By Sondra Lozier
Special to the Wallowa County Chieftain
The Hells Canyon Mule Days board of directors announced May 10 that Wallowa County native Bob Bales is the 2017 grand marshal.
Bales, as well as scholarship winners, volunteers and guests, were honored at a banquet at Hurricane Creek Grange.
Born in Enterprise in 1934, Bales’ mother came to Wallowa County from Missouri, and his father was born and raised on Prairie Creek outside of Joseph.
Bales grew up in Joseph where he spent most of his time outdoors. He and his friend Max used to explore the moraines around Wallowa Lake and imagine what it must have been like for Chief Joseph when he was a kid playing on the same ground.
During middle and high school, Bales began working with mules and horses. He worked for Harley Tucker as a horse team driver during the summer haying season. After graduation he went to work for a local sawmill.
During the fall elk season, Bales would launch a raft at Minam after work and float the Grande Ronde at night with a gas lantern hanging from a pole on the front of his boat. Making camp late at night, he would rise early the next morning to hunt elk, and if he were lucky, he could fill his freezer with meat for the winter before he had to start his next work week.
“I had a few mishaps rafting, but nothing very dangerous,” said Bales.
In 1968, Bales moved to Salmon, Idaho, to open a western wear and sporting goods store with his brother. Once the business was established, Bales said he was able to sneak away to guide people into the mountains and down the rivers as a river guide, outfitter and packer, which was one of his favorite parts of the business.
Bales returned to Joseph in 1985 where he drove and repaired school buses for Joseph High School.
“It was a rewarding job to work there with the kids,” said Bales. “I felt very fortunate.”
Bales has two daughters, Theresa and Jennifer, and two sons, Jeff and Andy. Andy plays a large role in the Mule Days Max Walker Memorial Cowboy Poetry gathering.
In past years Andy has emceed the event and also has entertained with his traditional cowboy songs and poetry. This year he will be the featured artist for the Mule Days Saturday night concert.
After retiring, Bales took up leather working and eventually built a saddle that he uses to ride his horse and a mule that had a reputation for being a runaway. Bales said she put several people in the hospital, something he knew when he bought her, so he took her to Little Sheep Creek and started riding. Just as expected, the mule took off running, but Bales held on and let her have her way.
“She kept running and tired herself out, and finally she realized it wasn’t her idea anymore,” Bales said. The mule slowed up, and the two reached a lasting understanding.
Every year he could make it, Bales has attended Hells Canyon Mule Days. He said it’s one of his favorite events because he gets to see friends he might only see once a year.
“I just find it fun –– a lot of fun to be there with other mule people,” he said. Like mules, Bales thinks mule people are a breed of their own, and he’s fond of both.
“Mules are an interesting animal,” he said. “They have a very strong sense of self-preservation. You can get along really well with mules if you get to understand them.”
IF YOU GO
The 37th Annual Hells Canyon Mule Days will be Sept. 8-10 at Wallowa County Fairgrounds in Enterprise. The event draws mule and donkey owners and spectators from all over the West. A complete list of events is at hellscanyonmuledays.com.