To those who relied upon animals for their livelihood, the mule had a far greater value than a horse, was considered a dozer of their time, and played an important part in the development of the East Texas Oilfield. Cowboys recognized their worth then and continue to do so today.
“I drove my team in the Cotton Bowl Parade and that was the goal in my life,” he said with a slow drawl found with those born and raised in Texas. “Ellerd Trucking made that dream possible.” And so the story began about a man whose life, he claims, was made from livestock and the oilfield.
“I was born in Tyler, but raised in New London and was there for fifty-four years,” he said proudly. His parents were Ida and J.B. Vernon – Billy Vernon along with sister Jeanette and brother Bobby grew up just outside the Humble Camp. And it was in New London, Billy started Kindergarten and finished 12th grade. Later, he returned and built a home 3 miles from where he grew up but still on his family’s farm, making it a total of fifty four years in New London until the purchase of a farm off Stone Road in 1997.
His father had a livestock farm and owned cattle, horses and a couple of small mules used to mow their pasture.
Billy refers to being raised at the oilfield camp’s gate. In reality, the mule camp was 1 mile from their farm house and on weekends and during the summer Billy would ride his bicycle down to watch the mule teams work.
“During the late forties and early fifties, Humble Oil had probably 40 teams mowing the pipeline rights-of-way and well sites plus garbage pickup,” said Billy. “That was J.W. Green that owned the mules and they did work for Humble. That was 80 heads of mules,” continued Billy. “They had two mule teams that picked up garbage at each of their camps throughout Laird Hill to Turnertown. I would ride with one of the mule skinners and he would let me drive the mules”.
“I always wanted a pair of big draft mules and Daddy only had the small ones,” continued Billy.
After graduation and for the following forty-one years, Billy worked in the oilfield including 31 for McMurrey Pipeline Company.
“Billy Lucas went with me to Baxter, Tennessee and I bought my first pair of draft mules. That was October of 1979 and it just snowballed from there. From 1980 to1995 I raised mules. I carried the colts to Dixon, Tennessee to an auction where the Amish would come from Pennsylvania to buy them, finish breaking them and use them for plowing.” Billy’s mules were also sold to petting zoos such as the one in La Joya, Texas.
“Mules were my hobby, the oilfield made my living,” said Billy. “Some people had such things as football, baseball or water skiing for a hobby. My hobby was my mules.”
Numerous times, Billy drove mule teams for Ellerd Truck lines, entering rodeo competitions and parades. His series of first place wins First Place wins started at the state fair halter class and wagon hitch.
His teams could be seen at the Astrodome grand entry, in the Fort Worth parade and at the National Finals Rodeo Parade in Oklahoma City. Ellerd Trucking signed him up in every Christmas parade in the territory.
“I never charged him anything for loading, boarding and driving his mules,” said Billy. “But, I asked him to make donations to the Shriner’s Hospital and he did so regularly.”
“Reaching that goal of taking a team to the Cotton Bowl parade meant everything to me,” said Billy. “And after Ellerd sold out in 1985 I kept doing it with my own teams and horses. In 2000, I drove a chuck wagon in the Red Stegall Chuck Wagon Parade in Fort Worth, a big deal that takes place every October.”
“One year, at the state fair parade, I had the biggest scare of all times working the teams. A load of hogs was leaving and passing by the mule teams. Their squeals almost started a runaway. I was sandwiched in between Budweiser and Owens Country Sausage teams. With the help of men standing next to the teams, we were able to get them under control. I will never forget that incident.”
Back problems forced Billy to sell his teams in October 2015. His last pair of mules was not sold but are being boarded by Rachel Wyatt in Gilmer where she is hoping to learn to drive in time for the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show Parade in January 2018.
Although the mules, harnesses, wagons and other equipment were sold, Billy’s barns still houses a Bain Freight Wagon and a rubber-tired fifth-wheel parade wagon and he still has a John Deere wagon at another barn.
Proudly displayed on the wall of his home is a saddle with a rope lariat is looped around the horn and a saddle blanket from the Sharon Mounted Patrol that Billy rode in for nineteen years. He and his family have also been proud members of the Cattleman’s Association since 1960.
He remains a member of the Masonic Lodge Canton #98 in Arp and the Sharon Temple in Tyler. And Billy can still be found at ranch gatherings hosted by the Cattleman’s Association.
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