Borax Wagon Wheels Returned to Their “Birthplace” for Refurbishment

March 31, 2022

Borax Wagons Temporary Jacks And The Greasy Axle Rear Wheel

The DVC’s replica Twenty Mule Team Borax wagons first appeared in public in 2016. Like any other vehicle that you wish to preserve, they require regular maintenance like greasing the axles, oiling the wood and tightening hundreds of bolts and nuts that work themselves loose as the wagons roll over uneven ground.

Since their debut 6 years ago, the wooden wheels have dried and the iron tire has compressed the felloes and spokes into the hubs. To keep the wheels stable and strong, they needed to be refurbished. That meant returning them to their “birthplace”, Engel’s Coach Shop, where Dave Engel constructed the replica wagon set.

The first step in refurbishing the wheels was to temporarily remove the wagons from their exhibit barn at the Laws Museum and bring them to a local workshop to jack up the wagons and remove the wheels, one at a time. The photo above shows the temporary jacks and the greasy axle from one of the rear wheels.

Each front wheel is about five feet in diameter and weighs about 780 pounds; each rear wheel is about seven feet in diameter and weighs 1,080 pounds – far too heavy to manage manually. So, we slid a pipe through the hub to let us lift the wheels, one at a time.

Mule Team Borax Wagon Wheel with Labeled Parts
Wagon Wheel Off and Wagon

A modified forklift attachment on a backhoe was the perfect tool for the job.

Wagon Wheel and Forklift

We also needed to safely store the wagons for several weeks once the wheels were removed. Hay bales turned out to be just the right size and strength to securely hold the wagons off the ground.

Wagons Propped On Hay Bales
Wagons Propped On Hay Bales

The next step was to secure all eight wheels for transport from Bishop, California to Dave Engel’s shop in Joliet, Montana. Mule owner, trainer, and driver Bobby Tanner happened to have a stock trailer that was the perfect size to carry this ~4 ton load of wheels. We needed to secure the wheels so that they wouldn’t roll around during transport. You can see some of the bracing and lashing in these photos.

Borax Wagon Wheels In Bobby Tanners Trailer

All eight wheels have been locked together in the trailer, ready for their journey back to their “birthplace.”

Wheels Locked Together for Safe Transport
Borax Wagon Wheels On Their Way

Once Dave Engel rebuilds the wheels, he will haul them back to Bishop in time for the Twenty Mule Team’s appearance in the 2022 Mule Days Festivities at the end of May.

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