Doctor Don Mustard
by Patrice Erickson of Olympia, WA
The Washington State valley that runs west between Puget Sound’s southernmost inlet all the way to the Pacific Ocean is velvet green year-round except for the rare winters that snow shawls the evergreen boughs and blankets the farmland. Much of the time the sky is gray with ocean weather, though summers get hot and sunny enough to put up hay and grow good crops. Then everyone waits until the afternoon sea breeze blows in and cools things off before doing the heaviest work.
In that valley with the ocean beaches to the west and the crest of the Olympic Mountains to the North is nestled Crestview Farm, home of the legendary Doctor Donald Mustard, D.V.M. Doc is well known in the area as the big horse veterinarian, and his reputation is excellent and well deserved. An “old-fashioned” vet, he answers his own phone and is generous and sensible with his advice. He has saved countless pets and livestock from prolonged illness, and saved their owners countless dollars with good over-the-phone advice and do-it-yourself animal care wisdom. Doc has a rich, bass voice and his tone is confident and soothing. His sense of humor also helps to ease folks’ minds. Doc Mustard’s appearances with his black Clydesdales at the Draft Horse gatherings, county fairs, parades and local celebrations have led to his almost mythical renown as the workhorse veterinarian of western Washington. Many schools, clubs, and church groups have had visits and picnics at Crestview Farm. Doc and his horses have thrilled crowds for decades and given all kinds of people a chance to touch the magic of big horses. Doc is admirably, a legend in his own time.
The massive barn and trees are beacons for finding Crestview Farm, the farm has been in Doc’s family for three generations and certainly holds its own magic. A heritage farm with a giant storybook maple tree in the front yard, massive rhododendrons and azaleas that engulf the beautiful farmhouse, and century old poplars that mark the entrance. Lilacs, roses, black walnut trees, and poppies line the drive and exotic fowl wander the property. The herd of black draft horses that inspects visitors over the fence includes Doc’s Clydesdale stallion, Shadow, who has the paddock nearest the driveway.
Doc’s barn is breathtakingly expansive, and the enormous black Clydesdale mare and her new foal look small in it. She is named Mima, “after a beautiful woman I met in Scotland,” says Doc with a charming wistfulness. Mima’s two-day-old foal is Max, because he’s the biggest foal that’s been born at Crestview Farm. It’s Max’s first introduction to the rest of the herd and the Clydesdales all look up from grazing and they glide across the field to greet their newest member.
The barn is three stories tall with plenty of room to hold the herd of Clydesdales, and tons of tractor and horse drawn equipment and still have room for hay storage. Its hand-hewn 4 foot square pillars were hauled by Doc’s grandfather from a nearby barn that blew down in 1908. They added four more old growth rounds and the barn was built in 1912. Doc tells the story of how the builder sat on the crossbeam and rode it to the top as the team of horses that he directed from above raised the posts. Doc remembers when they would fill the entire barn to the roof with hay, but nowadays since Doc just keeps his Clydes he leases his hayfields to other farmers and has more room for his collection of equipment.
In the Mustard family tree of 1500 members, there were only three veterinarians including Doc. Being a vet wasn’t considered much of an occupation and when Doc told his family about his career choice, they greeted the news with disapproval. They wanted him to have a respectable career. Since the farm was his grandfather’s and father’s at the time, Doc had to make his own path and he knew he wanted an outdoor job. He decided to become a veterinarian and has never regretted his decision. His father eventually gave up farming and Crestview was passed to Doc. He farmed an assortment of crops and livestock but was primarily a dairyman. He didn’t have a vet practice when he was farming but he cared for his own herd’s vet needs and sometimes helped neighbors.
In the early 1960’s on a trip to eastern Washington to buy alfalfa Doc learned the costs of feed were spiraling up while the price of milk was staying the same. He made the decision to sell his dairy herd just months before the costs of feed had skyrocketed and farms all around went bankrupt. That was when the milking parlor became the clinic. Doc financed a van loaded with vet equipment and soon was practicing in five counties. Doc kept Crestview, and over the next four decades became well known as the vet to call. One of the best things about being a country vet for more than fifty years was visiting all those farms. Over the years Doc has amassed a beautiful collection of heritage varieties of rhododendron, camellias, and azaleas and planted them all around his farmhouse. Whenever he came across an especially beautiful specimen he would take a cutting from it and propagate it at home. Now, some of those slips reach to the second story windows.
