Tag: Mule-Skinner

Ken Laabs’s Story, Part 1: Herding the Mules to Burma (veterans & family stories 3)

 In Ken Laabs’ memoir, he has an amusing tale about arriving at the port in Calcutta, India, with the war-mules.  The 612th, B Company, had traveled by ship from New Orleans.  When they arrived, they herded the animals into Burma by both train and on foot.

“We arrived at the docks near Calcutta, India, in the late afternoon.  We unloaded the mules, tied them to a picket line on the dock, and then at about sundown began transporting them to the remount station about a mile away.  The mules were wild and very difficult to handle.  My recollection of this incident is that each of us was to lead three mules tied together by the halter-shanks.  This proved to be a very difficult situation.” (1) *

The exhausted men soon tired of this tedious task and were open to suggestions as to how the mules could be easily, but safely, taken to the station. Ken explains:

“On the second trip someone came up with a “Brilliant Idea”, which was to post men at each intersection between the dock and the remount station, then chase the mules to the station.  What a laugh this turned out to be.  Forty of the mules escaped down a street we had missed covering.  Sgt. Ted Tompor, Cpl. Joseph Wondoloski, and Cpl. Don Beck followed those bounders through the streets of Calcutta all night long.” (2)*

When I read this, I was beside myself, howling at the image of these rowdy half-breeds bobbing down the streets of Calcutta, with the B Company Marsmen in hot pursuit.  Give a group of young men a monotonous task, such as herding mules to their nearby corrals, three head at a time, and you have the makings of a potential harebrained scheme.  Remember, there were 400-plus animals. Someone was bound to think of a crazy plan.

But the story gets more interesting…Ken continues:

“Some of the locals had habits of sleeping in the streets, doorways, or wherever they felt like lying down.  Can you imagine the rude awakening when they opened their eyes to a group of Missouri mules come running at you in the middle of the night?  [The mules] went down alleys, into swamps, everywhere and nowhere.  [The men] never being able to catch them, at six in the morning were relieved from duty.  I understand from Captain Carney, that after searching for about four days, all the mules except four were recovered.” (3)*

Again, reading Ken’s account, the image of Indian locals awakening to the errant mules leaning over them and even chewing on their hair, had me in stitches.

I was inspired to use this incident in my novel The Burma Road.  In Chapter 18, “On To Calcutta”, my character Bradson comes up with the half-baked idea to herd the mules into one large mob.  Bradson, who has the brains to devise seemingly feasible, but not well-thought-out plans, is always the one to come up with asinine schemes. We are not disappointed when his plan backfires.  Using Ken’s memoir as motivation, I describe the hilarious antics of the mules, scattering helter skelter through the streets of Calcutta.

From the remount station, the mules were then relocated to Burma, which Ken describes below:

“After a few days of rest at an army camp close by called Camp Dum Dum, we took our mules from the Remount Station and began the process of loading them onto a narrow gage railroad train.  We still had 600 or 700 miles to go to where the rest of our Battalion was waiting.  Each of these boxcars was about 26 feet long and looked like they had come out of the early nineteen hundreds.  Each car held four mules with their heads facing toward the center of the car.  The center area held bales of hay, some water, and one mule-packer.” (4)*

Although my dad John M. Halloran told of landing in Bombay, not Calcutta, he said he joined up with the men transporting the mules. Here’s how he put it:

“We boarded an old decrepit train that had wooden slats, and we crossed India to the edge of Burma.  We got the mules calmed down and started exercising them.” (5)*

Dad vividly recalled this train ride as the most painful ride of his life.  The wooden slats of the seats crisscrossed, and burned dents right into the seat of one’s pants.  He was in extreme pain for the entire trip.

I am not sure if Dad had his facts mixed up, or if he joined B Company after they arrived in Burma, but his journey from the United States to India was not from the United States to Calcutta, then Ledo, but from the United States to Bombay (now Mumbai), then to Assam:

“We went from Bombay, India, to Assam, India,” he wrote. (6)

In Ken’s memoir, the trip to Burma by train ended near the beginning of the Ledo Road, which was under construction. Ken describes the situation:

