The night the wagon wheels caught fire

Published 7:32 pm Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Among strange experiences that occurred in the early years of the Dark Corner were instances of natural phenomena having a profound impact on human perception.
One of the all-time favorite tales concerns two impressionable young men who were traveling back home in a wagon, pulled by a team of mules. It was  weighted down with merchandise they had picked up at the Greer railroad station.
The road was hilly and rough. In spite of their repeated attempts to speed up the slow, somewhat stubborn mules, it was close to ten o’clock at night when they were approaching a ford in the creek near an old, falling down house that was said to be ‘hainted.’
The space across the ford was about 25 feet and the water was about five inches deep.
The old, home-made wagon had a heavy beam of wood across under the wagon box, just in front of the rear wheels. On the end of this beam there were brake blocks, also made of wood. The beam was fastened to the wagon timbers so that when the driver pulled on the rope, the brake stick would come forward and push the beam back until the blocks were against the wheels.
Riding on a board laid cross-wise of the wagon box, the two young men, by looking down and to the side, were looking at the iron shod wheels as the wagon moved forward. In glancing back, they could also see the rear wheels.
When the wagon started down hill toward the ford in the creek, one of the young men said to the other, “When we reach the ford, pull the brake hard and we will let the team drink from the creek.”
He did so. The wheels locked and slid on the ground approaching the water. Then, the wagon stopped with a jerk. Standing in the middle of the creek, the mules put down their heads, and sucked up the water until they had had enough.
When they lifted their heads, the young man released the brake, and the wagon started forward at about the same speed that they came down hill into the creek.
With the brake rope in his hand, the young man looked backward and downward toward the brake block in front of the rear wheel on his side. He was startled to see a ball of fire as large as a man’s head rise up out of the water and roll around the iron shod wheel.
He cried out to his companion, “Look at this!”
The other young man looked around to see the ball of fire just before it went down into the water. “What was that?” he shouted.
When the fire spot on the wheel came back up out of the water, it had turned in mud at the water’s edge. The ball of fire was not seen again.
The young men were so upset by the strange experience that they took a whip and began urging the mules to go much faster.
Repeatedly cracking the whip, they ran the mules up hill for about a quarter-mile. [The owner later contended that “they nearly run my mules to death!”]
Years later, the two now older men had given much thought to the frightening experience, and had come to the conclusion that the wheel on which the fire appeared had come in contact with a rotting stump near the water’s edge. The iron shod wheel had wiped off a lump of foxfire from the stump, which the water made glow more vividly than if they had been on a dry, sandy road.
The brake block had helped to spread the phosphorus on the wheel, if it was, in fact, the material that caused the ball of fire.
Mud on the exit side of the ford probably wiped the phosphorus from the wheel so that they would not see the fire ball again.
They also admitted that fear might have played a large part in their description of the size of the fire ball!

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