Home & Shop Companion #0128
Jason Rutledge has worked in the Appalachian mountains for over 40 years. From the beginning of his career in the woods, he was told he needed to embrace modern technology, rely on heavy machinery and exploit the forest for all its worth. But, fate had different plans for Jason. Through an almost magical coincidence, a rare horse breed came into his life, and he shunned the industrial trappings of his trade and embraced the proven methods of the last thousand years.
Somehow Hopeful is a new feature-length documentary by Jerry McNutt about forest management and horse logging in Appalachia, centered around Jason Rutledge, an old friend of Small Farmer’s Journal. The new issue of SFJ has an article about and photos from the film, and Lynn Miller gives it a review. Here is an excerpt:
“All his life Jason Rutledge has been a stalwart and focused individual, ideally suited to present himself and his beliefs with authority and down-home wisdom. He believes in and loves his life’s work. And even more, he is a vocal champion of the Suffolk Punch draft horse breed. When we ‘see’ him talking about and working with these magnificent horses, the seams are gone. When we hear him referencing the invisible insides of an ailing tree, once again the seams are gone. When he marvels still that the work he understands, believes in and practices results in an ever healthier forest, you can almost feel the trees nodding. And when Jason shares ways with his students of how they might improve their unfolding relationship with the horses, you can see by the set of his shoulders that he’s doing what he must. Jerry McNutt’s wonderful film does its job, allowing us in.” – LRM
HOW TO SEE THIS FILM: Somehow Hopeful is a brand new release, so at this time the best way to find out where you can see the documentary is to visit the website:
It is currently available for rent on www.Vimeo.com, where you can also see a movie trailer.
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
After a week away, it is now high summer in North Shropshire, high summer with high temperatures pushing towards record levels. The garden has changed in those few days, the soft vegetables are now thriving, while the grass in the field is recovering where I cut hay, and the green manures are looking good, as are the onions and potatoes, but places where the horses have been recently grazing are dry and brown. After a day to recover, mixed in with cultivating between the vegetables, on Sunday morning I put Lucy in the mower and went to cut the last patch of hay.
With temperatures set to reach 27 degrees centigrade [80 F], I started early, but after a little more than one round the pitman stick on my International No. 9 broke. So it was another journey the 5 minutes back home with the remaining part of the pitman fastened up with the hame strap I use to connect the cart saddle to the hame top. On the way to the field, I had noticed that one of the bolts through the pitman was missing, but with only an hour or so’s cutting ahead of me, I thought it would be alright! How wrong was I? I am sure the pitman was designed to be the weakest link in the mower’s design, something easy to replace if the mower meets an obstacle resistant enough to challenge its integrity, but this breakage was my fault. Like the last time it happened, the stick split along the line of bolts, which are along the grain of the wood, which doesn’t seem like a strong method of securing the metal ends, but this is the point. Really, the strength of the join relies on having snug fitting bolts through the wood and metal and tightening the bolts tight to clamp the wood together, so there is no slop between the metal and wooden parts. With one bolt missing, and I guess some play on the other holes, the force of the other bolts just split the wood wide open.
Back at home, it took a half hour to remove the other cutter bar end from the pitman and fit another stick, and that was with a spare piece of ash [the nearest thing we get to hickory] already drilled and with the slot for the flywheel end of the pitman. I must admit to not being keen on mechanical failures, even if I can fix it myself, especially with equipment for time sensitive operations, so perhaps I should get a complete replacement pitman for future eventualities. Back to the field and we dropped the rest of the grass by nine o’ clock, stopping every round to rest, and then it was back home, cutting the roadside verge next to the field before raising the cutter bar and idling our way home to put the mower away. Back at the field I threw a couple of buckets of water over Lucy; it soon evaporated as she rested while I filled the water trough and moved the shafts on the forecart to the offset position for the hay turner. Then we flipped the hay upside and left it for the sun to do its best. After catchy times in past years, the weather was forecast to remain dry and warm for a week, so there was no rush.
Monday came and we turned it back over again and went through with the tedder, enough horse work for the day, before I went to dig potatoes for roadside sales. Then Tuesday morning they forecast an 80% chance of heavy rain later in the day. Because the sky was overcast all night, there was little dew, so I put it into cocks in the light drizzle after I had given the horses a bit more grass in the morning, and came home. But then rain never came, but neither was it weather to make the hay any drier, so I was happy enough to leave it.
So, now it is Wednesday morning, nearly eleven o’clock. After another overcast but warm night I spread the cocks earlier, back into windrows then oiled the wooden bearings on the hay loader and strung out the rope for the hay grapple. Now the sun is out. I have a customer coming soon, and then after his shift at work my son will come and we’ll gather the hay. At least, that is the plan.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.