“We traveled by railroad approximately 450 miles, as far as the train went toward the Burmese Mountains, having changed trains once.  It seems that at the train’s end, we had reached the beginning of the construction of the Ledo Road.  The road was being built by the Army Corp of Engineers.  Brigadier General Lewis A. Pick was in charge of this huge project.  Supplies would be brought by ships to the ports of India, then transported by train to the Ledo Road, which connected with the Burma Road, and finally to Kunming, China.  This route was completed later in the war, eliminating the hazardous flights over ‘the hump’.  That was one of the main reasons [why] we were there, to roust the Japanese out of this area so the road could be completed and war supplies could be delivered to the Chinese Army.” (7)*

In my research I learned that until the Mars Task Force freed the Burma Road from Japanese occupation in late 1944, supplies were flown by C-47s over the Himalayas, the mountain range nicknamed “the hump”.  This was a dangerous mission, and freeing up the Burma Road became the main focus of the China-Burma-India theatre in 1944.

The Lido Road was being built to connect the trains from India to the Burma Road, which was a bit further south within northern Burma.  The beginning of this road in Lido was also the end of the line for the trains from India.  Ken has some interesting memories of traveling with the mules down this newly built road:

“There was a lot of activity at this point, road construction of all kinds.  As we walked by them on their freshly grated dirt road, we could hear comments going back and forth.  They were amazed at the large group of us and, of course, of the 400-plus army mules.  Engineers attempted to sell us booze as we passed them along the road.  They had transported this liquor under the seats of their trucks from Calcutta, for a price.” (8)*

Then, Ken adds (perhaps with a touch of humor):

“Of course, we would have no part of this illegal sale of liquor.” (9)

I learned that the destination for these mules was Camp Landis, quite a long trek away.  The officers in charge of Ken’s unit tried to devise a way to get them there that was quick as well as feasible.  This proved difficult as  Ken describes:

“We tried to load our mules onto some of the Engineer’s 6×6 trucks, but the idea was abandoned as the mules stood up too high in the trucks, making them dangerously top heavy.  Next, an attempt by Capt. Joe Carney, and helpers, was a ‘Midnight Requisition’ to obtain 58 McClellan Riding saddles so we could all ride some, and herd the rest of the mules.  Needless to say, they got caught in the act and had to give them all back.  So guess what?  We had to start walking with the mules up the Ledo Road toward Camp Landis, where the rest of the Battalion was waiting for us.” (10)*

Ouch!  That must have been hard on their feet, I thought when I read this.  But these men braved the miles and brought those mules to Landis by foot. Here’s Ken:

“Soon, the road construction crews were left behind in the distance, [and] except for an occasional survey crew we were on our own and without the benefit of their new road.  I cannot recall how many miles, or how many weeks, this trip took from the end of the train tracks, up the Ledo Road, to Camp Landis.  Just guessing, I would say 200 to 300 miles.” (11)*

Can you imagine walking that distance? As I was reading Ken’s account, to give myself perspective, I realized it is approximately 240 miles from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada, traveling I-80 East. And for them it could have been an additional 60 miles on top of that!  Here’s Ken again:

“However, we were all in fine walking condition upon reaching our destination where the rest of the Battalion was waiting.  I believe we arrived in Camp Landis shortly after the 23rd of October [1944].  The mules were turned over to the Battalion and we settled down to army life.  Here we had showers and above all cooks and chow lines.  We were even treated to a stage show.  The star being Pat O’Brian, his copartner was Jinx Falkenberg. (12)  I’m sure anyone who reads this will remember her in the white shorts and a tennis racket.  We had a good time that night.  I almost forgot, we each were given a six-pack of beer.  That really hit the spot.” (13)*

Ken’s memories, and those of the other veterans I’ve interviewed, are priceless stories that must be preserved for future generations.  In my readings, I’ve found that real life experiences are more dramatic, and often more humorous, than fiction.  Each of these Marsmen have valuable and entertaining stories.  I hope the chapters inspired by these tales in my novel  The Burma Road do justice to the adventure.  It’s my intention to honor these veterans’ memories.

*There is minor editing by me in these quotes.


(1)  Mars Task Force, 612th Field Artillery Battalion (Pk), Attached to the 5332nd Brigade (Prov). Unpublished memoir by Ken E. Laabs. Photocopied 2017. 13.

(2)  Laabs, Mars Task Force. 13.

 (3)  Ibid.

(4)  Ibid.

(5)  Unpublished notes by John M. Halloran. 2007. p.2.

(6)  Ibid.

