Mike McFadin and Gay Berrien

Mike McFadin and Gay Berrien with their book on the 4th of July.

2016 Book. Ivan made his debut in the children’s book, “Ivan, the Forest Service Pack Mule,” written by Mike McFadin and illustrated by Gay Berrien. The book was published in June 2016; it had evolved from some email correspondence between McFadin and Berrien late the year before.

Berrien was complimenting some of McFadin’s writing. He is a great “cowboy poet” and has so much creativity and humor in his writing, Berrien suggested he should write a children’s book about something right in his line — a Forest Service pack mule. Right away he lit up with an idea of exactly which mule he would write about, the sorrel mule Ivan (the Terrible). The real mule was always getting into trouble, and during the first months the Forest Service had Ivan, he hurt himself so badly that Mike spent every day for weeks treating Ivan’s wound. He got to know Ivan very well, and some of the funny things Ivan did in the children’s book were based on true happenings.

Mike wrote the book and Gay illustrated it, both on a voluntary basis. Mike wanted any profits to be spent on youth education pertaining to natural resources and public lands. The financial management of the book is now handled by a nonprofit organization based in Trinity County. To date, funds from the book sales have helped pay for two separate summer camps for kids, and have assisted in providing for all-expenses-paid backpacking trips to the wilderness for two young people.

Mike and Gay were pretty happy with how the public has accepted the book, and for the Fourth of July in 2016 the Lions Club in Weaverville actually had T-shirts made featuring Ivan and some of the other mule characters in the book.

Second Children’s Book Planned. Mike and Gay discussed the possibility of a second children’s book, and Mike started developing and writing one. However, finding the funds to produce this second book has not happened yet. Mike keeps busy with so many things besides his full-time Forest Service job — a Boy Scout troop, other youth-related activities, welding odd and curious-looking “critters” out of pieces of scrap metal, working on and then entering beat-up cars in destruction derbies, entering Dutch oven cook-offs, and so on — that it is difficult for him to promote and seek sponsorship for the second book.

In addition to the children’s book plans, Mike and Gay were approached by a county commissioner and the Trinity County Chamber of Commerce to produce a series of short stories and a coloring book starring Ivan the Mule to promote the many natural wonders of Trinity County.

Ivan’s Book of Cartoons. Gay has been an amateur artist most of her life, for herself, friends, and occasionally for magazines, etc., and she drew hundreds of illustrations and cartoons for the Forest Service during her 30 years with that agency.

In elementary school she drew cartoons depicting horses and adventures with her friends — in fact, one cartoon “strip” had over 900 panels in it. And, in eighth grade, when she was 13, she drew little comic books with the main character being a mule. So, Berrien believes, her life is going around in a circle. Now she is drawing mule cartoons again, and she also thinks it is ironic to be working with Mike. In the early 1970s — 50 years ago! — Gay worked with Mike’s father, Chuck McFadin, on the Big Bar Ranger District while Chuck was assigned there.

It seemed natural for Gay to stem off from the children’s book and start drawing single cartoons of the mule. With lots of input and suggestions from Mike, she started drawing them in a more serious vein by late 2018. In February 2019 the weekly Trinity Journal of Weaverville began printing them, under the title of “Ivan, Trinity Pack Mule.”

Profits from the new cartoon book, “Ivan, Trinity Pack Mule, ‘A Day at the Fair’ and Other Adventures,” will all go to the Trinity County Fair, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2021.

Mike and Gay have been “sharing” Ivan in some ways. Mike is very interested in interpreting for young people the use of the wilderness and public lands. Gay likes this, too, but she especially likes Trinity County and its unique history and heritage as well as the Forest Service with its own heritage. Ivan seems to listen to both Mike and Gay as Ivan tries to exemplify all these things in his cartoons.

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