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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Littlefield Notes: A Slower Pace

Littlefield Notes: A Slower Pace

Littlefield Notes: A Slower Pace

by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA

One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time. — G.K. Chesterton

A light rain taps on the soft buggy top as I drive through the misty woods on a grey November day. The iron buggy tires and rhythmic fjord-clop provide the soundtrack for a stage set with giant cedars and hemlocks that seem to float past in a late autumn dream. I note here and there a mushroom, a droopy late season fern, the last brown leaves on the young alders in the clear-cut; a deer in search of a mate dodges cagily in and out of salmonberry thickets. The gelding is active, spunky, too long without work. He tests me; takes hold of the bit and goes. I don’t worry much as I know the Big Hill is coming which will quickly put an end to his over-eager zeal. Once down the other side I deliver fresh eggs, tomatillo salsa, garlic, potatoes.

I could have taken the pick-up and saved time, but then I would have missed seasonal nuance of the woods around me. And what would I have done with the saved time? What does it even mean to save time? Is time something that can be saved, tucked away in a box for later use when you find yourself up against a deadline?

With my first introduction to horse drawn travel as a teenager working on a tourist wagon train, I was immediately drawn to the pace; its rhythm and cadence seemed to suspend time, to bring the mind reassuringly into the present moment. It felt right on a profound level – as if this was the speed at which human beings were meant to travel. Horses walk at a pace that invites contemplation, smoothing the rough edges of a stressed and over-full life. One of the great ironies of the modern world (post-modern?) is that the faster we are able to travel the more we feel the need to hurry, the more we hurry the more we worry, and the more we worry the faster we go; an endless feedback loop of hurry and worry. The more time we save, the less time we seem to have.

I’m reminded of an experience I had in college. I gave up riding my bicycle to class in favor of walking because I found that the just-in-time cross town speed of the bike added stress to my life, while the contemplative nature of a six or eight block walk imparted a certain peace to the beginning of my day.

Ways to Get There

I have always been fascinated by the various transportation methods that humans have contrived, especially sailboats, steam locomotives and horse drawn vehicles. Sails are like unto horses in that man must enter into a compact with nature. The wind will blow where it will. The tides will rise and fall regardless of our schedule. There is a certain magic to the feel of a boat moving silently through the water with nothing but the wind nudging it along. Its motion and pace are not unlike that of the buggy snaking down the farm lane. The horse is willing just as the wind is willing; with both we must conform ourselves with skill and knowledge to nature’s pace.

The steam engine has it’s own allure. It is seemingly alive: a benevolent, marvelous, mechanical fire breathing wonder. Union Pacific has had the vision and commitment to keep two mainline steamers in active excursion service. The sight of UP 844 pulling a string of vintage yellow passenger cars over Sherman Hill is one not easily forgotten; a thundering testament to the power of steel and steam.

I will probably never get a chance to sit at the throttle of a steam engine heading up some winding mountain grade and feel the romance of the rails as the lonesome sound of a steam whistle echoes off canyon walls. Nor will I sit and watch out over the bowsprit of a schooner rounding Cape Horn as the mighty wind and waves test men’s mettle and fill their spirits with the allure of the sea. Though I do like to play with model trains and sail my 12’ wooden boat on occasion, sail and steam as vocations are resigned for now to the dustbin of history.

Littlefield Notes: A Slower Pace

It is within my reach however to draw a living from the earth using that third glorious form of transport – the horse. The horse-drawn world, though gone from view for the majority of Americans, is still very much with us. We can, if we so choose, buy some horses and a machine or two and put them to work. It is still very much within our ability to experience the fullness of a slower pace of life.

More Back to Basics: Notes on Acquiring Horse Drawn Machinery

One of the preeminent challenges of starting a horse-powered farm in our time is finding good equipment. It has been 60 or 70 years now since horses were replaced en masse by the tractor. By 1950 equipment manufacturers had for the most part ceased building new horse-drawn machines, making good older implements more difficult to find with each passing year. We are blessed in this country however, to have a large and vibrant population of plain folk who have never ceased to rely on horses for transportation and fieldwork. This has insured a market for repair shops, the production of after-market parts, and even a handful of new equipment manufacturers.

Despite the fine new equipment offered by the likes of Pioneer and I & J, there are still some hard to find items that are not currently offered new. These include: ground drive mowers, grain binders, loose hay loaders, dump rakes, buck rakes, loose hay stackers of various kinds as well as barn trolleys and related hardware. With patience and tenacity most everything on your list can eventually be found. What follows are some thoughts on specific ways in which you can begin to assemble a respectable arsenal of horse powered farm equipment.

