The historic Twenty Mule Team wagon train, made famous during the TV series Death Valley Days based on the true tales of the California miners of the 1880s, will ride again in the 2017 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on January 2.
"Few things symbolize our collective past more than the pioneering spirit of Americans who ventured west in the 1800s toward the prospect of a better life," Preston Chiaro, President, Death Valley Conservancy (DVC). "We are absolutely delighted that we've been selected to represent such an important part of California's heritage and nostalgia."
The DVC is working with a bipartisan group of elected officials and other partners to secure an invitation to the 2017 Presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington, DC.
These appearances would replicate the events of 100 years ago when, in 1917, the Twenty Mule Team appeared in both the Tournament of Roses Parade and well as the Inaugural Parade of President Woodrow Wilson in Washington.
"The Twenty Mule Team would make a unique contribution to each of these parades, and would justly represent the pioneering spirit of the State of California," Chiaro said.
Among California's pioneers were the founders of US Borax, who discovered borates in Death Valley in 1881. The company used teams of 20 mules and giant freight wagons to haul the versatile product 165 miles to the nearest railroad in Mojave, California.
Twenty Mule Team Borax and the TV Series Death Valley Days, both California originals, grew to become some of the most recognized brands in the USA. The TV series sparked the careers of famous actors and Americans such as Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Leonard Nimoy, and many others.
"A lesser-known aspect of this history is the role these brands played in helping to publicize Death Valley across America, a role that eventually lead to the creation Death Valley National Park, and indeed the US National Park Service," Chiaro said.
Stephen Mather, the company executive who created the Twenty Mule Team brand, went on to advocate for and become the first director of the US National Park Service in 1917, which celebrated its centennial anniversary in August.
"This unique connection to California's roots is why the Tournament of Roses Committee invited the 20 Mule Team to the Parade," Chiaro said. "We are now seeking public support to have the Twenty Mule Team appear in the Presidential Inaugural Parade."
The DVC, working with Bobby Tanner, a mule-skinner based in Bishop, California and with generous support from Rio Tinto Minerals and other private donors, has raised about $350,000 to replicate a road-worthy set of Twenty Mule Team wagons for the 2017 Tournament of Roses Parade appearance.
Five sets of these giant wagons were built in the 1880s. Today, all but one of these sets has been lost to history. The remaining set, located at the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley National Park, is being used as a template for the replicas. Construction of the replica wagons is nearly complete.