And collecting plants was not all that the travelling offered. For years, across fields and under dilapidated sheds, Doc’s keen eye could see the treasures that lay trapped by blackberry vines. So he traded for them, dug and drug them out and brought them home. He filled his barn and outbuildings with wagons, spreaders, cultivators, rakes, drills, harness, antique oxen yokes, a collection of tractor seats and the list goes on. Doc’s farm is a collection of American heritage and it inspires the mind to wander through the mists of time and skill and energy of ages that sits there travelling into the next century. Doc’s farm is a living museum and a tour around Crestview with Doc as tour guide is inspiring.
Doc’s clinic is next door to the barn. Originally the milking parlor, it has concrete floors with drains, cinder block walls and extra rooms that make it an efficient vet clinic. It is in sharp contrast to the new vet clinics that cater to the demands of the modern animal keeping public. No high tech frills, just friendly, professional, affordable vet care. Since retiring from large animal practice several years ago, Doc keeps his practice limited to small animals and occasionally a needy horse.
Twice a week Doc has clinic hours and the street becomes lined with vehicles filled with families and their pets. People wait in their cars after Doc’s assistant hands them a numbered bovine ear tag to keep their proper place in line. It is a study worth a photographer’s evening: all those cars and pick-ups, all those dogs and cats and it seems the entire family comes to visit with Doc when they need their animals taken care of. Animals needing nonemergency surgery are kept overnight in the clinic and Doc operates the following morning. Doc used to tell people he wasn’t planning to retire until someone found him dead under one of his patients. Now his patients are all too small for that and he chuckles as he tells the story of the vet who retired when he was 65, again at 75 and was still practicing at 85!
A Day with Doc
With two registered nurses assisting Doc, the first patient of the day was a year old Rottweiler with a tumor on his tongue. Doc wondered out loud about the wisdom of someone owning an expensive dog that barely survived puppyhood having already had some close encounters with death. While he carefully administered half the recommended dose of anesthesia he said, “You can always give them more, but you can’t take it back if it was too much.” He then told his story of a shorthorned cow that a neighbor had been given and it had a cancer eye that needed to be removed. Doc figured the anesthesia dose for 1800 lbs in his head, administered the dosage, started cutting out the eye, and thought, “she’s very quiet, there’s no blood, uh-oh, she’s dead.” Doc learned that day to always do the calculations of dosage on paper; he had misplaced a decimal point when he did the math in his head. Fortunately, the shorthorn was an unwelcome gift from the client’s father-in-law, so the cow wasn’t missed. Doc chuckles as he jokes about eating the patients that didn’t survive his care. He has a way of chuckling, “heh,heh,heh,” that is delightful.
Before Doc and his helpers can position the dog on the operating table an ‘emergency’ comes into the clinic. A woman and her son have a cat wrapped in a towel, it’s limp and looks dead. Doc immediately asked, “What happened, your PitBull get her?”
“No,” the boy answered, “the puppies did.”
“Puppies?!” Doc exclaimed. “What are you doing with Pit Bull pups?! One Pit Bull is too many!”
As he checked over the cat, Doc shared his opinions about PitBulls and how dogs bred to fight can’t be trusted. Doc even has a sign on the clinic door: ”No Chows. No Pit Bulls.”
“This cat is lucky those pups didn’t kill her,” Doc said, “just a tooth hole in her tail. She’ll be fine; just give her some aspirin and baby her”.
The woman asked how much she owed him, and he looked at her, smiled and told her, “just a kind word and a smile.” He got plenty of smiles and thanks from her as she and her son left the clinic. Doc then pointed to a sign on the clinic wall, “Prices subject to change depending on customer’s attitude.” Then he told of the first time that very woman had come to him and he had charged her $20 extra and told her she didn’t need to come back. That was years ago and she has been a regular, grateful, and polite client ever since.
