“Elegy for the ‘Mule’ ”

“Elegy for the ‘Mule’ ”

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Elegy for the 'Mule'

No idea where it came from,

The pipe-threading lathe

Just presented itself

On the job when it was needed.

From the truck and tools,

We rested the Mule near the alley

On its own raised platform,

It took two of us.

About 75-pounds of cast iron,

A 1¼-horse-power electric motor

Geared for slow threading.

Under the shade of an Ash tree

Out behind the building site

And empty lot next door.

Wiring a burglar alarm

Bomb-proof Central Station

Was a job that required

All of the electrical wiring

Be encased in steel-pipe

Held by threads and couplings,

Covered in concrete.

The old man called it The “Mule,”

A 1952 Rigid, Model 975,

Pipe-threading lathe.

I went to work cutting conduit

To length, screwing threads.

The task took a week.

If spurts of cutting oil missed,

They would fall on the dirt

With all the metal curlicues.

Threading ¾-inch steel conduit

From bundles on the ground,

With the ratchet-head pipe-threader,

The electric motor grinding away.

Geared-drive converted

One-and-a-quarter-horse to a Mule.

Drum carriage with levers,

A chuck with rocker-jaws

Tightly held the revolving end.

With a tape measure and pencil mark

Excising the pipe to length

By repeated tightening

The sharp wheel of the pipecutter

Using the adjustable grip,

Cutting cleaner than a hacksaw.

Throwing the three-way switch


On the wiring box cover-plate.

The tapered ratchet-reamer,

Distended the pipe’s hole size,

But only a small amount.

Leaving the insides smooth,

Removing steel burrs.

Working the ratchet die-head

To the end of the pipe,

Setting the teeth of the threads.

Switching the lathe forward,

Cutting a half-inch worth.

Reversing direction of the chuck.

A wrench with a 6-inch extension

Unclamped the gripping teeth

And metal jaws of the Mule’s mouth.

Steel pipe cut to length,

Emancipated with shiny threads.

One late afternoon,

The owner’s daughter

Diverted my attention.

The ratchet handle

Of the thread-cutter

Missed the restraining arm.

The Mule lifted itself,

Hopped, leaped,

And landed in the dirt.

Then, flipping over

And over itself,

Trudged down the alley

In my direction at 57 RPM.

Before the angry lathe

Could reach me,

To my astonishment,

It died abruptly,

Unplugging itself

From the extension cord.

At the end of the day

In stifling heat,

The Mule, a tool, went away.

(It wasn’t needed anymore).

Like all things,

The Mule vanished for good.

This elegy is all that remains.

About the Author

Stephen Barile

Stephen Barile, a Fresno, California native, educated in the public schools, attended Fresno City College, Fresno Pacific University, and California State University, Fresno. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, in both print and on-line. Stephen Barile taught writing at Madera College, and CSU Fresno. He lives in Fresno, CA.

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