Small Farmer's Journal

or Subscribe
Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

by Stephen Leslie with technical assistance and generally sound advice from Kerry Gawalt — both of Cedar Mountain Farm at Cobb Hill co-housing in Hartland, Vermont. Photos by Carla Kimball.

“There must be some way out of here said the Joker to the Thief. There’s just too much confusion, I can’t get no relief. The business man drinks my wine, the plow man digs my earth. And none of them along the line knows what any of it is worth.” – Bob Dylan

INTRODUCTION

Once when I was fourteen years old my best buddy and I got the idea to go over to a local riding stable and ride ourselves a horse. The night before we had been to the theatre and seen a film called “Winterhawk” which featured some fantastic scenes of Native American warriors galloping their war ponies through the snow fields of the Dakotas. When we arrived at the stable there was fresh snow from a late winter storm blanketing the landscape. We had a peaceful ride up the forested trail into the gentle hill country and as we rode we transported ourselves back to pioneer days. We were two adventurous mountain men heading out from Fort Laramie to do some trapping and escape the choking confines of civilization.

As we headed the horses back towards the stable the situation went downhill too. It started when, all of their own accord, our horses quit off walking and broke into a canter. I guess they could “smell the barn” and were anxious for oats and rest. The fast riding was fun enough at first, the trouble was that the cagey nag I was riding began to try and peel me off her back by heading straight for every low branch that extended over the pathway and I swear she had memorized where each potential guillotine was positioned and she aimed for every one of them. I somehow managed to dodge and duck all those branches so my untrustworthy mount pulled out a new tactic to do me in. We were charging down the path at breakneck speed when she suddenly banked a sharp right turn onto an intersecting trail. She took that turn so hard that I remained airborne on the main trail while she tore off down that side trail back to the barn. There is nothing much worse in the horse world than showing back up at the stable on foot.

A few years later I took a road trip up to Vermont. I stopped in to visit friends at the Farm & Wilderness Camp and I happened to see the farm manager driving his team of draft horses up to the barn on their way back in from the fields. He was a robust bearded fellow in a broad-brimmed hat and big black boots tromping behind his well behaved team of feathered-footed giants. All my attention was suddenly caught up by the sight of those working horses; the smell of their sweat, the jangling of the trace chains upon their heavy leather harness. And standing there contemplating that scene there was planted in my mind the improbable seed that someday I should have a team of horses and a farm of my own.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

THE WRECK

The accident happened fast, as most accidents do, and like most accidents, while it was happening time seemed to come to a standstill. We had been working our young mares, Mari and Cassima, together in harness since the previous summer. After moving to a farm in New Hampshire in the fall of 1996, we began driving the mares in earnest, but still all ground driving; no carts, or sleds or farm implements involved. In the late fall we skidded out some small blow-downs from the wooded edge of a pasture and the mares did quite well. I was beginning to feel confident that we could have them team working in the market garden by the following summer. Meanwhile, I built a new stone boat with steel runners.

The snow came early that year — a full foot of it the week before Thanksgiving — and then it turned cold and the snow cover held. After that though, there wasn’t much more snow. I was anxious for some deep powder to try the horses out on the sled for the first time. I figured some deep fresh snow would slow them down and dissuade them from running if they should get nervous with all the new sensations of being hitched to an implement with a tongue.

Cassima had done a limited amount of team driving with a tongue hitch when we were in Idaho. I had driven her on a dump rake with Becky the mule and also on the stone boat a few times. However, she was still very new to the experience. During those early training sessions if it hadn’t been for the tempering presence of the old molly mule the young horse might have panicked. Mari, on the other hand, had not yet been introduced to the tongue hitch at all — this was to be her inaugural drive.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Two weeks into January we still hadn’t received any more significant snow fall. In fact, the “January thaw” had left what snow there was granular. I grew impatient and broke my vow to wait for a foot of powder before hitching up the mares. Kerry came along to assist me. I towed the sled by tractor to a 2 acre paddock that was surrounded with a double plank fence. This field had a level bench and then sloped steeply up to the forested ridge. I left the sled parked at an angle to the fence and then went up to the barn to harness up the horses. As I was driving the horses down to the field my apprehension grew about the condition of the snow. A part of me wanted to turn around and keep my original resolve to wait, but having come this far, I obstinately pushed on.

It took a bit of coaxing to get Cassima to step over the tongue, but finally she nervously skipped into her spot and we hitched up the yoke and traces to the sled and Kerry asked me; “Are you ready?” and I took a deep breath and nodded “Yes.” We started out going up a slight grade and for about 50 paces or so it seemed like everything was going to be fine. Then as we approached the head of the field and I said “Gee” and began to give them line pressure to begin the turn, Cassima stepped a back leg over the tongue and began to panic and speed up. Within seconds both mares broke into a gallop and I had a full scale runaway on my hands. We banked a sharp turn and started heading on a downhill trajectory in the center of the field. The granular snow offered little resistance to the steel runners and we picked up speed. What was worse, at that speed the sled began to shimmy back and forth. I hauled back on the lines as hard as I could and then tried see-sawing but to no avail — there was no stopping them.