While Doc was operating on the Rottweiler, he told a story of when he was a student at vet school and the first time he saw Nembutal used. The dean had been carving some meat and accidentally severed his own thumb nearly off and was in the clinic for repairs. After receiving a dosage of Nembutal the dean was in the middle of telling a story when he passed out from the Nembutal. The dean was surgically repaired and when he woke up he finished his story as though he hadn’t even slept. That was in 1942 and it was the first time Doc or the other students had seen anesthesia in use. It was the beginning of a new age of medicine.
Certainly one of the most important tools in modern veterinary care, Doc has had only a few occasions of adverse effects from anesthesia. The most common is overdose. “They lay down, go to sleep and don’t wake up.” The other reaction is when the animal gets crazy. Once when Doc was working on an Appaloosa mare to remove a molar that was growing out sideways, he tranquilized her and she went bezerk. For a half an hour the horse flailed and attacked and crashed into things. When the horse finally settled down, the molar wasn’t there; the horse had knocked it out while she was thrashing around! Doc’s characteristic chuckles accentuate his stories.
While Doc’s assistants cleaned up and got the next patient ready, Doc headed to the house for some coffee. The house is a classic well-built farmhouse with a big porch, dark wood doors and trim, and roses climbing the porch posts. Doc made the beautiful stained glass windows in the upstairs and downstairs doors. He has plans to make more for some of the other windows. The kitchen has a timeless quality and the original wood cook stove is still installed, though Doc doesn’t use it much anymore except to get the chill out of the house on the coldest winter days.
Tons of food has been processed and canned, and many thousands of meals have been cooked in Crestview’s homey kitchen. Magazines, newspapers, veterinary journals and posters cover the table. Doc is a supporter of many associations and has interests in many fields. One of his favorites is the “Concerts in the Barn” series of string quartet music events held in barns around western Washington. Doc is a longtime lover of both barns and music. He started playing his grandmother’s cello in grade school, and went on to bagpipes later. Doc played bagpipes for the Olympia Highlanders for years until a dog bit a chunk out of his lower lip and he lost that muscle, ending his bagpipe career. He still has his kilts and his Clydesdales, and Clan McGregor annually gathers at Crestview Farm for a summer event.
Doc also has a deep love for dancing though he is disappointed that his legs won’t let him dance anymore. It’s always been one of his very favorite things to do. Dance until midnight, eat, and dance until it was time to do morning chores. Doc talks of the rigors of age and lessened physical abilities, but many men never in their lifetimes reach a fitness that matches Doc’s in his golden years. His wisdom and sage advice remind you that you’re with an elder, but his joy, vigor, and charismatic Doc’ ness are his fountain of youth.
After Doc’s second patient of the morning was ready for sutures, the confidence in Doc’s hands as he stitched was admirable. His precise stitches would certainly be admired at the local sewing guild. Doc has big hands that look like time-chiseled stone but are graceful and exact when stitching. He talked as he sewed and he expressed his concern that veterinary medicine has changed greatly in the services provided since he started to practice. There used to be a time that an animal had a value that wouldn’t exceed the cost of the care it needed. Today, animals get care that used to be reserved only for people. Artificial hips, chemotherapy, and long stays in the hospital are all symptomatic of the trend in modern veterinary medicine. Nowadays, becoming a veterinarian is expensive and competitive and while Doc doesn’t recommend it, he knows his decision to be a vet kept him from losing Crestview Farm. Even now in semi-retirement, his veterinary practice keeps some cash flow to the Farm.
With Doc’s surgeries finished by lunchtime, he usually has time for a good midday meal. At the nearby sandwich shop all the women know his charming ways and he gets lots of hellos from all around. Doc had a team of Clydesdales to freshen up for the wagon rides they would be doing soon, so he headed right home after lunch.
Back at Crestview, Doc’s mares, Jane and Ginger, stayed busy with some hay while they were brushed and harnessed. As Doc hitched the team to the spreader, he moved like a man who has never had an inside job, and hasn’t let aging effect his youth. It was a beautiful day and riding behind those Clydes with the cool ocean breeze and the warm sun, anyone can see why it’s one of Doc’s favorite things to do, and why he takes so many people on rides.
