An old mule was reunited with an old friend and coworker Aug. 7 with help of a retired teacher, the county historical society and the Harvey County Road and Bridge Department.
Put into place using a county crane, the mule — an old tractor-type vehicle — was hitched up to a former railroad cart used as a luggage rack and more in the heyday of passenger rail at the Newton train station.
"This mule, I would guess in the early 1970s when my dad still had a salvage yard, the railroad called and said 'we have some stuff to sell, would you be interested?'" said Bill Mills, the mule's current owner.
What was for sale, and sitting to the east of the depot, was the mule and a couple of old wagons.
"I asked 'what do you want for them,' and they said 'whatever you bid,'" Mills said. "I didn't really want them all that bad. I offered $25 for all three of them. They said 'you own them.'"
According to Jim Meier, superintendent of the Harvey County Road and Bridge Department, a search of the mule's serial number showed a manufacture date of 1949.
At the time, the mule still ran — though the clutch needed repairs. Mills put some work into the mule, including repainting it. His students at Newton High School ran the mule in the homecoming parade, pulling a trailer with a coffin labeled for the visiting team.
When the mule was in use by the railroad, there were passenger canopies over the tracks at the Newton station. The mule pulled a trailer, filled with whatever needed to get on, or off, a train while parked at the depot.
"They used them for baggage. They used to transport bodies on the trains," Mills said. "... Anything off the train.
Later, Mills sent the mule to Walton with the understanding that it would be placed in a historical museum there. However, it was never placed on display. This year he spoke
"It sat there for 40 years, and now here it is today," Mills said. "It is just a piece of history of Newton."
Aug. 7 Mills watched as the mule was lowered into place onto a concrete pad in front of the Harvey County Historical Society at 203 N. Main St. His work is done.
On Aug. 7, Joe Smiley, who helped procure the mule for the museum, was placing panels over the engine and taking an assessment of what needs to be done to renovate the piece of railroad history.
"What comes next is me painting that thing,," Smiley said. "I have to see what I can do about a flat tire. I had to put new tires on the front end because you can't find anything used for that."
The seat needs to be redone, and grease scrubbed away.
But it will sit with its old partner, a large green cart, in front of the museum.
"We have had this cart for forever and a day," Smiley said. "I have rebuilt this one. ... When I found out about this, this is a match. That tractor probably pulled that cart on the railroad platform."