At Auction

There are several good auctions every year around the country that feature horse drawn tools. Sometimes auctions feel like a crapshoot. You may find exactly what you are looking for at exactly the right price, but then again you may leave the sale with the distinct feeling that you would have been better off staying home and weeding the onion patch.

Beware of the Dupont restoration. This is where a slightly unscrupulous individual has slapped a coat of shiny paint over 50 years of rust hoping to lure in unsuspecting bidders entranced by the glitzy look of the thing. Remember, “All that glitters is not gold.” There was a disc at the SFJ auction last year like that. It sure looked nice, but upon closer inspection I found that the discs were tight and did not move freely as they should. My horses would not have approved of the extra draft that came with this tool.

Of course there are times when you may want to buy something in need of a little work. I bought a dandy John Deere Big 4 mower a couple of years ago in this category. I rebuilt and shortened the cutter bar, installed a new oil seal and pitman and put the Fjords to work on it – for considerably less money than the fully restored mowers, but certainly no less functional.

I like to look for the quiet little deals that don’t draw a lot of attention. Some implements are perfectly serviceable and are of good value simply because they lack paint, need a tongue, or require some minor repair. There was a good McCormick #7 mower a few years ago that needed some paint, but was otherwise excellent – a very good value for a cash strapped young farmer just starting out. Fully restored mowers were selling for around $2,000 while this little gem went for $600 or so.

What Is It Worth?

Some words about value: people are always asking me what a certain piece of equipment is worth. Worth and value are elusive, moving targets, especially with something like horse drawn machines. I remember a specialized vineyard cultivator that sold at the SFJ auction for an almost unbelievable sum a few years ago. Seems crazy until you realize that here was a piece of equipment not in current production (I had not laid eyes on one before, nor have I seen one since) and the person who bought it was actually going to use it in his vineyard. I’m sure it was to be a foundation of his whole operation. Its worth to him was far greater than to me or anyone else who thought it no more than an interesting curiosity.

I was once given a bad time for paying over $100 dollars for a barn trolley. But imagine if you will, me, sitting there in July with 20 acres of hay on the ground staring at a serious barn break down and needing a part that hasn’t been manufactured since 1935. At that point $100 to save my whole crop would seem a pittance. After all – when you put loose hay in a big old barn no trolley – no hay. Let’s say you are going to plant 2 acres of potatoes. How much would you pay for a good walk behind potato digger when the alternative is hand digging? Fifty dollars, $100, $250? You must answer this question for yourself. There is no Kelly Blue Book for horse drawn implements. What value should you place on the cornerstone of your operation?

When Opportunity Knocks – Answer the Door

If you are going to farm with relic technology you must be ever vigilant for items that will enhance your operation. Sometimes opportunity knocks and sometimes you must do the knocking yourself. There was a New Idea manure spreader in front of a house on the outskirts of my hometown. There it sat, for years neglected and seemingly forgotten. When I move back as an adult and was in the early stages of assembling my implement roster I knocked on the door one day and simply asked if they would be willing to sell the old spreader. A young woman answered the door and led me to a couch where a very elderly gentleman lay, breathing through oxygen tubes, and obviously very near the end of his life. Despite his weakened condition he seemed pleased that someone was going to give the old spreader life again and he happily sold it to me for $100.

I am lucky to own a beautiful John Deere Van Brunt seed drill. It had been under cover and disused for many years. Upon hearing that I was actually going to use it with real horsepower the owner was thrilled. When I asked what price he had in mind he said “Oh…just bring me a sack of ‘taters some time.”

Littlefield Notes: A Slower Pace

Always keep a keen eye out for old implements that appear abandoned in fencerows or out behind barns. Sometimes they will not be of using quality but can still be valuable for parts. Keeping equipment field ready will require a certain amount of spare parts. When using implements that have been out of production for decades you need to think ahead about the inevitable breakdowns that you will experience. I have lots of spare parts that I have collected here and there over the years including a tedder that I completely dismantled after an important cast iron gear housing broke beyond repair. I completely dismantled it and organized the parts such that when (not if) I have a breakdown I can quickly find the part I need and get soon back to work.

There is a silent, machinery-killing epidemic that exists in front yards all over America. Perfectly good machines are sitting around like statues with flowers planted around them. I have not yet done it, but I have always thought that if I spotted a good mower sitting in someone’s yard that I would offer a parts mower in trade for the good one. After all, why should a flower gardener care whether or not the gears are all chewed up? The flowers certainly wouldn’t.

