Duncan Mulholland is King of Clydesdales
December 11, 2012
By Sabrina Squires
Duncan Mulholland, 82, gets chance to relive his passion for horses
At age 18, Duncan Mulholland drove a six-Clydesdale hitch for the Wilson Meat Packing Co. in Chicago. Over a half-century later, he continues that passion.
“This horse business is what I first did when I came to this country,” Mulholland said in a recent interview at his Issaquah home.
Born in Bishopton, Scotland, in 1930, Mulholland was raised on a farm.
As a young adult, he stayed busy working an apprenticeship by day and attending engineering college in the evenings. An aunt visiting from the United States admired his work ethic; she thought he would be very successful in the States if he were working that hard in Scotland. So, she and her husband invited him to join them there.
On Feb. 26, 1948, he arrived in Chicago, where he interviewed for his first job: grooming Clydesdales that made up the six-horse hitch team for the Wilson Co.
Historically, the purpose of six-horse hitches was to pull goods, such as beer after Prohibition. In addition, they were also shown and ridden at fairs in driving competitions.
“It felt right,” Mulholland said. “I felt if I did a good job, when I leave I could get a good reference. That was why I took a job with the horses — plus I was very fortunate.”
When he was ready to leave the grooming job, his boss said he wanted to teach him how to drive the horses — and eventually, become the teamster.
“They said in two years there is no reason why I could not be the boss driving,” Mulholland added. “So an ex-Budweiser driver taught me how to drive.”
According to Mulholland, Budweiser bought the Clydesdales that made up the six-horse hitch team from Wilson Co. in 1932.
When Budweiser started up with draft horses, they had two drivers, Art Zeer and Billy Wills. Mulholland had never met Wills, but Zeer became his teacher.
Six months later, Mulholland was driving on his own, traveling all over the country. He said he even performed in front of Mrs. Truman, the president’s wife. At age 20, he had an impressive income.
“Usually, a trip would last from 13 to 15 weeks,” Mulholland said. “All my expenses were paid. I would come home and put 13 checks in the bank.
“Then Uncle Sam put a stop the that,” he added. “He took my uniform off and gave me another one — Korea started up. I enlisted because I felt that this country had been good to me. I deserved to defend it just like anyone.”
After serving for four years, Mulholland married his wife Martha, and decided to go back to school to finish his degree. He attended Aeronautical University in Chicago and graduated in 1958.
He worked temporary jobs for The Boeing Co., and moved to the Northwest in 1968 for a permanent position. He stayed with the company until the mid-1990s. A highlight was assisting with the interior design of the Boeing 777, which would later be the first aircraft interior to win a design award.
In 2008, Mulholland attended the Puyallup Fair for the first time in many years.
“The place had changed. It was just gorgeous,” he said.
Mulholland headed to the barn to check out the horses — and went straight to the Clydesdales. A woman came up to him and asked about the cap he was wearing — it had an embroidered Clydesdale on it.
“She asked me if I liked Clydesdales and I said yes I do, they are the No. 1 breed of draft horses,” Mulholland said, referring to driving competitions. “I told her I drove a six-horse hitch for the Wilson Meat Packing Co.”
That conversation was the catalyst that brought him back to driving horses again.
The woman’s husband, Alan Manning, owns horses in Blaine and is a horseshoer for Budweiser. Manning was impressed with Mulholland’s knowledge and history with Clydesdales; he invited him to drive his horses.
“I’ve enjoyed it, I really have,” Mulholland said. “I never thought I would ever be doing it again. I cannot get over that he trusted me with his team.”
Mulholland has performed with Manning’s horses in Monroe, Lynden and various parts of Canada.
“One of the things that kind of amazed me about Duncan was even though he had been away from horses for 60 years, he was quite comfortable,” Manning said in a phone interview. “He also knows what he’s capable of doing, and for 82 years old, he can do a lot of things that people can’t.”
Mulholland recently visited Las Vegas to attend an air show at Nellis Air Force Base. Manning notified them ahead of time that Mulholland would attend. When Mulholland arrived, they had the Budweiser wagon set up for him to drive.
“How exciting, and I never ever thought, when stationed at Nellis, I would be driving Clydesdales on the base ramp,” he added.
Reflecting on his life, Mulholland is very appreciative.
“Things have been very good. I have been very fortunate,” he stated. “It’s always with people, people-helping. Sure, there are a lot of miserable people in the world, but there are a lot of nice ones, and I’ve met so many of them. I’m getting spoiled — I’ve been so fortunate.”
“It’s an honor to know him,” Manning said about Mulholland. “He is a part of draft-horse history, especially Clydesdales. He is such a nice person. It is easy to have him around and fun.”
Sabrina Squires is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.