By DAN WHITTLE/ Courier Correspondent
Mule Skinners have plowed and cultivated their annual May 11 showcase event in Woodbury into being the largest "One Day Mule Show in the Southeast," proclaimed group president Andy Duggin of Woodbury.
Monthly meetings of the Middle Tennessee Mule Skinners Association are anything but "typical" as evidenced by the age range of 7-month-old Whitley George and 94-years-young Bill Smith.
Cannon County Mule Skinner Grady George waxed "proud poppa" when he shared that daughter "Whitley has already attended three mule shows throughout Middle Tennessee. She loves mule shows."
Founding MTMS member Smith can't recall his first mule show, "but my love for mules goes back to my youth when mules were a big industry in Cannon County."
"I was born on a 300-acre farm, where my father, grandfather and three sharecropping families all farmed with mules," noted Smith, one of the most note-worthy retired bankers in Cannon County history. "And as a 4-year-old, I recall seeing all the mules used in breaking up the earth when the great turnpike was constructed between Woodbury and Murfreesboro in 1922.
"Mules have a lot of heritage here, including Uncle Dave Macon's Freight business in the 1920s before he became a star on WSM Radio and the Grand Ole Opry.
"Uncle Dave would hitch a load in Woodbury, drive his mules and wagon to Readyville overnight, and then on to Murfreesboro," Smith added. "And Uncle Dave would repeat his trip, after loading freight in Murfreesboro, hauling his load slowly back to Readyville, and the next day, back into Woodbury."
Duggins focused on two primary Cannon County mule-events, the May 11 Middle Tennessee Mule Skinners Show in Woodbury, and "Short Mountain Distillery's First Anniversary Celebration" tentatively set for March 23 when Mule Skinners will have wagons and mules on display.
How widespread is Mule Skinner membership?
"We have dozens of members at our monthly meetings," Duggins evidenced at the most recent meeting at DJ's Pizza & Steak House, 805 West Main, Woodbury.
"I served more than 50 meals to the Mule Skinners tonight," advertised server Ann Waterson.
"I make the motion we meet back here at DJ's Pizza again in March," noted Mule Skinner Danny Fraley after he was accompanied to the dinner meeting by fellow Rutherford County Mule Skinners Lytle Hodge and Coy Ricketts.
It was interesting to listen to Fraley and Woodland Mule Skinner Jimmy Simpson as they exchanged which style "shoes" work best on different sized mules.
Simpson formerly worked as a farrier for 30 years.
This recent meeting had members from Viola and Morrison in Warren County and Watertown and Smithville in Wilson and DeKalb counties.
Cindy Haley, a writer for the "Dixie Longears" slick-looking magazine dedicated to covering Middle Tennessee's mule industry, provided information showcasing legendary Lascassas/Milton area Mule Skinner Buddy Black, age 84, whose teams of mules and wagons have transported grand marshals in April's annual Columbia Mule Days' Parade for the past 30-plus years.
Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick credits the Mule Skinners and their highly-publicized events with triggering new tourism dollars into his community's economy.
"They've been showcased on statewide and national TV and innumerable newspaper and magazine articles," Patrick credited. "Veteran mule men Bill Smith and Buddy Black, and now men like Andy Duggins, the current president of the Mule Skinners, help bring clean tourism dollars and wholesome attention to our great town and county."