I also enjoy digging around in antique stores for good items. In such places I have found loose hay harpoons, pulleys, walking plows, hand tools and a dandy Planet Jr. seeder that just needed new handles.

New Stuff

There are a surprising number of wonderful new horse drawn implements being manufactured at the present time. From my experience the new machines display high quality workmanship and solid sensible engineering. Years ago, frustrated by my lack of success at finding a good older one, I bought a brand new Pioneer walking plow. It is a gem: pure functionality with readily available parts and a pleasure to use.

I also use Pioneer forecarts. I appreciate the built-in flexibility allowing the easy use of features such as the scraper blade that mounts on the back for plowing snow or maintaining roads. There are a variety of new manure spreaders, discs, harrows, plows and cultivators also on the market. Because of the high quality of these tools and the fact that they require no restoration to be field ready, they are a good, solid value- a capital investment that a young farmer can feel good in making.

Spotlight On: People

B. Adroit's Profiles in Passion: Herscel Gouda

B. Adroit’s Profiles in Passion: Herscel Gouda

Excerpt: Um, ya, you’re just gonna have to read this one.

Another Barn Falls In

Another Barn Falls In

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The barn was built around a century ago. A pair of double doors on the front flapped when the wind blew, and a short service door was on the side. It wasn’t a big barn, about 30 feet wide by 40 feet long with a small hay mow above. It had a couple of windows for light, and of course a window in the peak. There was a hitching rail outside that gave it a certain welcoming charm. A charm that seemed to say, “tie up to the rail, and c’mon in.”

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Mule Powered Wrecker Service

Mule Drawn Wrecker Service

This will only add fuel to those late night discoursians about the relative merits of horses over mules or viciversy. Is the horse the smarter one for hitching a ride or is the mule the smarter one for recognizing the political opportunity which this all represents? In any event these boys know what they are doing, or should, so don’t try this at home without horse tranquilizers. Remember that politics is a luke warm bowl of thin soup.

ODHBA 2016 Plowing Match

ODHBA 2016 Plowing Match

The Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association hosted their 50th Anniversary Plowing Match at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center in McMinnville, Oregon on April 9, 2016. Small Farmer’s Journal was lucky enough to attend and capture some of the action to share.

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

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A bold and opinionated German, Klaus moved to the midwest over 25 years ago from Bavaria and is currently running the only tractor-less farm in Platte County, Missouri operated by draft horses. Karbaumer Farm tries to “live and grow in harmony with Nature and her seasons” and produces over 50 varieties of chemical-free, organic vegetables for the community, providing a CSA or the greater Kansas City area.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Harnessing the Future

Harnessing the Future

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En route to a remote pasture where the Belgian draft horses, Prince and Tom, are grazing, we survey the vast green landscape, a fine mist hovering in distant low lying areas. We are enveloped in a profusion of sweet, earthy balance. Interns and other workers start their chores; one pauses to check his smart phone. Scattered about are many animal-powered rustic implements. This rich and agriculturally diverse, peaceful place is steeped in contrasts: modern and ancient.

Building a Community, Building a Barn

Building a Community, Building a Barn

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One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

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The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

Great Oregon Steam Up

Great Oregon Steam-Up Bonus Gallery

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The best thing about the SFJ website is “unlimited real estate.” With each issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal comes the required agonizing over what to keep and what to sacrifice due to page space. What follows is a photo gallery of every picture we took at the 2016 Great Oregon Steam-Up. Why? Because we can! And, because there were a lot of interesting machines there that we are sure some of you will enjoy seeing.

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

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Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

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I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

Bud & Mary Rickett

Buck & Mary Rickett: Successful Small Farmers

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Ten years ago I answered a classified ad and went to a small western Oregon farm to look at some young laying hens that were for sale. That visit to Buck and Mary Rickett’s place made a quiet impression on me that has lasted to this day. On that first visit in ’71 my eager new farmer’s eye and ear absorbed as much as possible of what seemed like an unusual successful, small operation. I asked what must have seemed like an endless stream of questions on that early visit.

Central Oregon Food and Farms

Central Oregon Food and Farms

Who is growing food in the high desert? How can you find it? And how can you contribute to creating a vibrant local food community in Central Oregon? Find out here! By consuming more Central Oregon grown food we keep money in our region, support local businesses, and have delicious, fresh food to eat.

Bonjour de France

Bonjour de France

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A little sign of life from France. Everything is going rather well at the tiniest of farms. Besides the veggies I have been plowing in the vineyards of the Bordeaux area to add some extra income. The drafthorses are back over there, so they need horsemen.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT