Wagon Riding in the Sandhills of North Carolina

How many different ways can you combine horses, mules, donkeys, wagons and carts? Last weekend, I attended the wedding of my friends Kenny and Myla Tyndal in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Talk about a whole lotta pine trees, crazy knots and ways to fix a wagon with a beer can.

The wedding wagon train. Those are Kenny’s mules Thelma (L) and Louise (R). Somehow I ended up driving his wagon while he and his new wife Myla and the wedding cake ended up riding in Greg Miller’s wagon. That’s the one with the red wheels.

About Kenny and Me

I met Kenny in 2004 as I was riding my mule Woody through Raeford, North Carolina on the way from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. After that trip, I moved to Southern Pines, North Carolina, about half an hour from Kenny’s farm. We became friends and started driving wagons together. Kenny’s always been a hands-on kind of guy. Which is a friendly way of saying he can fix all the things you and he can break. He talks with a bit of a Lumbee brogue and if you ever ask him if something’s going to work out, he’ll say, “ill be a’ ‘ite” (which in Kenny-speak means, “It’ll be alright”).

Kenny on a trip I took with him back in January 2007. Here, he’s improvised some padding for a mule collar with a pair of hay-stuffed socks. The jumble of wires and piece of tail lamp was a “chandelier” we rigged to light our camp. This photo was taken the time we drove my mule Polly and his mules 110 miles from his farm to Sunset Beach, North Carolina.

The wedding ceremony was held on Friday night. Saturday morning, a bunch of Kenny’s friends showed up with wagons and mules to go for a ride through the Sandhills.

True to the spirit of Kenny, as soon as I hitched his mules to his wagon, he told me the grease cap, the thing that keeps sand out of the wheel bearings on his wagon, was missing. I cut a beer can in half and covered the bearing. Rooster, one of Kenny’s buddies, provided the duct tape to keep the can from falling off.

Kenny’s wagon and mules Thelma (L) and Louise (R) as seen from inside his horse trailer.
The nut that holds the wheel bearing in place. It’s supposed to be covered by a little metal cap. That’s not something you want to be missing in a place called the Sandhills. Sand wrecks bearings.
The fix. Kenny looked at it and said, “ill be a’ ‘ite”.

I haven’t known Myla quite as long as Kenny but know she’s a good match for him. She knows he’ll always be late, his truck will always need work, but if she needs him, he’ll be right there. If his truck is working. He knows she’ll always be there for him. She’s also the taskmaster he needs to keep him on course when he starts shaving too many corners. I’ve been around them enough to know they really love each other.

The Sandhills

The wedding took place at the Hoffman Field Trial barn in the Sandhills of North Carolina. The Sandhills is a 15 to 30-mile-wide region of rolling sand dunes in the southern part of North Carolina.

The Sandhills of North Carolina (North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission image)

The dunes are made of sand that blew in from 6,000 to 75,000 years ago. They are home to large stands of longleaf pine, wiregrass and rare birds such as the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The area has always relied on fire to keep the landscape open. After years of not letting the land burn, attempts are now being made to burn the land regularly so the landscape can go back to the giant forested savannah that once occupied this area.

It’s long been one of my favorite places to drive wagons.

Driving my mules Jack and Bill through the Sandhills (Walthour-Moss Foundation, Southern Pines, NC / 2006 / Susan Edwards photo)
Jack and Bill pulling my wagon while Woody and Maggie bring up the rear (Walthour-Moss Foundation, Southern Pines, NC / 2006 / Susan Edwards photo)

Wagoneering in the Sandhills

The great thing about the Sandhills is that a lot of the land is owned by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, or NCWRC. The NCWRC owns over 2 million acres of land in North Carolina. Most of that land is open to the public to hike, fish, hunt and camp on. What makes the Sandhills so great for wagon driving is that it’s full of sandy roads that run straight for miles across the rolling land. You couldn’t ask for a better place if you get into a mule runaway. Just keep your mule pointed straight up the road and “ill be a’ ‘ite”, to quote Kenny.

This is why I love driving in the Sandhills. The team, Thelma (L) and Louise (R) that Kenny let me drive. They were as perfect as I expected them to be.

Many of Kenny’s guests drive wagons or ride horses so the wedding was more of a wagon train than a country club affair. There were big wagons pulled by big mules and little carts pulled by ponies. There was even a little cart pulled by a little donkey. The thing I enjoyed most was visiting with folks and checking out all the different rigs people were driving. It really shows what all kinds of gear you can make work. Here are some photos I thought you’d enjoy.

Little cart: little mule: Big wagon: big mule
Donkey power
Breaktime
Mad Max driving his pony team.
Kenny visiting with Margie and Steve who drove his palomino gelding.
Waiting
The old How to Shorten the Bridle When You Run Out of Holes trick.

Some Wedding Photos

Of course, I should throw in some photos of Kenny and Myla’s wedding. These should give you a good idea of how folks get hitched in the Sandhills of North Carolina.

They said “I do”.
They ate cake.
And then they danced.
The wedding was held in the field trial barn.
One of the photos hanging on the wall. The caption read “Miss Frances Griscom in a mule-pushed hunt wagon at Water Oak, her family’s plantation in Florida, circa 1935. The photograph is courtesy of the State Archives of Florida”.
Kenny’s buddy Rooster’s mules. They were not invited to the reception but I snuck them some fresh grass.

It sure was fun catching up with you Swamp Dawg, Greg, Mad Max, Wendy, Victor, Jackie, Jamie, Rooster, Shelby, and everyone else. Kenny and Myla, I’m honored you asked me to hold your wedding rings during the ceremony. I wish you all the best in your new life together.

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Cracker hanging with young Captain America at a catfish farm in Tennesee. One of the many stories from the new “Trash to Triumph” book.

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2 Responses to Wagon Riding in the Sandhills of North Carolina

  • Lovely event!
    First time I have ever encountered a conveyance pushed ahead of an equine. I won’t state the obvious about putting something in front of something else, but its interesting to ponder that a mule pushes into his trace, just the same. What would be the advantage of having the gear in front of the animal, I wonder?

    • This is one of the only times I’ve seen the “mule pushes the cart” arrangements. I think it’s just to give the person in the cart a clear shot at the quail out the front of the cart. The push/pull thing is interesting, though, because, if you think about it, when a mule “pulls” a wagon it’s the same as “pushing” it with its shoulders. This could have made for some lively discussion among the wedding party but most of us were too busy having our cake-fed butts pulled/pushed by our mules. Great comment! Bernie

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