 (7)  Mars Task Force, 612th Field Artillery Battalion (Pk), Attached to the 5332nd Brigade (Prov). Unpublished memoir by Ken E. Laabs. Photocopied 2017. page 14.

(8)  Ibid.

(9)  Ibid.

(10)  Ibid.

(11)  Ibid.15.

(12)  I could not find a non-copyrighted photo of Jinx Falkenberg, but the following link has a nice picture of her with Ginger Rogers:

Getty Images, Ginger and Jinx, printed September 13, 2019.


(13)  Mars Task Force, 612th Field Artillery Battalion (Pk), Attached to the 5332nd Brigade (Prov). Unpublished memoir by Ken E. Laabs. Photocopied 2017. 15.


Excerpts from Kenneth E. Laabs’ memoir are gratefully received, and reprinted with his express written permission.


© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran


No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.

Jack’s Story, Part 1: Induction, Basic Training, and Specialized Training (veteran’s & family stories 2)

Here are some notes that my father, John Michael Halloran (Jack), wrote about his experience of serving in the armed forces during World War II.  I’ve applied some minor edits, but these are basically his own words.  This blog includes his memories from induction through Specialized Training.  His notes about actually arriving in India, then serving in Burma, will follow in a subsequent post.


“I received a letter from the draft board in July of 1943.  I was told to go to an address to be graded for the service.  They designated me as “One-A”, (i.e., fit for military service).

I received a letter from the draft board to appear on a date in August.  I was still in high school (in my senior year), and I worried that not finishing school might ruin my life.  One of my friends said that I should talk to his father who was on the draft board.  His father looked at my papers, made a call to St. Ignatius High School, then told me to bring the papers to the draft board on a certain date and tell them that I was in my last semester of high school and would like to graduate.

The draft board said they could not draft me if I was in my last semester of school.  They called St. Ignatius, who told them that my graduation would be in August of 1943, then the draft board told me that on my graduation day, after the ceremony, I was to board a train at 5:00 pm to go to Fort Ord.”

Fort Ord: Basic Training

“At Fort Ord, we were issued two blankets, two pair of khaki shorts (underwear), fatigue shirt and pants, dress uniform pants and blouse, and a cap.  Also issued were: shaving soap, shaving brush, three khaki handkerchiefs, two pair of khaki socks, and a pair of brown boots.

When we got to Fort Ord we were lined up in a narrow hallway.  As we walked forward we saw a bar over the doorway, with several soldiers standing there.  I wasn’t sure if I would hit the bar, so I ducked my head.  They immediately said, “Go left.”  I went left, and when I got into the room I felt like a pigmy–everyone was taller.  They were 6’2, 6’3, 6’4, 6’5, 6’6, and 6’7.  An officer came in and told us, “I hope you’ll enjoy being in the Mountain Battery.  We’re headed for Muskogee, Oklahoma.”  (1)

Camp Gruber: Specialized Training

“We were lifting 75-mm cannons that broke down to five sections: breechblock, carriage, cannon, right trail, and left trail.  The five parts each went on a type of saddle that was placed on a mule.  There were ten ammunition mules carrying the 75-mm shells, with five shells on each mule, for a total of fifty shots.

The mules we got were wild, right off the range, and we had to rope them, try not to get kicked, and get them used to the saddle.  They were skittish when we loaded the gun parts and the ammunition on them.

The camp was Camp Grubber, in Oklahoma.  We started walking the mules each morning, afternoon, and early evening.  Next, we put saddles on then walked the mules three times a day.  Finally, we practiced putting the artillery loads on the saddles.”

Camp Carson: Specialized Training

“At Camp Carson we hiked with the mules up so far on Pike’s Peak.  We had down sleeping bags and we slept in the snow. 

We accumulated most of the items on the captain’s list.  (2)

When training was over, we broke camp at Carson and were split into three groups: about 40% of our troop went to New Orleans with the mules, about 40% of our troop went to Santa Ana and shipped out, and, finally, about 20% of us (me included) went by ship to Bombay, India.”  (3)

Post Script

I think Dad was planning to write about his experience in Burma.  He was reading the history tome Burma Road, (4) and The Marauders, (5) some years before he passed.  I think these books jogged memories of his time in Burma, and he probably considered compiling these thoughts into a memoir.  I wish he had, as the notes I did find are good, although brief and incomplete.  Even still, there are details in these notes that, along with his verbal stories, inspired the writing of my fiction novel The Burma Road.



