A tough old Swede

The animals are hunkering down on Mr Ed’s Farm tonight. The northwest wind is downright brutal. The horses, normally unaffected by the weather, are hanging close to the south side of the machine shed. They rabbits are wearing their fur coats and the sheep their woollies. It didn’t take me long to do chores but I did take a couple of minutes to check on the horses water. We have an artisan well with the overflow piped out to the pasture. For many years it simply drained into a pond. When it was real cold I had to break a crust of ice over the flowing water so the horses could drink. Last fall we redid the system, running the pipe through a partially buried tank with an overflow drain pipe. I built an insulated box around the tank. I figured if there were going to be problems it would be tonight. I was relieved to see the tank was ice free, the water flowing fast enough to keep the ice at bay. The horses love it.

For some reason the biting wind and bitter cold reminded me of Oscar. I met him my first day at the Forest History Center. He was a natural story teller. One of my favorite Oscar stories was about August Swenson, a tough old Swedish lumberjack. According to Oscar, Gus loved to ice skate. One Sunday afternoon he set out down the Mississippi to see how far he could skate.

The other jacks got a little worried when he didn’t return at dark. A few wanted to go look for him but the other Swedes said not to worry, Gus was tough, a frozen river couldn’t kill him. The night got colder, the wind howled, trees froze and snapped off with loud cracks. Still no Gus. A hour past midnight, they heard him coming. They rushed to the door, pulled him inside and propped him up next to the red hot barrel stove. After a few cups of hot coffee, he told them the story.

“I skated downriver fifteen miles before I hit the open water. I was going fast enough so that didn’t bother me. If it hadn’t for that beaver, I would have kept going. Before I knew it I was in over my head. When I came up for air I found myself clinging to the ice.”. He paused. “What did you do?” they asked. “Well at first I tried to climb out but I kept slipping back. After an hour or so I figured I’d better try something else. By this time the wind had come up and it was getting colder. I figured I’d take advantage of this bit of good fortune”.

“Your up to your neck in a frozen river, it’s getting colder, how is that a bit of good fortune?”

“Well I was wearing my heavy mackinaw. I unbuttoned it, pulled it off and slapped it up on the ice. I waited about an hour until it froze down good and I was able to pull myself out”. I would have been back earlier but I had to build a fire to get my coat loose, then I had to skate fifteen miles up hill”.

It might be brutally cold out there tonight and the animals are hunkered down but I wasn’t worried as I am half Swede. I need a little more weather than this to roll down the ear flaps

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20130119-205116.jpg My friend Oscar, a pretty tough Swede himself.

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The horses hunkering down behind the shed.

A support group for draft horse collectors

Shortly after Mrs Ed and I bought the farm I got my first team of draft horses. As you know if you read an earlier post, that didn’t turn out so well. I am one who believes everything happens for a reason. My mistakes brought me to meet harness maker, Bernie Sampson. Like many people that grew up in the horse era, Bernie has a knack for sizing up horses and people. He is a natural and college educated historian. Having spent my professional career in the history business, I can appreciate the lessons history can teach us, if we just listen and ask questions.

I went to Bernie to buy a harness, and I got a life line to enable me to pursue my passion with draft horses. Left on my own, I probably would have quit after my first near-death experience. But I didn’t. I continued on so I could have more. I know that might sound dumb to some people, but I also believe one learns through mistakes (if you take time to reflect and not repeat them).

The next best thing Bernie did for me was to talk me into joining the North Star Draft Horse Association. Bernie and a number of other long draft horse farmers organized the Association in the early 1980s. Formed to promote use of draft horses during a time when the industry was starting to rebound from an all-time low, the Association brought horse people together to help each other and to educate the public.

One of the first events I went to was a field day at Rollie and Mary Millers in Floodwood. I’ll never forget Don Denton driving his four big black percherons. I got to see teamsters plowing, disking, cutting and raking hay. It rained but because the show must go on, they tedded hay anyway.

