DAYTON -- Mules and their owners are gathering in Dayton this week for Mule Mania, a mule and donkey show, riding and driving competition and chuck wagon cook-off.
At least 120 mules are expected for competition and other activities beginning Thursday and running through Sunday at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.
It doesn't take much encouragement to get admirers of the long-eared, dainty-hoofed animals, a cross between a male donkey and a female horse, to sing the animals' praises.
"When you think about it, a mule does everything a horse does. Pulling a wagon, sorting cows," said event chair Les Teal.
Mule owners began arriving at the fairgrounds Sunday, and among those pulling in Monday were Russ and Wendy Anderson and son Trevor of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.
They had traveled two days with a semi pulling a trailer loaded with eight draft mules, and a large motor home pulling an also-large cargo trailer. The cargo trailer contained all their equpment and wagons they'll use during the show.
As she filled water tubs for their mules, Wendy Anderson said they usually travel to several shows every year, including the Bishop Mule Days in Bishop, Calif., considered the largest mule show in the world.
Their passion also takes them to Sandpoint and Nampa, Idaho, Hamilton and Deer Lodge, Mont., and Winnemucca, Nevada.
Russ was named World Champion Driver at the 2010 Bishop Mule Days, Wendy said.
The Anderson's animals are all 13- to 20-year-old mare mules. They are big, the result of breeding a red mammoth Jack (male donkey) with Belgian mares. They range in weight from 1,200 to 1,450 pounds, and are 16 hands high.
Anderson said he may drive all eight of them in Saturday's parade, but he won't be sure until he investigates the parade route, checking for tight corners.
Russ Anderson's day job is a lineman for PacificCorp's Rocky Mountain Power Division, a job he has held for 32 years.
Like many hobbies, mule ownership requires a bankroll.
"We've been broke buying stuff to make this happen," Anderson said.
Anderson was familiar with draft animals because his father logged with horses in the Baker City, Ore., area.
But it was a neighbor who had managed mules in the Army who introduced him to the hybrid beasts. The neighbor turned a couple of his mules over to Anderson to use.
Next, Anderson purchased two mules to use for packing and hunting. The mules had been started with a hitch, and the hobby grew from there.
"This is kind of a dream of mine, to have big hitches," Anderson said.
A hitch is anything over two mules, and hitches have different configurations.
Two of the Anderson's mules came from Whitefish, Mont., where they were being trained for combined driving competition. The competition involves a team (two or four mules), dressage class, combs class, and obstacle course.
When it became evident to the owner that Penny and Ruby weren't going to take to dressage, he offered them to Anderson.
"They're my athletes of the bunch," Anderson said.
Anderson said purpose of the Mule Mania show is to show people how versatile a mule is, and how many things they can do.
But don't look for the Andersons in the riding events.
"We're all about wagons and carts and drivers," he said.
Admission to all events is free, except the chuck wagon dinners Friday and Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. Tickets for the dinner are $15 and can be purchased by calling the Dayton Chamber of Commerce at 382-4825.
Major contributing sponsor for the event is Columbia Rural Electric Association, along with the Chamber and Coyote Mule Company of Cottonwood, Idaho.
Events begin Thursday with a Dayton Mule Cup Golf tournament at 9 a.m. at the golf course next to the fairgrounds.
For a complete schedule of events go to www.mulemaniadayton.com