(1)  According to his verbal account, the bar above the door at Fort Ord was there for the officers to easily spot who was six feet, or taller.  If the private ducked while attempting to miss the bar, this indicated he was tall enough for the Mars Task Force.  He was then instructed to turn left.  The men who turned left were trained for a special long-range penetration unit being formed to fight in Burma.  The other men, who were told to go right, were trained for the European Theatre, or other factions of the war.  The Mars Task Force required men of strength and height, as they were packing sections of the Howitzer cannons onto the backs of mules.  They needed strength and height to load, and unload, the heavy parts.

(2)  Dad told me he and his friends were commissioned by their captain to scavenge around the base looking for items on a wish list.  These were hard to come by objects which the captain needed but which were in short supply due to war-rationing, things such as typewriters and writing pads.  Dad, and his buddies, would scout for things during the day, then go “lift” them (i.e., steal) at sunset, when they were less likely to be caught.  One of the desired supplies, a typewriter, was spotted sitting next to an open window, and they went back after dark and confiscated the booty. Their captain was much wiser, and he stored the prized typewriter inside the barracks, out of sight, where no one could steal it.

(3)  I wish I could ask my dad about his memories of shipping out to Bombay.  According to Ken Laabs’ memoir (6), B Company went to New Orleans with the mules, then shipped to Calcutta.  I don’t know why Dad was not shipped with this group, as he was also in B Company.  Was he reassigned companies after he arrived in Burma?  Or, are his recollections a little off?  Sadly, I’m not able to ask him, as he passed in 2009.  So, I’m writing The Burma Road using Ken’s notes as my guide, as I have very few details about Dad’s trip to Bombay.

This discrepancy did present the need for creative story telling when I wrote this part of the novel.  I wanted Jack Holloway to ship to Calcutta, but I had to include fictional details about why he didn’t herd the mules to Lido, Burma, then further on to Myitkyina.  In my novel, he stays behind at Camp Dum Dum (the camp’s real name, by the way) and later takes a train to Lido.  From Lido, he flies on a C-47 to Myitkyina and is under immediate attack when he gets off the plane.  This additional change from Ken Laabs’ memoir allowed me to include both Dad’s details about the train ride, and Art Naff’s story about being under fire at the air field.  Art is a Mars Task Force veteran that I met and interviewed at the 2016 and 2017 Mars Task Force Reunions.

(4)  Burma Road, Nicol Smith, 1942. Garden City Publishing Co., Inc.

(5)  The Marauders, Charlton Ogburn, Jr., 1959. Harper & Brothers, Publishers

(6)  Mars Task Force, 612th Field Artillery Battalion (Pk), Attached to the 5332nd Brigade (Prov). Unpublished memoir by Ken E. Laabs. Photocopied 2017.


© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran

 No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.

The Burma Road, (behind the chapters 2) “Bye Bye, Lucky” Chapter 37

The men of the 612th and the 613th served as cannoneers, mule skinners, or both.  I did not know what my father’s assignments were, but he had in-depth knowledge of the 75-mm pack Howitzer (the cannon), and he often talked about the mules.  It was my impression that he worked closely with both.

The 75-mm pack Howitzer, nicknamed the “Howzer” by the men, was 75 mm in caliber, weighed 341 pounds, was 59 inches in overall length, and had a range of 9,760 yards.  Although categorized under “light” artillery, these cannons were actually very heavy and needed to be broken into seven parts when stored on the backs of the mules who transported them. (1)

The sturdy mules carried these cannons over hundreds of miles of stream, fast moving rivers, and up and down mountain switches. They crossed jungle, which the men had to hack through, and tramped over soggy rice paddies.  The men of the Mars Task Force had to be at least six feet tall in order to be assigned to this long-range penetration outfit, and they had to have backs and joints in good shape. This was necessary because lifting the heavy parts off the mules, and assembling the cannon, took greater than average height and strength. (2)

The men were trained to put the Howzers back together with breakneck speed.  Officially (if my memory from conversations with Dad serves me correctly), this was done in under two minutes.  Dad said his team broke the official record, and got the Howzer up and running at least thirty seconds faster.

