by Tim Huppe of Farmington, NH
photos by Drew Conroy
In 1906, there were 87 pair of oxen on Meaderboro Road. Most of the teams were used daily, working in the woods or on the farms.
This part of New Hampshire with its stony ground and hilly terrain made the ox well suited for land clearing and plowing. Over time, the small hill farms raising sheep for the once thriving wool industry were abandoned, leaving empty cellar holes and small pastures to grow to woods.
The farmers with good tillable ground and ample hay land switched to using horses for their traction power.
Frank Scruton, who is now 89 years old, worked oxen his entire life. He spent winters working cattle in the woodlot in the winter and in the maple orchard during sugaring season. He would plow and pick rocks on newly harrowed ground using a team pulling a wooden stoneboat. Between milkings or in the evening, Frank and his son, Arthur, exercised the oxen conditioning them for competition pulling at the New England fairs.
Frank clearly remembers his father, Arthur, hauling cordwood from the ‘old farm’ over the road using oxen to the mills in Farmington, seven miles away. The wood was burned for fuel and his father would return to the mills in the spring, load the wood ash on an ox cart and haul it back to his farm and spread it on the fields. He also hauled many loads of four foot firewood to the brickyards in Gonic to fire the kiln operations.
Frank’s grandfather, John Frank’s farm was on the side of Blue Job Mountain. He had gone over the mountain to visit his brother at the ‘home place’ in the town of Strafford. Of course, those were the days before weather forecasts and he was unaware of the severity of the coming snow storm.
During the night’s stay, the snow became heavy and continued into the next day. Needing to head to his farm in the morning, John Frank turned the cattle loose. They marched single file over the mountain path. The white out conditions made it impossible to see the trail, but the oxen had sense enough to find the farm a few miles away.
Les Barden, 84 years old, purchased his Meaderboro Road farm in 1960. He bought the farm from the Huckins family. They raised good Milking Shorthorn cattle and kept and worked oxen. Les purchased the farm with a small herd of the Huckin’s milking stock. For the first two years, Les did not own a bucket loader tractor. All of the manure from the dairy barn was hauled to the fields using a team of oxen and an ox cart. When he needed sawdust for bedding, he would hook the team to the cart and walk to neighboring woodlots where portable sawmills had been operating. He would shovel on a load of sawdust and return home.
Les spent his days in the woods cutting firewood and white birch boltwood. The firewood was to heat his large house and there were many cords for resale. The birch boltwood was sold to a handle factory in Farmington. These additional income sources were made possible using his oxen.