Blountstown business gave people a place to visit, trade & watch the mules
There was a time when Anders Livery was the place to be, especially on one particular day of the week.
“Blountstown was wide open on Saturday,” said Willard Smith, 77, a Calhoun County native who remembers visiting the livery when he was just a boy in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
On that day, everyone would leave the farm and come to town to get supplies and socialize. Some would stop at John Hall’s Barber Shop first for a shower before joining their friends for the day. “You could rent towels, washcloths and soap and take a shower there for 25 cents,” Smith said. “When you got through, you went out the back door, spit-shined and smelling good.” In those days, most homes didn’t have running water. “You bathed in the creek or you didn’t get washed,” he explained.
In those days, many local men would have been making about 50 cents a day, which meant they must have really wanted to get clean to give up a half day’s pay for the privilege.
As they got into town, the men and the women would part company. “You go do your shopping,” the men would tell their wives, and then add what the women already knew, “I’m going to Anders and see what they got down there.”
What they had down there was plenty of plows and other farming supplies like wagons, harnesses and fertilizer along with the occasional horse and the biggest attraction of all - the mules.
“It was a good place for the men to gather,” Smith recalls. “They might take a half pint with them to have a swig. There was a big open area in the stables and they’d go in there - out of the view of the women and children - and visit and find out what was going on.”
There was talk, gossip and speculation on many topics. “People were bad to talk,” Smith recalls but was quick to add that “everything stayed in the stable.” After a pint bottle of whisky was tipped up and drained it would be quietly dropped through the cracks in the wood floor. That way, Smith said, “There would be no evidence…and no litter.”
Even though he was just a boy at the time, Smith said he was able to sit and listen to the men talk because, “I was old enough to know when to keep my mouth shut.”
THE MULE PARADE
A mule was a necessity in those days. “Everybody farmed with them,” Smith said, recalling how in the 1940s few had a chance to get out from behind the plow and atop a more powerful tractor.
The livery would bring in about 15 or 20 mules once the last group had sold out. “Most of the mules came from Missouri or Tennessee. They’d put ‘em on a box car and ship ‘em down,” Smith explained. They arrived on the old M&B train.
“There was no unloading ramp,” he said. “They would park further west of where the old train engine is now. They would unhook the box car and move it to a side track.”
The livery owners had a unique way of getting the often stubborn creatures from the train to the stable and it drew a crowd each time.
“Charlie Anders had an old white mule,” Smith said. “The other mules would be standing and looking at him through the cracks of the box car. Someone would open the big door on the box car and get two or three of the mules to jump out and then they’d turn that white mule loose,” he said.
The white mule, knowing there would be a generous portion of feed waiting for him at the livery, would head back to the stable. The first few would follow him. Then, the others still in the box car, would start jumping out to follow them.
“Some of the mules were afraid to jump out,” Smith said. But when the line of mules started moving further away, “they would sail out of there” to get down and join the procession.
“I don’t know how they figured that out,” Smith said about getting the mules to the stable with relatively little effort. “He was a rare mule.”
He recalls being about five years old the first time he saw the mules walking from the train to the livery.
When folks would hear that a new shipment of mules had come in, they rushed down to the train to watch the parade. “Traffic would stop and they would go right down Main Street for about a block and turn and go in the big front door at the livery,” he said. “It was comical to watch,” he said.
THE MULE THAT LOVED WESTERNS
The mules were more than farm labor. As Smith grew into a teenager in the early 1950s, the family mule, Kate, became his means of transportation. “The farm was three miles from the drive-in theatre. I’d ride the mule to there on Saturday night to watch the western double feature,” he said.
There was a place in front of the concession stand where he would sit on a bench. He would tie up Kate nearby, securing his ride home to the hitching post he had made for her. Pickup trucks and cars would line up in rows facing the big white screen. The place was so packed that the owner, Joe Durham, hired Smith to help guide customers to parking places.
Smith had to get up and help latecomers find parking spots while Kate stayed in her spot and kept an eye on the film. “That mule loved them westerns just as much as I did,” Smith said. “When the horses on screen started running, she’d go to twitching and braying!”
If anything, the mule added an early version of “surround sound” to the film.
TRADING ‘EM IN
When you bought a mule from Anders and it didn’t work out, you weren’t stuck. You could exchange it for a different one, according to Johnny Eubanks, 84. “You could buy or trade a horse or mule there, just like at a car dealer today,” he said.
He remembers when his father, Bertus Eubanks, wound up with a particularly uncooperative mule. He took it to the livery and traded it for a different mule and took it home for a test drive. That time, “he got one that plowed all right,” he said.
But a mule had to do more than plow. He recalls how, as a child, he would sometimes get the task of hiding behind the “pummy pile” (where the husks were piled after being squeezed) during syrup making days. Mules didn’t always keep the pace as they walked in circles to keep the rollers grinding out the juice as cane stalks were fed into the machinery. When the mule would slow down, someone had to hide behind the pummy pile and jump out to slap its flank to keep it moving.
MULE SHEARING, COLLECTING STRAYS
“If he was a Missouri mule, he was hardheaded. If he was out of Tennessee, he was a pretty good mule,” according to Smith.
Customers gathered at Anders to watch when the long-haired mules from the north had to be sheared during the summer. “A lot of them were not very tame,” Smith said. “They would tie the mule’s head to a post and tie one foot up before giving him a haircut all over.” It provided quite a bit of entertainment for onlookers until “the mule found out they weren’t going to kill him or hurt him” and settled down.
Before the 1950 stock fencing laws, animals wandered loose. Smith recalls how there was a fenced-in area behind the old historic Blountstown courthouse in the 1940s. “Sometimes an animal would take a notion to go to town to see what it was all about,” he said. “If a stray cow, horse or mule wandered up, they put them in the pen and charged the owner for feed when he came to collect it.”