Each battalion of the 475th and 124th had four batteries, which included three firing batteries (A, B, and C).  Each firing battery had four Howzers each, and were known as gun sections. In these gun sections, the cannon was manned by one corporal (who was the gunner), and five cannoneers (who were all Private First Class soldiers).  Various roles were assumed when manning the gun: assist with elevation and pull the lanyard, load and unload ammunition, set the fuse and charge for range (two men did this), and ready the cannon for its direction of fire. Additionally, ten more men loaded and unloaded the ammunition and cannon parts from the animals. (3)

The mules came over to Burma by ship. Three Liberty ships were used for transport: the USS Dearborn (under Captain Powling’s command), the USS C.W. Fields (under Major Stephenson), and the USS W.S. Halstead (under Captain Joseph Carney).  My dad never mentioned the ship on which he sailed to India.  He was in Battery B, so I assume it was the Halstead, as this was the ship that Kenneth Laabs (also in Battery B) took.

The Halstead was 300 feet long and had four main cargo holds.  Three of them were reserved for the mules.  The last cargo hold housed the mule packers, approximately forty of them.  (4)

Kenneth E. Laabs has some great stories about riding these ships over to India, and a hilarious tale about herding the animals in Calcutta to a remount station about a mile away from the pier.  I am in the process of obtaining his written permission, I will later include in my blog excerpts from his memoir, which is about his time serving with the Mars Task Force.

After victory in Namhpakka, the mules were sent from the battlefields to Myitkyina, Burma.  Around May of 1945, these mules were then transported to Kunming, China, in three groups, called “serials”.  There were 240 men and 900 mules.  This man-count included officers and men from the 13th Medical Battalion. These serials traveled a distance of 750 miles by foot, a definite challenge for both man and beast.

The mules were delivered to Chinese units training in Kunming in hopes of continuing combat in Burma.  Unfortunately, some of the animals had to be destroyed as they caught a communicable blood disease called “surra”.  Veterinary personnel administered a program of testing and isolation in attempts to treat the sick animals, and there were hopes a new drug being developed might help.  But on September 1, 1945, word came down through the ranks to destroy all infected mules. (5)

In the research I have conducted, nowhere does it mention how these animals were destroyed, but perhaps I just haven’t come across those documents yet.  My dad remembered because he was in the unit that killed them.  According to my father, they herded the animals into a gorge and rigged the surrounding mountains with explosives, then had the rocks and boulders crush the mules. 

Other veterans I’ve spoken with remember shooting the mules first, before crushing them with debris from the explosion.  This makes more sense; perhaps my father forgot this detail, perhaps not.  In my chapter dealing with the killing of the mules, “Bye Bye Lucky”, I currently have it written as Dad told the tale.  I may decide later on to revise this chapter and include the other men’s details, as well.

While all this happened when my father was in his teens, at 84 years old he was still bothered by having killed the mules.  He felt this loss deeply, and with pain, and I imagine others did, too.  The mule skinners were close to their animals, some even joking that they took better care of their charges than they did of themselves.

The officers overseeing the assignment never bothered to tell Dad why he had to kill them, and I did not find out about the blood disease until I conducted research years after my dad’s death.  My father went to his grave holding onto this guilt.  It’s sad for me that I cannot tell him now why he was given these orders.  But, I began research for The Burma Road seven years after his passing, and this is just unfortunate timing.

In tribute to these pack animals, I am telling their story. I hope to bring to light their vital part in transporting the Howzers to the battlefields.  The success of the Mars Task Force’s mission depended, in part, on these mules. You could even consider them a special four-legged infantry. They earned their place in history, and most definitely in my novel.


(1) Details about the 75 mm Pack Howitzer from:

Weapons of World War II by G. M. Barnes: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014, page 114.


(2)  Details about the requirements for assignment to the Mars Task Force from an article:

With the Mules in Burma” by W. B. Woodruff, Jr. and John J. Scanlan. Photocopied 2017, larger volume, title unknown.


(3) Details about the organization of firing batteries and assigned roles from article:

Over the Hills and Far Away” by Troy J. Sacquety. Photocopied 2016 from Vol. 5, No.4 of larger volume, title unknown.


(4) Details about the Liberty ships and the layout of the Halstead from memoir:

Mars Task Force, 612th Field Artillery Battalion (Pk), Attached to the 5332nd Brigade (Prov). Unpublished memoir by Ken E. Laabs. Photocopied 2017.


