The Young Teamster
These are some notes from Gilbert Sullivan’s memoirs as transcribed by his son Dan Sullivan
Later on after the team of little blue mules I first owned, I had another pair of larger mules. The off mule (the mule on the left hitched as a team) was mean. You had to always watch her to keep from getting hurt. Uncle John Buttrey was working with me, he was getting to be an old man, probably 65 years old at the time, and we were hauling spoke timber. By the time Gilbert was 12 he was a professional teamster, and would hire out with his team to haul what ever needed to be hauled in the surrounding area. At times this was the only income the family had. By the time he was 16 he had become an expert teamster, maybe as good as there was around. He continues his story about working with Uncle John Buttrey hauling spoke timber. We called the cuts tough butts. They (the men cutting the timber) only cut two to four 36 inch cuts off the butt log of a tree. This was the very best wood in the tree. Usually straight clear grain and was probably White Ash. We rolled them up on skids from the back of the wagon and loaded them cross ways in the wagon frame. On the haul we had to make, we had a pretty steep hill to go down to get to the spoke mill which was about 200 yards down the road. It was a short haul so we loaded pretty heavy. We would lock the back wheels going off the hill. The lock chain would run from the coupling pole back to the wheels. They would either tie the brake pole down in a lock position, or tie up the back wheels with a log chain so the wheels would not roll, but scoot going off a steep place to keep the load from pushing on the mules. Where the road went off the hill we had to straddle a big stump. They would cut the trees close to the ground to get the best timber from the base of the tree to make spokes for wagon and buggy wheels. With each trip down the hill the back wheels, which were locked and scooting, would cut down into the ground a little deeper leaving less and less clearance over the top of the stump. Finally the ruts cut down enough to where on one trip the lock chain hung the top of the stump. I was sitting on top of the load, driving the team, and when the chain hung the stump the wagon came to a sudden stop. With the jolting stop, the front end of the wagon busted out and the spoke timber went rolling out between the mules, down the hill in front of the wagon. The rolling timber must have thrown Dad forward down on the mules from the top of the load, for in his notes he went on to say, I caught the harness of the lead mule and got on her back. One of the cuts got cross ways and landed on the off mules hocks and the double tree, and blocked the other cuts from coming on down on the mules. The mule must have realized she was in a dangerous place, because she just squatted and stood perfectly still. Uncle John and I blocked the other cuts so they could not roll any further, got the cut off the mules hocks, got the road cleared, and went on to the mill. I was really lucky not to have been hurt. Most of Dad’s work with his team and wagon was hauling some type of timber products. Most of the land for several miles around Turnbull Creek was timber land, and a significant part of the local economy was from harvesting various timber products. A lot of the stories he would tell me and my brothers when we were young boys were about working in the woods with a team. This next story he wrote about was one of those, and was about a time when he worked with his brother Norman. Another time Norman and I were hauling logs. I was driving the little blue mules I liked so much. I was trying to get them on the other side of the wagon to pull the logs on. The way logs were loaded on a wagon was to put two skid poles from the bed of the wagon to the ground so that logs could be rolled up the poles and onto the wagon. When the logs were too big to be rolled up by hand or the angle of the skid poles too steep, logs could be pulled up the skid poles onto the wagon by tying a log chain to the wagon, running it under and around the log on the ground, then across to the opposite side of the wagon where either one or two mules could be hitched to the chain so the mules could pull and roll the log up the poles onto the wagon. It took two chains to rig this system. Dad continues the story. There was a big patch of green briars that the mules had to walk through to get to the other side of the wagon, so they were going slow. Norman was known to be high strung with a mean temper, and apparently in this situation impatient. Norman was mad and contrary, so he hit one of the mules with a small stick. My mules were not used to being whipped so they got nervous. I got mad and told Norman never to hit one of my mules again. So he said “boy, I’m gonna whip you”. I had a real good string whip hanging on the lead mule’s harness, so I grabbed the whip and started backing away and whipping his legs. So he got enough of that and told me to load my own logs and he would load his. I got loaded and went to the sawmill with my load, and was on my way back to the woods when I met Norman going to the mill with only one log, and the back end of it was on the back hounds of the wagon instead of up on the log bolsters. He stopped his team and wagon and said “boy, you know I can’t load logs with one chain”. I said “yes I knew that when I left”. I had two chains so I had no trouble loading by myself. I guess they went back loading together, because Dad went on with another story about loading logs with his brother Norman. One day we were loading a big log with Norman’s team. Every time the log would get to the top of the skids, one of his mules would quit pulling. He tried three or four times, and when the mule would stop, the log would roll back down the skid poles to the ground. He asked what were we going to do. I think he was wanting me to load his load with my team. I told him I would load it with his mules if he wanted me to. So he said “all right”. I cut me a large switch about eight feet long, picked up the lines, and clucked to the mules to come up. When the log got to the place where the mule had quit pulling, I gave him a cut with that big switch and told him to “get”. He loaded the log the first time we tried.