It was during these early years I met draft horse legends like Jim McNeil who raised and showed registered Belgians. I was fortunate to go to several sales with Jim and Sam Yoder. Jim was usually looking for a new stallion and could rattle off a horse’s pedigree like a genealogical zealot. Sam and I could sit for hours watching horses come through the ring. More than once I heard him say “I should have bid on that one.” More than once we came home with a trailer load of horses. One time we joked that Sam’s pasture was like a used car lot of horses. He had at least one of everything except American Creams.

“I should have bid on those,” he said later. Jim and I laughed so hard I think we had tears in our eyes.

Thanks to Bruce Hage from Cotton for selling me Patsy and for his uncle Bob McKay for trading me her lifelong mate, Kate. I got them when they were 4 and kept them until they were twenty. They taught me about “turning inside out.” That’s when your horses turn in and come back towards you. Suddenly your lines are useless and usually a tangled mess ensues. Patsy and Kate were what I needed at the time because they were “forgiving horses.” They taught me to try to avoid “inside out “whenever possible.

The Draft Horse Association is where I met many other good people. I met Jerry Holmes and Duane Barrow when they came to help with a logging job. I have many good memories of Jerry helping me with the oxen at Blackberry. Duane, who is club president, is not only a good leader, he is an excellent teacher and gives selflessly of his time and experience to those of us who have so much more to learn.

Tomorrow is the 2013 NSDHA annual meeting. I look forward to this and the quarterly meetings to see old friends and meet new ones. I jokingly refer to the club as a support group for draft horse collectors. It a place where you can learn new things and hear stories that make you feel that what you did for your last near death experience is not as dumb as you thought.

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As club secretary, this is where I keep the good stuff.

 

“So, how many horses do you need?”

Did you ever do something that you knew you shouldn’t have done but did it anyway? I don’t hardly ever do this without first considering the ethics of the situation and the risk of getting caught. 99 percent of the time I talk myself into doing the right thing.

But sometimes the temptation is just too much.

Some years ago I got a call at work.

“Hi Ed, I was wondering if you could help me out? I know you have draft horses and take really good care of them. I have a really nice Belgian mare. I use her for logging. She is a wonderful horse and I just love her.” Ok, I’m thinking, what’s the catch? “I was wondering if you wanted to buy her? I am leaving the area and have to sell her immediately.”

I reacted quickly. “I don’t think so. I already have more horses than my wife thinks I need. Besides, I’m sure I don’t have the kind of money you need for a horse that wonderful.”

“But Ed, I’m desperate. I’m leaving tomorrow. She is tied to a tree in the woods. I left her enough hay for a day. I’ll tell you what, you can go look at her, if you like her you can take her home and keep her as long as you want. We can work it out later.” The image of a poor horse tied to a tree all alone in the forest was more than I could bear.

“Ok, give me some directions.”

A little background on horses and Mr. Ed’s Farm. Other equine collectors may identify with this.

Mr. Ed: “So, I heard about this horse…”
Mrs. Ed: You don’t need another horse.”
Mr. Ed: “But it’s a good horse.”
Mrs. Ed: “What’s wrong with your other horses?”
Mr. Ed: “But the horse needs a good home.”
Mrs. Ed: “If it’s such a good horse, why do they want to get rid of it?”

Then comes the perplexing question: “How many horses do you need anyway?”

So here was my dilemma. At that time I had a small herd of sorrel Belgian horses (let’s say more than you can count at a glance). A desperate horse friend needed help. A broke logging horse was out in the forest all alone. No money down, no checks to be made out, i.e., no paper trail. All I had to do was go look at her, then make my decision. Here’s where I hit the slippery slope.

After Mrs. Ed left for work the next morning, I set my dubious plan in motion. I called work.

“I’d like to take a vacation day, to deal with a personal matter.” No problem, no questions asked. I changed into my chore clothes, hooked up the stock trailer and headed out.

Now I made sure I was careful in writing down the directions. Take this highway to this county road to this township road to this logging road, take the fork to the right, don’t slow down when you hit the low spot….