Fortunately the ride wasn’t over when the manure was spread because Doc then hitched the team to the flatbed to transport some ducks between neighbors. On the way there and back, Doc picked up kids of all ages who wanted a ride. Everyone who saw him coming knew they were welcome to ride. That’s what Doc’s been doing for years and he’s watched kids grow into parents and then into grandparents and still they’re taking wagon rides. Up there on that quiet, smooth, easy-moving wagon, time seems in sync with life again.
Riding a horse wagon gives people time to talk and think and Doc talked about horses, parades, and competitions. For years he was a regular competitor at all the draft horse gatherings, but when the prize money started to influence the camaraderie of the events it lost much of its fun. He then chose to take his horses to fairs and gatherings that had friendly competitions with no prizes. Doc’s brought teams and wagons to the Mason County Fair for a long time and gives the ever-popular wagon rides around the fair grounds. He usually has a foal tagging along with her dam and the wagon, and most years by the end of the fair the foal knows “gee” and “haw” from all the trips around and around. As fun as the wagon rides were, the draft horse wagon races were always the real fun for Doc with the teamsters competing for the sheer fun of it. The super crowd-pleaser was always the hay wagon race – loading and unloading bales in a race was one of Doc’s favorite events. While Doc would race his team and wagon around like a chariot, his big, strapping son, Rick, would hurl bales on and off the wagon with the crowd cheering. It was another of the many thrills that Doc and his horses gifted people.
Doc talked about the parades that he and his wife, Barbara, and their four children and friends participated in. They would wear antique clothing and carry authentic settlers’ tools and weapons. They even had an oxen team that wore an antique yoke. Doc’s oldest son Rick raised the team from calves. Rick would crack the whip on the left of the team to get them to turn right, or vice versa. Once during a 4th of July parade, some kids with the firecrackers were accidentally turning the team. When Doc’s son, Rick, died suddenly a few years back it was the biggest loss Doc ever suffered. Doc’s plan was to leave Crestview to Rick to farm and though Doc has two other sons and a daughter, all are very successful in their careers and may not want to make the sacrifices it takes to farm. Doc knows the reality of trying to keep a farm nowadays and still hopes that Crestview Farm will live on with another generation of Mustards. Riding that wagon with the farm in sight is a reminder of the treasure Crestview holds.
Turned towards home, Ginger and Jane picked up the pace as Doc encouraged them to trot up the driveway. The horses knew their routine well and with the horses back out in their paddock. Doc headed to his beautiful rose garden. As he carefully snipped some young buds on long stems he said, “a rose without a scent is like a beautiful woman with no personality”. Then he headed to the house and arranged the roses, each a different color and each a different scent in a glass vase for a waitress he would be seeing later in the evening after his chorale performance. Doc’s been singing bass with a barbershop chorale group for years. He started with them after he was in a jewelry store and the jeweler heard Doc’s beautiful, deep, bass voice and knew it was just what the local singing group needed. The jeweler was right and Doc was their new bass.
Doc enjoys singing with “The Tunetown Tooners.” The harmonies are melodious and complex and often sound like a cross between barbershop and Buddhist chanting. Doc gives the group the all-important support of deep bass tones and with his perfect pitch he is one of their best singers. They perform locally at competitions, gatherings, and retirement homes, and the two dozen singers range in age from 15 to 81. The evening’s session was a celebration to honor a pioneer in Western Washington barbershop, and when the “Tooners” sang their incredible version of, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” there was barely a dry eye in the auditorium.
Since the group always stops for the “afterglow” on their way home, Doc had his chance to deliver his vase of roses to his regular waitress. She was touched by Doc’s kindness and carried the vase of flowers around with her as she waited tables. Settled into one of the back rooms while eating ice cream sundaes and burgers and breakfasts, the group sang some more. The restaurant atmosphere was charged with the harmonies of the live impromptu performance and everyone obviously enjoyed themselves until the early morning hours. When Doc arrived home that night he had a dog emergency that kept him up even later. A day that would have left most exhausted was a typical day in the life of the legendary Doc Mustard.