Wheat hauling recently turned back the pages more than a century when a team of mules came clopping onto the dump bin at the elevator in Burlingame.
“I was just fulfilling the promise to my Grandma from many years ago. I told her someday I’d take a load of grain to the elevator with a mule team drawn wagon just like my Grandpa used to do. And, that’s what I did,” explained Tony Bell of Harveyville.
There were 26 bushels in the 1870 “Newton grain wagon” pulled by Jim and John, a pair of sorrel draft mules, with bearded, farmer-clad Bell on their lines, surely making all have a reflection of an era before almost forgotten.
“I think Grandpa (Louis Bell, known as Lou) and Grandma (Elva), too, were smiling down on us,” Bell, 32, assured.
“It was 16 miles from the farm to the elevator, but other than a pouring rain slowing us down, we didn’t have a bit of trouble,” Bell contended.
There had been a “dry run” earlier in the month to check out the route and expose the mule team to Co-op elevator facilities.
“The wagon will hold about twice what we had loaded, but I didn’t want to make it too heavy this first time,” Bell admitted.
“I was concerned about the scales moving, and also worried about the graded slats the mules had to walk over into the dumping area, but with a just little bit of help they went right across,” the driver said.
Mules were unhitched from the wagon before the grain was dumped, and then they were re-hooked and headed back to the farm. “It was a gorgeous cool morning,” Bell noted.
While harvest of the 60-bushel an acre wheat crop on the Wabaunsee County farm was completed by modern machinery, Bell has visions of future harvests being with a binder and threshing crew exactly like his Grandpa used to do.
“Grandpa continued to farm with horses and mules long after his neighbors had tractors. My Dad is the one who finally got a tractor for the farm. Grandpa did eventually drive a tractor some, but he always preferred the real horsepower,” Bell shared.
While Louis Bell had a diversified livestock and crop farm, his son Marvin and grandson Tony have hay and grain production operations. “Dad continues to farm and put up hay, but I’ve managed a corporation’s boar semen collection business for more than a year, which is the perfect complement for my farming,” Tony contended.
Two mule teams are on the Bell farm where they only see very limited use, but they still have no problem earning their keep, the owner emphasized.
“I’m a member of a Civil War reenactment group, the Third Kansas Artillery, based out of Salina, and the mule teams pull wagons and canons in our productions,” Bell said.
“Jim and John are about 20-years-old, standing close to 17-hands tall, and weigh just under a ton apiece. They are the ‘lead team’ when I hitch the mules ‘four-up,’” the teamster detailed.
Dimmer and Delbert are the dark brown “wheel team” of the hitch, being slightly older, but somewhat smaller, standing 16-hands tall, and weighing 1,700 pounds apiece.
“The ‘lead team’ was well broke when I got them. They’ll do about whatever asked, whether hauling grain, or going into the war battlefield with canons and guns blasting, and they’re perfect in parades,” Bell remarked.
“I trained the other mules with help from another Civil War re-enactor,” Bell explained. “They were excellent saddle broke riding mules, but they hadn’t been driven any until I hitched them with Jim and John.
“With a great ‘lead team,’ Dimmer and Delbert took right to the driving, too,” Bell insisted
The mules can be used “four-up,” or as individual teams, although Bell confessed, “The ‘wheel team’ doesn’t have the ‘whoa’ of the ‘lead team.’ I haven’t had any complete runaways, but it takes a while sometimes to get them stopped. They’re getting better with more experience.”
A dark sorrel Arabian mare called Brandi is Bell’s personal mount during the Civil War re-enactments. “She is gorgeous, seven-years-old, but was only green broke when I got her. Brandi has taken to the battle charges, gunfire and canons quite readily,” the re-enactor claimed.
With a half-dozen performances scheduled annually by the Third Kansas Artillery, Bell hauls his mules and horse along with a military wagon in a gooseneck livestock trailer.
“We practice about twice a month, and now we’re getting ready for a performance this fall in Georgia. I’m really looking forward to that,” Bell said.
“Cowboy instincts” have always been strong in Bell, who has successfully competed in bull riding at rodeos. He followed the high school circuit and was on the Fort Hays State Rodeo Team.
“Then, I went to professional rodeos for a couple of years. I had a certain level of ability and won money, but not enough to make a real living. It was fun, but I don’t want to do that anymore,” Bell evaluated.
While these accomplishments are admirable, and perhaps inspirational, what makes Bell’s “story” even more truly motivating is that he was born with a defect requiring him to wear a colostomy bag.
“The doctors said I couldn’t do hardly any of the things I’ve done, but I have always been determined. It was always about overcoming obstacles, beating the odds, and it’s paid off,” Bell declared.
All of this went to an even higher level literally when Bell climbed Mount Everest. “That had to be my biggest challenge and accomplishment,” he said. “It took lots of conditioning, but I’m so happy and blessed to have returned safely.”
Singing is another of Bell’s talents. “I sing four-part harmony with my dad in a quartet called The Bell Tones, even though we haven’t been real active recently,” he qualified.
Appreciative of his family support, Bell said, “My mom, Cindy, and dad both taught at Santa Fe Trail where I graduated, and have always been very supportive of everything I’ve done. They continue to be a big part of my life along with my wife, Lisa, and our four-year-old son Remington.”
Today is a different age, but Tony Bell appreciates his ancestry, and continues to do his part to live like a previous time when horses and mules were the nation’s power source.