Rowdy Friends and Homemade Whiskey
Some time near to this period, the new road that was called Cox Pike was being built. It was in the winter and I hauled creek gravel on the road. It was about 5 or 6 miles from home, and I would leave the wagon on, or near the job and ride the mules to and from the job. After some two or three weeks going home at night, I started staying with uncle Nat Pewitt and his family at night. Guy and Ray Pewitt, (I assume they were sons of uncle Nat) had a still up a hollow from the house. It was a large still and they called it Steam Shot. One or two nights a week I would go with them to cook off a run of whiskey. Guy was working for a man they called Slim. I must it is inferred here that Guy had some business arrangement with Slim, where Guy and Ray would make the whiskey, and Slim would distribute it. Slim lived near Nashville, and Slim was the only name I ever heard him called. While hauling gravel, I broke a set of haimes, and so I borrowed some from uncle Nat. One Sunday morning when I started home Guy and Ray rode with in about __ miles of home. We had some whiskey so I was feeling pretty good, and Guy wanted to race me. He had a real good saddle horse, and he was fast. I was drunk enough I suppose I didn’t care, so I took him on. My little mule ran out of the road under some low hanging limbs and I hurt my arm. Soon after that we stopped at a friend house, and he brought out a quart of red whiskey and wanted me to have a drink. I did, and that is the last thing I remembered until I got to Liberty Church of Christ. That is where Ray left me and went his way. I don’t know when Guy left us. When I got within about a mile from home I came to myself, and I was walking and leading the mule. I wondered why I was walking, so I got back on the mule. When I got home it must have been about 12:00 o’clock. I unsaddled the mule and turn him loose, and went to sleep in the corn crib. I woke about 4:00 and went to the house. Some time after the job was done, I went on a Saturday evening to carry the haimes I had borrowed back to Uncle Nat. I rode a little 2 year old mule that was not broke very well. I met Guy and Ray about one mile from their home on the way to the still with a load of sugar in the wagon. They wanted me to go with them to the still. I hitched my mule in a shed belonging to a Murry Lankford, and went with them to the still. We carried in a load of sugar, and brought back a wagon load of whiskey. The weather was damp and cold, and it was snowing a little, to where the ground was well covered (about 1 to 2 inches of snow).
When we got back to where my mule was tied, we stopped and I got back on the little mule. Guy wanted me to get out in front of the wagon, as we wet on down the road. The way we were going, there was a long hill, down grade for about a mile all the way. A deep gully had washed out on both sides of the road, and the road was narrow. Guy had a real goad team of mules and fat as mud. All it took to get them to run was to kick the front gate of the wagon, and they would run for life.
Going off the hill, when we got to a place where I had no where to get off the road on the side to let them pass, Guy began to kick the front gate of the wagon and holler to get his team started running. I had to run my little mule flat out to keep from being run over. I was scared half stiff. I kept thinking what if my mule fell. There was no way they could have kept from running over me and my mule. Guy ran me all the way down the hill. I remember 2 or 3 years after that I was riding along Parker Creek road, and I saw a fairly large still in plain view of the road. There were some 25 to 30 wooden 60 gallon barrels of mash. The still was operated around the clock with 2 shifts a day. They would blow the steam whistle when it came time to change shifts. They operated with a steam boiler just like they used in those times to run a sawmill. The steam was piped to the boiler to heat the mash. One time when I was bout 14, two other boys and I stopped in at Uncle Jim Green’s store. Dewey Beshears stopped by the store too. So we were on our way home and Dewey wanted to race his mule against mine. There had been some lose rock put in a mud hole in the road, and his mule hit them rock and fell against my mule’s chest, and she turned a complete flip. I flew though the air about 15 feet in front of her. When I went back and caught her there was dirt caked on top of the saddle horn. Neither me or the mule was hurt. This story took place before World War I had ended. Dad was logging, and he sent Grover and me to buy some corn from Mr Giles Paige. Corn was $10.00 a barrel. Mr. Paige lived where Matt Sullivan had lived for a long time, and was living there when he died. On our way back, when we got to where Dave and Nettie lived, we met Guy and Ray Pewitt in the forks of the road. Guy had a real good pair of mules but they had never worked very hard, and was not use to pulling very much. Our mules were a little heavier, and were use to pulling in the woods, and were much slower. Guy wanted to tie the back of the wagons together and see which team would pull the other back. I realized what Guy had in mind so I agreed. I pulled my brakes on knowing his mules would jump against the wagon and fly back. About the time they did that, my mules started pulling, and I took the brakes off, and started dragging them back. Guy began yelling to stop. His mules had no chance to ever get in a position to dig in and stop from being dragged back.
