Steer Steering – Happy Valley, NC

“So in all you’ve seen” Hoy asked with a grin that was amplified by the hand hooked into his blue overalls, “have you ever seen a steer climb a set of stairs?”

“Nope.” I had to admit.

But if ever a man could castrate a bull and then convince him to scale a flight of steps, Hoy was the man. That was why I was here to see him. Hoy, I hoped, would shed some light on just how I was to get Jack and Bill to pull my wagon.

“Well watch this then.” Hoy said and ambled over to a red steer tied to a post. He unsnubbed the animal, said “Come on Carter.” and slowly, one step at a time, man and steer climbed the front steps of Hoy’s porch.

The first stair-climbing steer I’ve seen

After Hoy got the steer turned around and back down into the yard, he lead him to a lean-to barn and hooked him to a wagon.

Hoy hitches Carter

“Come on then.” Hoy said. “Lets go for a ride.” I piled in, sensing a chance to spring my question.

Steer speed

Hoy’s one of the last men in North Carolina to work with steers. “I just like messing with them because nobody else does anymore.” he says as Carter pulls the wagon up the valley behind Hoy’s house.

I told Hoy of Jack and Bill and how I had them hooked up and didn’t really know how to get them under way. “So how do you get a team going?” I asked.

“It’s different in different parts of the state.” Hoy said. “Some people say “Walk On!”. Others kiss to them. But around here, the old folks used to say “Up!”

“Up?” I’d never heard that one before. “Why up?”

“Well in the old days” Hoy said, “people used to works steers a lot in these mountains. They were slow and pulled heavy loads. Lots of times, you just wanted that steer to take one step forward. Like when he was skidding a log. So you said “Up!”. If you wanted the steer to walk faster, you said “Up! Up!”.

We finished our wagon ride and the next day I tried my new commands out on Jack and Bill.

I ran the lot by them and they responded best to “Up! Up!”

Then I tried something new.

I’d heard Hoy turning his steer with “gee” and “haw”, right and left respectively. When I called the commands to Jack and Bill, they ignored me.

Seems like they don’t how to turn right or left on command.

This is a dangerous trait in sailing vessels and possibly words in mules. So really soon, I’ll have to teach them to turn by my voice. Since they don’t know “gee” and “haw” I can train them to any words I like.

I’m thinking “port” and “starboard”.


(Thanks Hoy and Bertha for the wagon ride, mustard greens and turnips. I think of you all every time I get my mules moving now. Up! Up!)


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