“You do have 4 wheel drive? Jeanie should be tied to a big pine. If she’s not there, check with the farm on the next road over. She usually goes there when she gets loose.”

Anyone who has ever turned down a remote one lane road heading slightly downhill with a twenty foot stock trailer knows the feeling I was experiencing. I kept looking for the big pine with a horse tied to it. It was amazing how many trees there were without horses tied to them. Fortunately it had not rained for a few weeks when I hit the low spot, no problem. The sound of scraping brush kept me alert. I breathed a sigh of relief when I came to a clearing with a big tree with a horse tied to it. There she was, a big blonde sorrel Belgian mare, looking at me with soft brown eyes. She nickered to me as I approached and nuzzled my shoulder when I walked up. “Hi Jeanie, would you like to go home with me?” She looked toward the trailer and nodded.

With a little finagling, I got turned around and headed out, horse safely secured in the trailer. I got home shortly after noon. The other horses lined up at the fence when I unloaded Jeanie. I don’t need to tell other horse people this, but putting a new horse directly into a herd is usually not a good idea. There tends to be some serious fighting that goes on until a new pecking order is established. Fortunately, I had a corral adjacent to the pasture where I put new horses until they can become acclimated. It was behind the barn where Mrs. Ed never goes.

The other horses rushed the corral to investigate this newcomer. I led Jeanie in, thinking to myself, she really fits in size and color wise. I unsnapped the lead rope and stepped back to watch. As I expected, Jeanie walked up to the fence, neck outstretched, sniffing the air, gingerly touching noses. What she did next still amazes me. It reminded me of a horse we had seen performing at Circus World. She backed up a few feet and, with the grace and agility of a white tail deer, leaped over the six foot corral panel without even touching it. The other horses must have been impressed too because they just backed away and went about their business.

By the time Mrs. Ed got home the herd had wondered off to distant pastures. Jeanie blended in. I breathed a sigh of relief. All was well for about two weeks. I believe it was a Saturday morning. The horses came up for a midday rest under the shade trees by the barn. I was working on some piece of machinery in the yard. I saw her coming out of the corner of my eye. I fumbled with a rusty bolt.

Mrs. Ed: “Hi, how’s it going?”
Mr. Ed: “Pretty good, why do you ask?”
Mrs. Ed: “Is there something you forgot to tell me?”
Mr. Ed: “No, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
Mrs. Ed: “Isn’t that a new horse in the pasture?”

Time for some quick thinking. “What horse?”

“That one.”

“Wow, you’re right. That’s a nice horse! I wonder where she came from? Can you believe my luck?”

“How did you know it was a ‘she’?”

Jeanie stayed with us for several years. She did have some idiosyncrasies. When I used her for plowing, she never wanted to turn to the right. So we adjusted by always plowing to left. Jeanie was OK with that. As a logging horse, let’s just say she was efficient. Once you hooked onto the log, it didn’t take long to get to the landing. Get tired? Simply keep a tight grip on the lines and she would add you to the load.

Somewhere along the way, we “worked it out” and I bought Jeanie. She was such a good horse that I took her on a trip with me to Kalona, Iowa. I thought she would enjoy a good horse sale. Believe it or not, a fellow there liked her and even offered me some money. I called home. “A guy liked Jeanie and offered me money for her, so I helped him out.”

Mrs. Ed: “So what are you going to do with the money?”
Mr. Ed: “Well there’s this gelding…..”

Then came the question I have never been quite able to figure out the answer to: “So, how many horses do you need?”

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There she was, a beautiful blonde with soft brown eyes.

The night the bull got out

Any kid that grew up on a dairy farm remembers being told “Watch out for the bull,” “Stay out of the pasture, the bull is out with the cows,” and “Don’t tease the bull.” We heard stories about farmers who had been killed by bulls who had gone mad. As kids we took these warnings very seriously.