Mules, Wagons and Long Roads
When I first started hauling on the road, Grover would go with me. We would haul spoke timber, staves bolts, lumber, and cross ties. I would always do the driving. In the summer time the roads would be real dusty, and in the winter lots of mud. One day in the winter it started turning cold, and the mud started freezing on the wagon hubs. By the time I got home that night the wheels were froze solid with no openings between the spokes. Once in the summer I was hauling lumber, and the mill where I loaded was close to where 100 Highway crosses the Hickman county line. That was long before the Highway was built. When I got to the top of the hill I ran in to the first crawler tractor I ever saw. It was pulling a large grader, grading the road all the way to Bon Aqua. The grading had left two or three inches of loose dirt in the road. I was already too heavy loaded before I hit that loose dirt. The loose dirt made the load pull all the more harder for the team. I should have left the wagon until the next day, and let some other wagons open up the tracks, but I kept going. I got to Bon Aqua about three hours late, and the mules were about give out pulling in the loose dirt. I watered them good and fed them so they could eat while I unloaded. That took about an hour. So they made it back home all right. One summer it was hot and dry. I always carried a bucket to use to water the mules with. One day about three miles from the station, (Bon Aqua Station) there lived a man named Gennis. He had a pond beside the road where we had stopped many times before to get water for the mules. On this day I was alone. No other wagons were with me. I stopped at the pond to water the mules, and had got over the rail fence ready to get the water, when Mr. Gennis saw me and made me get out without the water. I sure felt bad about that. I think Dad may have meant he felt that, it was mighty little of Mr. Gennis for not letting him water his mules. On a Saturday morning, I had gone up on the hill close to the house to get a load of firewood. I got back and was unloading from the back end of the wagon. The wood pile, where the wood was being stacked, was on a bank, and the wagon was down in a little hollow or dry branch. The mules kept pulling the wagon up and after several times the wagon was past where I wanted to unload. This apparently was aggravating Dad and made him mad. So they pulled up again, and I jumped up on the double tree and began to whip them with the end of the lines. Two hundred feet up the hollow the road went out of the hollow. On a bank at the place where the road left the hollow there was a solid rock wall. Although Dad does not describe exactly what was happening at this point, I think we can surmise that when he started whipping the mules they decided it was time to leave, and they got in a hurry doing it. Probably at a runaway pace, and when they approached the rock wall, (he picks his story back up at this point) the right side of the wagon got too far to the right up on a bank, and the wagon turned over throwing me against the rock wall. The front gate of the wagon caught my shoulder just enough to skin the hide. If it had caught me about three inches more it probably would have crushed me to death. I think I inherited some of that, take just so much and then explode, temper, and it has got me trouble a few times too. From the age of twelve until the age of eighteen I hauled stave bolts to two different stave mills, and tough butts to one spoke mill, and hauled logs to two different sawmills. I hauled staves, after they were manufactured, away from the two stave mills, and spokes, after the spokes were milled, away from the spoke mill, and lumber and cross ties from one of the sawmills. I hauled dye wood part of the time. Most of these manufactured wood products were hauled out to train sidings at Bellevue or Lyles Station, but most of the road hauling was to Bon Aqua Station. I have hauled with some of the best drivers and probably some of the worst in the county. As far as I can remember Mr. John Rainey was one of the best. He always had the best team and his harness was as good as money could buy. (When I was 8 or 9, he carried a load of hogs to Nashville for my Dad, and I went with him.) My Grandfather Green Sullivan, Uncle Oscar, and Uncle Turman always had good mules and harness. I had real good harness and some real good mules. Some that I was very proud of.
