How do you mow the tall spring grass on Red’s Wallowa Horse Ranch airfield in Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness – without the use of motorized equipment?

You trail in 20-year-olds Bird and Bat, who team up for the kind of job they know well. With just the right experience, these two mules – with Jim and Holly Akenson at the reins – completed the task on July 13, restoring the historic backcountry airfield to a suitable condition for use.

This publicly owned airfield, (6OR9) is managed by the US Forest Service and provides access to a spectacular recreation site, including fishing on the beautiful Minam River. For many years, the non-profit volunteer group Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon had graciously mowed the airfield. This spring, heavy rains brought on exceptionally high grass growth, which was a safety concern. RAF Oregon Liaison Richard Mayes took the initiative to apply for an RAF grant to cover mowing costs, and began looking into logistics.

A 1940s-era horse-drawn mower was on site and ready, thanks to Dick Walker, Backcountry Horsemen volunteer, who has maintained the equipment for many years. RAF Oregon Ambassador Bill Ables secured the mule team and operators, airlifted the harnesses and gear in and out, and physically helped in the mowing all day long, providing invaluable assistance.

The RAF, Oregon Pilots Assoc., Idaho Aviation Assoc., and the USFS collaborated to ensure a valuable public asset was preserved through good old-fashioned teamwork.

See the Airfield Guide for details on Red’s Wallowa Horse Ranch.


  1. Ron Keller on July 29, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Reminds me of the mower I grew up with, except we pulled ours with a small Farmall BN. Someone had to sit on that steel seat and raise and lower the cutting bar for obstacles. It was driven by the wheels, no PTO.

  2. Doug Ferguosn on July 30, 2020 at 8:39 am

    I am a regular up there and friend with Bill Ables and Jim & Holly Akenson to name a fiew. Was just up there Tuesday.
    Anything I can do to assist with the care of this and other similar places, let me know.

  3. Doug Ferguosn on July 30, 2020 at 8:45 am

    The work of RAF and Idaho aviation association of this on other outback landing strips, is what keeps backcountry flying viable.

  4. Stephen Huggins on August 1, 2020 at 9:56 am

    Bill thank you so much for your leadership & effort in keeping Reds accessible.


  5. Dale R. Evans on August 1, 2020 at 11:08 am

    In late October 2005, my wife made a spur-of-the-moment suggestion that since the weather was so nice, we should fly the next day to the Wallowa Horse Ranch for our last backcountry RON of the season. So we did, and spent a couple of nights there. It was delightful, and not a big deal. It is what one can do with a small airplane, freedom to fly, and a spouse that keeps a couple of meals of frozen stew or goulash in the freezer, just in case. We camped at the upper end of the strip, walked down to the old lodge, vacant and unattended, around the big horse barn, the cabins and out-buildings. From the horse bridge across the Minam River, we spotted a couple of Chinook salmon still looking for a place to spawn. The log structures are notable because they illustrate about one hundred years of progression in log-building construction techniques. A couple of months later I received a registered letter from Oklahoma City informing me the FAA had denied issuance of my Medical Certificate. I’m 87 now and it is memories like this that keep me smiling! – – Dale Evans

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