No horsin’ around
for this college student

Staff writer

While most teenagers are serving fast food, working with harvest crews, or mowing grass for summertime employment, Alex Schmidt of rural Hillsboro works as part of a mule wagon team.

“I love everything about it,” Schmidt, 18, said. “People always have a lot of questions about the mules, and it just seems to make their day when they get to ride in our wagon.”

At Marion’s Art and Music Stroll on Sunday, Schmidt, his father, Leroy Schmidt, and his brother, Arik Schmidt, traversed Main Street more times than they could count with their mules, Tom and Jerry, giving wagon rides to visitors.

Alex Schmidt’s job throughout the day was to serve as a safety check, standing at the back gate of the old-fashioned covered wagon while it was moving, then going around to stand in front of the mules at every stop.

“I stand there to prevent the possibility of runaways,” he said. “Tom and Jerry are very tame, but you never know what might happen and we are committed to the safety of all our passengers.”

In Marion, the wagon team drivers and mules had to contend with a continual flow of traffic sharing the roadway, as well as the occasional motorcycle.

“They get a little nervous about the motorcycles sometimes and toss their heads a bit, but they have been around all this before,” Schmidt said.

Tom and Jerry are crosses between Mammoth Jack donkeys and quarter horse mares. They are both 21 years old and have been with the Schmidt family for more than 10 years.

“We had a very good friend, John Hybsha, who kind of tricked my dad into getting the mules,” Schmidt said. “It turned out to be a good thing, something we enjoy doing together as a family.”

In addition to serving as a safety check on ride days, Schmidt works with his father and brother to load the mules and equipment, and to get the harnesses on when they reach their destination.

“We give rides about three or four times a month,” Schmidt said. “We have gotten pretty good at the harnessing routine and work together to get them ready as quickly as possible.”

Schmidt said the best part of his job is visiting with the people, wherever they went, about their mules.

“Sometimes we will meet someone who knows a thing or two about mules and strikes up a conversation,” he said. “Other times it is just answering the routine questions, like how old are they, what are their names, what do they eat. It never gets old.”

Schmidt’s interest in history also is ever evolving with mule-team wagon events, as many of the occasions they hire out for have historic significance.

“Back in the old days, mule team wagons were a main form of transportation,” he said. “People these days are fascinated by that.”

Schmidt was a freshman at Tabor College in Hillsboro this year and plans to declare a history major there this fall. He said staying around his home community for summer and working with his family suited him just fine.

“I probably won’t do this all my life, but it is something I really enjoy right now,” he said.

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