That is why the night the bull got out remains a vivid memory in my mind. It was summer, the time of the year when the cows are turned out to pasture after the evening milking. Dad usually kept a Holstein bull on the farm. The bull was kept in a special stall secured by a heavy duty stanchion. The bull usually resigned himself to his captivity, but every once in a while he would test his constraints.

On this particular night we had finished milking, had supper and sat down to watch TV. I don’t remember why, but I know Dad was not home. We always had a dog on the farm. They serve as sentries, quiet when things are normal, but quick to sound the alarm when the situation calls for it. Our living room had a south facing big picture window that overlooked the garden. It was nearly dark when the dog let loose with a flurry of angry barking. We went to the window. His bark became sharper, and closer to the house. Our first thought, a skunk! Shut the window, quick! Then we saw him. He was black and white, but much bigger than a skunk. THE BULL was in the yard, looking into the window at us.

Mom assured us we were safe as long as we stayed in the house. No problem there. I don’t remember what happened next. I suppose the bull wandered off into the night. I suppose Dad caught him by the brass ring in his nose and put him back in his stanchion. I do remember a chain looped around the top of the stanchion after that.

To this day I always proceed with caution when going into an unfamiliar pasture … Or a new situation. “Watch out for the bull” is good advice to live by.

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Dad and his prize bull

Beware of a free chicken

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Great grandson of Shorty stands guard.

Every kid who grew up on a farm seems to have a mean chicken story. I was reminded of one last night. Several years ago, when Matt was a little kid, I bought some pullets from my brother. We were getting into the chicken and egg business and “ready to lay” pullets put us on the fast track. We had the hens in cages and I was about to leave when my niece, a really sweet kid, came up with a shiny white rooster snuggled in her arms. She said “Uncle Ed, would you like to have Shorty?” Twenty four hens, I figured a free rooster with a funny name like Shorty, couldn’t hurt. Besides, she was so cute I couldn’t say no.

Shorty was a white leghorn. Leghorns are a small breed of chickens but widely regarded as the queen of the layers. They are popular with commercial laying operations because they lay lots of big white eggs for the first year of their lives. Unlike dual purpose breeds, chickens that can both lay eggs and are large enough for a Sunday dinner, leghorns, particularly the roosters, are not in great demand. Perhaps Shorty knew this when he came to our farm with a chip on his shoulder.

Back in the day, we subscribed to free range chicken raising. After a week or two of being acclimated to their surroundings, I threw open the coop door and let the chickens chase bugs and scratch in the dirt. This coincided with young Matt Nelson’s sandbox days. The sandbox was adjacent to the screen house, which was about 50 feet from the coop.

It was early in the day. The chickens, up with the sun, had scattered across the yard. Mrs. Ed heard the screams from deep within the house. I heard them from the sheep barn. We both came running. “Mom, Shorty is after me!”. Sure enough, Shorty, the little white rooster, was in the attack mode. His feathers puffed out, neck arched, he was determined to drive away this intruder.

By the time I got to the barn door, Mom had already sprung into action. As she flew out the door she grabbed a broom. “Shorty!” she screamed “Get away from him!”

A battle ensued that can barely be described in words. An angry mother in her bathrobe, armed with a broom, charging a very feisty rooster. Round and around they went. Mom swinging the broom with the vengeance of an out-of-control hockey player. Rooster, spurs slashing the air, charged and retreated with each swipe of the broom.

There are times when a person should think before he starts laughing. I learned an important lesson that day. To make a long story shorter, Mom won the day, and Shorty had to slink away to fight another day.

In hindsight I don’t think Shorty was a name of endearment, rather it was a “cowboy” name. A cowboy named Shorty conjures up a little fellow with a chip on his shoulder. He is a fellow who needs some puffery to make other cowboys take notice. He is someone who wears his spurs proudly and is not afraid to use them.

