Shorty, the world's tallest mule, likely will leave his Tennessee farm for a career in the circus or in competition weight-pulling -- but not before he makes a guest appearance at one Charleston carriage tour company barn.
The story behind Shorty's visit to Palmetto Carriage Works' free tour day on Jan. 31 starts in Pennsylvania Amish country, where two mule owners met on the side of the road a few weeks ago. A Tennessee farmer experiencing truck problems that day called a mule seller, who put him in touch with Palmetto Carriage Works general manager Tommy Doyle.
Driving down U.S. Interstate 81 at the Pennsylvania-West Virginia state line, Doyle had just delivered some mules to an Amish man and planned to head to a Tennessee mule sale from there. After taking the call, he turned around and drove 100 miles back into Pennsylvania.
Doyle loaded three of the stranded man's mules into his own empty truck and brought them home. When he arrived at the sale, Doyle's father showed him a copy of the program for Mule Day, an annual event in Tennessee.
And there, inside, he saw a photograph of Shorty, standing 19.2 hands, or 6 feet, 6 inches. An average mule measures about 15 hands, or 5 feet.
"I thought it would be something neat to have at Free Carriage Tour Day," Doyle said.
The event offers free tours and parking to residents of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties who present identification. About 1,000 people showed up last year, filling the City Market on an overcast winter day destined to see few tourists.
Doyle started calling around, asking who owned this giant mule. He soon learned it was the man he helped in Amish country, who told Doyle, sure, he could have Shorty for the event -- so long as he picked him up and brought him home.
"I just finished measuring my trailer to see if he would fit," Doyle said Friday. "I hope I don't have to cut holes in the roof for his ears to go through."
And just how did Shorty become the world's tallest mule? Owner Paul Smith, partner of the man Doyle helped, explained it this way:
"You've got to go look in the Guinness Book of World Records. The record was 19.1 hands, and he died. It goes from there."
Smith, who runs a farm in middle Tennessee between Knoxville and Nashville, traded some colts for Shorty two years ago.
"Two of his brothers were 18 inches, but this colt kept a-growing," Smith said. "I could put another inch on him if he let his feet grow long."
But Smith said he won't try to get Shorty's name listed in those superlative Guinness Book pages.
"It costs a bunch to do that," he said. "And since we've decided to sell him, we've decided not to do that."
Smith suspects a circus will snatch up his mule, or maybe a buyer who wants to win the sled-pulling competition at Mule Day, where Shorty already made a name for himself.
Reach Allyson Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5594.