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Maury’s mule man

Charlie Martin’s national reputation earns him prestigious honor
Story and photo by: Chris Villines 5/24/2019


Charlie Martin displays the plaque he was given for being named the first-ever Maury County Bridle & Saddle Club “Mule Man of the Year.” The 86-year-old is known from coast to coast as one of the most knowledgeable and reputable people in the mule trading business.
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Mule Day is a nearly 150-year tradition in Columbia. Each spring, more than 100,000 folks flock to the Maury County town to celebrate the sturdy animal that has such a strong connection to the area.

This year marked a first for the event — the inaugural Mule Man Award was given to an individual who has dedicated his life to the mule trading business and promoting Mule Day.

That person? Charlie Martin.

The 86-year-old is known across the U.S. for his acumen in raising the finest mules around. Customers from Maine to Washington have visited the jovial trader at his Groveland Ridge Road farm for more than half a century. And up until a few years ago, you’d also find him selling and trading mules at Columbia’s livestock market the day before Mule Day festivities.

“Ah Lordy!” Charlie exclaims with his signature phrase at the quaint farmhouse he and wife Evelyn — who passed away in 2001 — moved into after marrying in the early 1950s. “It’s been quite a ride.

There’s always been something going on, but that’s life.”

Raised in Lawrence County before moving to the Columbia area at the age of 13, Charlie grew up in an agricultural family where mules were a necessity around the farm.

“I spent many a day plowing ground with mules,” he says. “That’s the way you did it back then. There weren’t any tractors around.”

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1953-54, Charlie married Evelyn and the couple raised four children — twin sons Wayne and Dwayne and daughters Charlotte and Melanie, all who live in the area. His career was firmly rooted in agriculture.

“I’ve milked cows, raised hogs, corn, tobacco, cattle, quail, and have always had mules,” says Charlie, who made sure the children, as he did, experienced farm work firsthand. “Ah Lordy, we’ve done a little bit of everything!”

Those farming days spent with family naturally had their share of humorous happenings along the way. Charlie recounts one of those instances:

“When we were milking, Wayne would round up the cows while Dwayne and I would do the milking. Well, one morning we ran out of cows to milk and I hollered, ‘Wayne, where are you?’ He hollered back, ‘I’m up a tree! That old bull chased me up here!’”

These days, Wayne — who works an off-the-farm job in maintenance for Maury County Schools — helps Charlie run a herd of Charolais/Longhorn cross cattle as well as their barren of draft mules. The rest of the family chips in as well, such as grandsons Chance Martin, a product manager for Tennessee Farmers Cooperative’s Farm, Home and Fleet Division, and Ryan Pilkinton, inventory manager at Maury Farmers Cooperative in Columbia. Charlie’s been a member of the Co-op for more than 60 years.

“One of them is hen-pecked, and the other one is a pecked hen,” Charlie teases with a laugh about Chance and Ryan. “They’re both good boys. I’m proud of them.”

Pride also comes through when Charlie discusses his mules, especially his prized 27-year-old draft mules, Kate and Ader. For some 20 years, they led the way as Charlie gave thousands of carriage rides to visitors touring Columbia’s many historical attractions.

“I gave $2,800 for them at a sale and wouldn’t take $1 million for them today,” he says of Kate and Ader, who have retired from the rides to live out their days on Charlie’s 100-acre farm. “They’re so smart that during the rides, they knew to stop when the light turned red and go when it turned green. I’ve told everybody that if I die before [those two mules] do, they don’t leave this place. They will stay here until they die.”

A sentiment like this perfectly encapsulates what being in the mule business has meant to Charlie. And accolades such as the Mule Man Award and a bridge named in his honor near his farm show what he’s meant to the community.

“I reckon I haven’t missed a Mule Day since I’ve been here,” he says proudly. “I’ve sent mules all over this country. Hardly anybody raises and ships them now. I’ve been lucky enough to stick with it all these years — ah Lordy!”

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