(By Nick Schneider)
(By Nick Schneider)
Charlie was slowly making his way south on State Road 67 between Worthington and Switz City on Thursday morning guiding a homemade wagon pulled by two mules.
The Owosso, Mich., resident doesn't let the steady stream traffic on the highway bother him. He smiles and waves as the vehicles pass by.
He's content driving his team of aged mules -- named after his granddaughters Maddie and Saddie -- holding steady to the reigns and enjoying the solitude.
Maddie -- the mule -- is 13 and Cassidy is 16.
Looking back at the mini cabin that's mounted on his wagon, Charlie grins and says he has everything in it that's needed for the trip, except bathroom facilities.
He's also pulling a hand-crafted trailer that has an U.S. Marine flag mounted to it and insignias of all branches of the military mounted on the back of the trailer.
(Photo by Nick Schneider)
Charlie is a proud 68-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. He's got a long, snow-white colored beard and sparkling blue eyes.
He explained the idea for his adventure started about three years ago when he walked into an antique shop to buy an U.S. Navy commemorative dinner plate. The young man working in the store inquired if Charlie was a military veteran.
"I said, 'Yes I was,' and he said did you go to Vietnam and I said, 'Yes I did'. He handed me the plate and shook my hand and said 'Thank you for your service'," Charlie recalled. "I told him, 'You are the first person in 45 years to tell me that'. I felt so good about it, I told my wife I am going to do something for veterans. So, this (trip) is what I came up with.
"I bought two mules and I built the wagon and built the trailer and decided to thank every vet I could come across. So far, I've went about 400 miles and I've talked to a lot of them."
Charlie said being retired he's got plenty of time to spare.
"My wife asked where I was going, 'I said maybe California'. She said 'Why don't you go see your Dad'. I've never been to my Dad's gravesite in Oklahoma, so that is where I'm headed," Charlie said with a big smile.
The grave is located in Okemah, Okla., located east of Oklahoma City and about 50 miles from Moore, where the recent deadly tornado struck.
It's a slow trip that averages only about 20 miles a day -- many days it's less than that because Charlie admits he likes to talk to people.
"I usually try to make 20 miles. Some days I do and some days I don't. It just depends. I can make more if we don't have a lot of hills," Charlie said in pointing out that Wednesday night he and his two mule buddies bedded down behind the Worthington Country Mark grocery store.
"I like to stay at fairgrounds or parks or people stop and ask me if I want to stay at their place. It hasn't been a problem. I stayed one night on the side of the road," he said. "The people have been fantastic. I knew they would be nice, but I had no idea they would be this nice to me ... a lot of people like for me to stop so they can take pictures."
Charlie said he departed from his home May 1 and expects the trip will take at least three months.
"The trip hasn't cost me anything. I do buy a few meals, but I've got everything I need," Charlie noted. "People do make donations, but that is not what this is about. If we get down the road and find somebody that needs it (the money) more than us, we give it to them. We want to do what we can to make every day better."
The idea of going on a mule trip has been somewhat of a fantasy for Charlie since he was a kid.
(By Nick Schneider)
Interestingly, Charlie said one of his mules, Cassie, is nearly blind. He's planning to route his trip to the farm he purchased the pair of mules from last year and see if some kind of a mule trade can be arranged.
"One of them (the mule) is almost blind and I'm going stop and see if I can't get one that can see."
So with a big wave, Charlie pulled on the reigns of his mules and drove off heading south on State Road 67 bound for Oklahoma.