Needless to say, the chicken’s days of free ranging came to an abrupt end. Shorty wasn’t happy. I carried a stick with me when I went to pick eggs. Fall came and so did an idea I got on a pheasant hunting trip. We walked for miles in search of the wily birds. When we got anywhere near they flew off leaving us frustrated. Idea! I’ll get some hen pheasants and cross them with Shorty. They will produce rooster pheasants with attitudes. Imagine going into a cornfield where the birds charge the hunter! It would revolutionize the sport!

Shorty lived for many years. One morning, well into his mid-life. Shorty flew the coop. He joined the band of outlaw chickens who were hatched by rogue hens and roosted high in the cedar tree by the workshop. When I passed the tree going to and from chores, I could feel his one good eye following me, I made sure he could see my stick.

Shorty, who once spread terror on Mr Ed’s Farm, disappeared sometime during the winter, perhaps the victim of a roving coyote or fox. That would have been a fight to see. Shorty’s legacy lives on in the band of wild chickens that still roam the farm today.

Did I mention a marketing idea I have? Any kid that can catch a wild chicken on Mr. Ed’s Farm can take it home! How can anyone turn down “a free chicken?”

 

Sometimes kids are right

Mrs. Ed and I have a son. Matt, a recent college graduate, is in Washington, D.C. pursuing his dream of a career in journalism. He is pretty good at it and makes his parents proud.

Matthew was always pretty sharp, even as a kid. For a brief time, I could get him to do things by saying stuff like, “I bet you can’t do that,” or, “If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.” He caught onto the reverse psychology technique pretty fast. He wasn’t real old when his analytical wisdom was revealed to me.

It was spring, the snow recently melted and frost coming out of the ground. There was a part of the pasture that was flooded, the water held from draining by a 20-foot strip of high ground. I thought if I dig a trench from one side to the other I would improve the pasture. I considered my options. I could use the tractor and scoop the dirt out with the loader. I dismissed that idea based on previous experience of driving the tractor on soft ground particularly when the frost breaks up. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty.

Ah ha! I thought, I’ll use the horses. I had just finished planting the potatoes and had used a tool called a hiller to create a mound of dirt for the potatoes to grow in. The hiller made a nice trench in the sandy garden, why wouldn’t it work in the swamp? Surely the horses wouldn’t get stuck. I shared my plan with Matt. “I bet you could drive the horses while I steered the hiller.” “No thanks Dad, you’re on your own on this one.”

I harnessed my A team, Patsy and Kate, put the hiller on a little sled and started off down the driveway. As I was leaving Matt, who noticed I had put on my high water boots, offered some advice. “Dad, be careful. You know that swamp can suck the boots off a man.” I laughed to myself, what could possibly go wrong?

I headed down Foss Road to the swamp, unloaded the hiller, attached the evener and proceeded to drive the horses into position. A wiser teamster my have aborted the mission right there, but not me. The horses, facing a pool of muddy ice water, started doing the “dance” otherwise known as “happy feet.”

“Easy girls, easy,” I said in my “stay calm” voice. They settled down, allowing me to tie the ends of the lines together.

I probably need to explain this. Using any implement like a walking plow or tiller requires at least three or four hands. When getting started it usually works best to have two people, one on the lines, the other on the handles. The next best thing is to tie the lines together and loop them behind your back. Properly adjusted, the teamster can drive the horses by leaning back or forward. Improperly adjusted, bad things can happen especially if the horses get excited.

I secured the lines behind my back and steadied the hiller with my arms. Feeling the lines tighten, the girls began the happy dance. I think they even turned their heads to look at me as if saying “Are you sure about this”? I was ready. Soon the water would be rushing towards the nearby creek and the swamp reclaimed.

I sent the girls a kiss, followed by a firm “Giddy up.” The obedient horses lurched forward. The lines tightened across my back. “Too tight,” I thought as the hiller’s shovel dove into the soft earth. I tightened my grip on the handles, trying desperately to level it out. About that time I became acutely aware of my boots. I had not realized how far they had sunk into the mud while I was getting set. Forward motion against suction. Something had to give.