When we reached the middle of the field the mares turned right and then we were heading straight towards the fence. I considered jumping off then but before I had a chance they banked so hard to the left that I was hurled forward off the sled. I landed hard on one knee and then rolled and got back to my feet just in time to look up in horror at the sight of Kerry further down the fence line scrambling to climb through the planks of the fence. She must have thought she wasn’t going to get through in time so she turned and stood to face them, believing they would swerve and not hit her. But they did not swerve. Frozen in time I watched transfixed as the horizontal pipe of the hitch struck her ankles and she crumpled into the headboard of the sled. She was just outside of the off-horse and she was carried that way ten feet or more before falling off to the right as the mares turned left and headed up the hill again still at a gallop.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Witnessing her being struck by the sled was like falling off a cliff into a nightmare dream. I screamed but my voice sounded weirdly distant to my own ears. As I tried to run to her my legs felt leaden. At that point, I didn’t know if she was alive or dead. When I got to her and found her conscious and breathing I was still scared sick but I felt gratefulness and love well-up from the depths of my soul. I didn’t have much time to bask in it though, because those horses were still running wild in that field and there was the awful chance that they might run right at us again.

Our housemate Mary had come up to watch us working the horses and she shouted that she was going back to the house to call 911. The horses ran into the far south end of the field which was overgrown with brush. As they charged through the scrub the sled started to bust up. They turned up hill and back down hill again towards the wooden gate — which was closed.

The horses seemed to have decided that there was no way to out run the thing that was chasing them and the only thing left to do was to get back to the barn. They ran into the wooden gate at full speed. Boards cracked and splintered as horses plowed on through, but the gate did not give way entirely and their harness got hung up in the broken boards and this finally stopped them. They stood wild-eyed and gasping for air — but they stood.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

After a short eternity the EMT’s arrived and began to assess the damage. Kerry was incredibly stoical throughout all this. By now she could feel that the pain was in her lower legs. One of her snow boots had been torn clean off. The rescue workers removed the other boot and quickly determined that both legs were broken at the ankle. The workers were great at attending her, but one of them commented; “Whose idea was it to hitch up those horses anyway?” That cut me to the core. I guess those words stung me so much because they were partly true; I had no business driving those horses on that day. I tried to push the river by asking them to do something that neither they nor I was ready to do.

The ambulance finally arrived and they carried Kerry away in a stretcher and drove off. That left me alone in the field with my horses. I’d already assessed that they appeared to have no broken bones. Horses are tough as nails but even so we were lucky that day. They had just slammed full speed through a wooden gate and I could hardly find a scratch on them. I got them unhitched from what was left of the sled and then untangled from the gate and drove them down the road and up the lane to their barn. I was operating on pure adrenaline.

I had to drive myself the twelve miles to the hospital — not knowing the extent of Kerry’s injuries; not knowing if she’d be crippled for life or suffered internal injury. When I reached the emergency room the Doctor had already had time to revise her case — both fibulas broken in both legs. He laid out the choices of full leg casts or surgery with pins. He said casts would take longer but would be far less invasive. We chose casts — big mistake. The casts didn’t work and a year later Kerry had to have pins put in and then later removed — all in all eighteen months to heal her legs. The important part though, is that her legs did heal; so well that fifteen years later she walks with no trace of a limp.

SmallFarmersJournal.com is a live, ever-changing subscription website. To gain access to all the content on this site, subscribe for just $5 per month. If you are not completely satisfied, cancel at any time. Here at your own convenience you can access past articles from Small Farmer's Journal's first forty years and all of the brand new content of new issues. You will also find posts of complete equipment manuals, a wide assortment of valuable ads, a vibrant events calendar, and up to the minute small farm news bulletins. The site features weather forecasts for your own area, moon phase calendaring for farm decisions, recipes, and loads of miscellaneous information.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

by:
from issue:

Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

What We've Learned From Compost

What We’ve Learned From Compost

by:
from issue:

Our compost piles will age for at least a year before being added to the garden. We have learned that the slow aging is more beneficial to the decomposition process as well as not losing nearly as much nitrogen to off-gassing as happens with the hot and fast methods. Another benefit is the decomposition is much more thorough, destroying weed seeds, pathogens and any unwanted chemicals much better in a slower composting setup.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Making Sorghum Molasses

Making Sorghum Molasses

by:
from issue:

Growing sorghum doesn’t take much work, according to Buhrman. You plant it in the spring, work it a couple of times and that’s about all that’s required until late in the growing season. That is when the work begins. Before it is cut, all the stalks have to be “bladed” – the leaves removed from the stalks. It’s then cut, then the tassles are cut off, and the stalks are fed through a crusher. The crusher forces the juices out of the plant. The sorghum juice is then boiled in a vat for four to five hours until nothing is left but the syrup.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

by:
from issue:

Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

by:
from issue:

We are approaching this from a seed quality standpoint, not just a seed saving one. Saving seed is fairly simple to do, but the results from planting those seeds can be very mixed; without a basis of understanding of seed quality, people can be disappointed and confused as to why they got the results they did. Both the home gardener and the seed company must understand seed quality to be successful in their respective endeavors.

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

For those not familiar with this tasty, nutritious weed, purslane can be a real challenge to manage in vegetable crops for a number of reasons. The seeds of this weed remain viable for many years in the garden, and generally do not germinate until hot weather — that is, after many of the market garden crops have already been planted. To make matters worse, this succulent plant often reroots after cultivation. Purslane also grows so close to the ground that it is impossible to control by mowing.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

by:
from issue:

Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

by:
from issue:

Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

by:
from issue:

The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

Journal Guide