(5) Details about the move to Kunming and about the mules being destroyed from an internet article:

“Mules for China” by Captain John A. Rand, article on website, “The Long Riders Guild Academic Foundation: The world’s first global hippological [study of the horse] study”. Printed 8-16-19. http://www.lrgaf.org/military/mules.htm.


Other sources include conversations with veterans of the Mars Task Force who attended the Mars Task Force Reunion in Columbus, Ohio, in 2016; and in Dallas, Texas, in 2017; and from conversations with my father.

© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.




The Burma Road, a novel, Chapter 24, “The Shweli Slide” (Excerpt 3)

It’s pure luck we’re crossing the mountains during the dry season. But our fortune changed, and we hit a freak storm. It’s been three days of constant showers. Thank God it’s no monsoon, but the rains have been so close together nothing has a chance to dry. We’re making our way to Mong Wi, and we need to get down this mountain to the east side of the Shweli River. But it’s a nightmare of a mud slide, and I have no idea how we’ll do it.

“This grade’s too steep,” Sarge says, frowning. “We’re gonna have to dig some steps.”

We all groan.

“Why the hell are we always first?” Bradson whines. “Those bastards in H-Squad don’t have to do a thing. We bust our buns cutting stairs, and all they have to do is climb ‘em.”

“Shut your trap, asshole,” Sarge glares, then turns to the rest of us. “Get your machetes and shovels out. I want to see pretty little rungs down the side of this damned mountain. Pronto! No more bitching.”

Bradson clamps up and starts chopping at the mud, his machete hacking up big clumps. We’re all working hard, but the mountain’s covered in slime, and we’re skidding around like greased pigs.

Suddenly, Bradson loses his footing and lands hard on his butt. He slips down the incline, building speed as he falls. Jabbing his shovel into the mountain to break pace, he groans, but the tool cracks in half as he continues to slide. Finally, he reaches bottom and tumbles right into the river. He stands up, shakes the water from his clothes, and spits.

“He looks really pissed,” I say, as he stares up at us, glaring.

We’re whooping with laughter—the sight of him skimming the mountainside on his ass was funnier than a Bob Hope comic routine.

BJ looks down at his wrist, pretending to be an Olympic judge with a stop watch.  “Private William Bradson has graced us with one beautifully maneuvered ass-dive down Shweli Slide, breaking the standing record in just one minute, fifteen seconds.”

“Give that donkey prick the gold,” I say. “He’s got great form.”

“Don’t forget the deduction for a broken shovel,” Sarge adds. “Too bad, it was almost a perfect performance.”

We all howl as Bradson wrings out his shirt. He’s not thrilled.

“Back to work,” Sarge says with a big smirk.  “You cocksuckers had your fun, now build my stairs.”

After about two hours of backbreaking effort, the steps are done. We’ve climbed down to the river, and are waiting for the rest of the troops to join us. But it’s a real rodeo, like having front seats at the local hockey game, as we watch the squads gingerly make their way down. It’s still pretty slippery, even with the steps we built, especially with a mule in tow. After about seven units climb down, the path is soggy again, and the men are sliding in the thick mud. H-Squad’s Sergeant Gray is at the top, mouthing off at his squad and waving a shovel in the air.

“Looks like H-Squad is gonna have some fun rebuilding our stairs,” I say, as I realize what the sergeant wants from his men. I’m happy, seeing their predicament. It’s not fair we have to be the only ones battling the mountainside. Those bastards need to share the burden.

“Serves ‘em right,” Bradson snorts. “They’re always cashing in on our hard work. It’s time they sweat like the rest of us.”

Just then, a mule-skinner leading his charge down the steps loses his footing. He lets go of the halter-shank and tumbles down the mountain, landing drenched from head to toe at the river’s edge. His mule, still fully loaded, is squatting on all fours and sliding down behind him. She flops completely over on her back, legs kicking, but miraculously finds footing and straightens up again.

“Well, I’ll be damned if that ain’t one graceful critter,” BJ drawls.

The mule then makes her way back down the trail in one piece, with the heavy load still intact.

“Gotta love my Molly,” the fallen mule-skinner says with great affection.  “Always lands on her feet, no matter what.” He walks over, adjusts her pack, and scratches her ear.

“Kind of like Bradson here,” BJ jokes.  “Only he always lands on his ass.

We all laugh, as Bradson stares back at us, fuming. He loves to dish it out, but can’t take it!

“All right, girlies,” Sarge orders. “Get to work! We got a bloody bridge to build!”


© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.