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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 26

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the lead horse and the wheelers. The lead horse must respond correctly when the driver pulls the jerk line, once for a left turn and twice for a right. What is more, that horse must know to a foot how far to circle out on a turn so that the mules jump the slack chain at just the right distance to ease the wagons safely around the bend. More than once in after- years I saw this maneuver, and it is really something beautiful to see. The lead horse swings far out to left or right, as the case may be, and the mules jump the chain in rhythm - like a swimming team jumping into the water one after another. But even more responsible are the wheel horses. The wheelers control the strains on a freight wagon. When a wagon is properly loaded, with the weight of the cargo concentrated over the back axle, brakes will hold under any kind of road conditions. But there is a moment, as the brakes are released, when the wheelers must be depended on to hold back the weight of the wagon, easing it off slowly, just enough so that the mules can take on the weight without getting fouled up in the slack chain. As the man said, “ On a wagon train horses are ‘ partners’ on a hazardous journey,” Mr. Blackburn concluded. Ultimately the stablemen did come along to care for the mules, and by the time all the animals were standing with heads down and one foot at parade rest, the muleskinner was well on his way uptown to his favorite saloon. What with drinks for the house and money for the girlfriend, before morning he would probably be broke again. Now the freight- handlers began climbing on the wagons, slowly un-scrambling the freight. I saw our barrels lowered casually to the ground and piled together. Oh, my beautiful china! Then came the piano, with a sickening jolt. I wondered what the jar would do to it, not to mention the awful impregnation of dust from the journey. Later, to my delight, I found that it was not hurt. We spent exciting days unpacking, wondering all the while wherein the tiny house we were going to stow everything. Of course, most of what we received as wedding gifts was fit only for a city home. Our friends were no more prepared for the conditions we were to meet than I was myself. But the cut glass, the Dresden china, the beautiful linen and silver all contributed to our gaiety, even if the environment did seem to call for oilcloth and tin cups. One of the handsomest gifts we received was a large bronze kerosene lamp from Judge Jackson and his wife. The shade was a huge red glass globe. Handsome as it was, in our tiny box of a house the lamp was like a Newfoundland pup in a doll’s house. As the little group of intimate friends gravitated more and more to our house, we seemed to laugh louder and play harder in our two- by- four living room than anywhere else in town. One night the beautiful bronze lamp was tipped



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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 26
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