hitch Parade on Labor Day weekend.


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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.