Work In Nashville
The year I was 16 when I got the crops laid by, I went to Nashville to work. I was probably the first part of July. I had my clothes in a small suitcase and walked to past Hillsboro, where the road crossed the creek. ( Leipers Fork) It was a little after dark, and I had pulled my shoes off to wade the creek when I saw the lights of a car coming. I flagged him down and he stopped, and asked me where I was going. I told him I was trying to get to Franklin to catch the Interurban into Nashville. The Interurban was a little commuter rail line that ran between Franklin and Nashville for several years, but after Franklin Road (U S Highway 31), and Hillsboro Pike were built, and automobiles became the prevalent means of travel the Interurban went out of business, probably in the late 1930s. The man’s name was Mr. Cannon. He carried me into Franklin to the Interurban Station. I was real tired, and when I sat down to wait for the Interurban, I went to sleep. When the car came by and was ready to go the conductor woke me and asked if I was going to ride that car. I told him I was and he said he was ready to go. When I got to the transfer shed in Nashville, while waiting for my street car, I got on some scales and weighed. (probably the kind that were around in public places where you could put a penny in and weigh) I weighed 109 pounds. The car I wanted to go out on was called the Buenavista. I went out to 22nd avenue where I boarded with Uncle Charlie Lampley. Monday morning I went over into west Nashville and got a job with John B. Ransom Box Factory. I got into a real hot argument with the hothead I was working with. He went and told the foreman I was giving trouble. The foreman came over and said for me not to come back the next morning. I said I would quit now if he wanted me to. He said no, for me to work on till time to quit. Later on the foreman came back around and said for me to come back next morning. I did, and that was Friday. Friday night I told the foreman I was going home over the weekend, and might be a little late Monday. He said that would be all right. I was wanting time Monday to look for another job. I went home over the weekend, and got back to Nashville late Sunday evening. Early Monday morning I went on up the railroad to Buchanan Lumber Company. It was a large place with some 25 or 30 men working there. They manufactured doors, windows, and window frames, and had a huge lumber yard. They had a team of mules and a wagon, so I started driving them there on the yard, bringing lumber from off the yard to the warehouse where they worked it into whatever they had orders for. In two or three days, they would send me out on small orders up to two or three miles from the place of business. I liked that job much better than the one at the box factory. I had to walk about two miles between work and where I stayed at night. About one mile of that was on a spur railroad that ran behind a lot of colored houses. One evening a bunch of colored boys were playing ball. There were about 5 or 6 of them, and 2 of them were larger than I was. One of them knocked the ball out a ways, so one of the boys had to go and get the ball. They all began to laugh at him, so I laughed too. One of the bigger boys said, “what are you laughing for boy”? I said “because you all are laughing.” One of them said, “I bet you could whip the hell out off him couldn’t you.” I said, “hell yes if it is necessary”. With that they started throwing cinder rocks at me. I dodged several of them, and started running after the one that was the closest to me, and they all ran. I stopped and stood there for a few seconds, then walked on. I was very glad I never saw any more of them. I was making twenty five cents an hour, ten hours a day. Their lumber came into the yard in freight cars. They figured it took two men a day to unload a car. I asked the foreman if he would let me unload the car at night. He said he would see about it. In a little while he came back and said he would. I unloaded 2 or 3 cars that way. As I recall Dad telling this story, he contracted for so much to unload a car, and would unload one car during the night, and made a good deal of extra money that way. I worked 6 or 7 weeks, and had to go home and pull fodder.
The Last Story
Dad’s journal is a randomly remembered, randomly written collection of stories in no particular chronology. The journal was written in a bold but shaky hand about 3 years before he died. From the time I was just a little boy, on up until the last days I lived at home, and even after I left home and returned for visits Dad would tell about things that happened in his childhood. As you can tell from this recreation of his journal he especially loved to tell about rough and rowdy days with his mules and wagons. This is the last memory he recorded and was short, but no exception, it was about working with his mules when he was just a boy. A boy by age, but a man by deed. . One summer I helped build the road from Fernvail to near Linton. We graded it with mules, and then hauled creek gravel with wagons. It was a very hard summers work. I rode a mule about 7 or 8 miles there and back, in the morning and evening. I must have been 15 years old.
At times I ponder the question. How do you measure the worth of a man? I’ve asked Mary that question several times. I know the immediate response of many, perhaps most would be, “it’s simple, look at his financial statement”. Or others may suggest that you have to look at the totality of the man. Nice try, but that one can be debated for as long as man has the capacity to think. Comprehending, and then measuring such a thing becomes cosmic. The definition of the word cosmic as used here is, “the inclusion of everything, but the description of nothing”. We then are left simply with our regard for the man, or if you will, our feelings. My world is limited I know, but Gilbert R. Sullivan was the greatest man in my life. I know that measurement is based on feelings, on love, and respect, but it’s all I need to know. A part of him was reborn in each of five sons. I think all of us had similar regard for him, and each in their own way struggled to measure up. I think each of us knew the futility in that task, and dealing with that, played out in it’s on way. Yet having something of him in each of us, even if only a fraction, is enough to cherish the life in us, and the ability to pass a bit of that on.