In hindsight, it was like slow motion. The shovel went straight down sending me straight up and out of my boots. Then she shifted, slowly over on its side taking me down, down into the mud. I had to make a split second decision. Holler whoa and get the girls stopped or keep my mouth shut and the mud out. Swamp mud tastes as bad as it smells, trust me.

Swinging sharply to the right, the horses stopped when they reached solid ground. They turned and looked at me. I’m glad horses don’t express opinions or say “I told you so.” I struggled to right myself and the hiller. There was an eerie silence, until the clump of mud fell out of my ear. I looked back at the swamp. The only change was a 12-foot imprint that looked a lot like me. My boots had disappeared, swallowed up by the mire.

Usually I follow the old adage, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Not this time. The horses and I headed home. Wouldn’t you know it, as I was limping down Foss road, covered in thick black mud, my neighbor comes by. “Hey Ed, what the heck happened to you?”

I unharnessed the horses and sent them out to pasture. Heading up to the house, Mrs. Ed came out of the house. “So how did that go?”

“Ha ha,” I said, “I need to take a shower.”

“Don’t think so,” she said, and proceeded to hose me off with the garden hose.

Matt is a long way from the Range, but we rest easy knowing he has down to earth wisdom and will avoid mud as he navigates the nation’s capital.

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A pretty good teenage teamster, Matt driving Barney and Charlie at the Forest History Center.

Santa’s haulers

There is nothing quite as good as an old fashioned Iron Range pot luck. Mrs Ed and I were invited to one put on by the Cherry Township Recreation Board for the volunteers who helped with the Christmas program. On the way home I reflected on the day.

T’was the 16 of December and all across the Range, came rumors of something very very strange.

People were talking and kids were listening, about a soon to be visitor to the Iron Range.

Someone said it was the tooth fairy and that he would be stopping in Cherry.

Another person said it was the Grinch, but another said he would be too scary.

At quarter past three, they came with a thud. There was Mr. Ed, with his horses, Mick and Bud.

Across the field, red wagon in toe, bouncing over the bumps, in the snow.

In the back of the wagon, a big jolly fellow sat, with a red and white suit and a great big furry hat.

The children came running to see, this amazing site, as we rounded the tree.

Whoa Mick, whoa Bud shouted Mr. Ed. They came to a stop in front of the fire hall, all painted in red.

Santa, with his big bag of toys, went inside to dazzle all the little girls and boys.

Mick, Bud and I, we just sat, waiting for the big fellow, to come back.

The children came out to to meet the boys. They wanted them to show them their new toys.

One little fellow, not a bit shy, looked at the horses and then back at me,

asked in a big voice, “hey mister, how did you get them to fly?”

20130113-210339.jpg Santa Express

A favorite old timer story

I like to hang around “old timers” (people with more years of experience with draft horses than myself) because I always seem to learn something new and helpful. Most of the old timers I have encountered are the quiet type, willing to share their knowledge if you take the time to ask their advice and to listen.

I met Chet Mann several years ago through the North Star Draft Horse Association. Chet had been around horses all his life. He was a guy you could buy a horse from with total confidence. I really enjoyed him at club field days and when we did logging demonstrations at the Forest History Center. When I was doing something, harnessing, hitching, driving and noticed Chet watching me, I’d stop and ask, “So what do you think?” Chet never made me feel stupid even if what I was doing was. He’d say “Well, if it was me, I’d do it this way,” and proceed to advise me or help me make adjustments.

Chet and I were talking about rank horses one day. A rank horse has discipline issues, is unpredictable and will test you just because he can. It is an animal that can sense fear and takes full advantage of inexperience. I think real old timers secretly like the challenge. I asked “What was your worst experience with rank horses?”

Chet told me about a team he once owned that was very spirited and was constantly testing him. “I had the team at an event where there were a lot of people around. Something spooked them, and they started gathering up.” (Gathering up is when horses tense up just before bolting. It is the split second the teamster has to get set in hopes of averting a disaster). ” Just as I grabbed the lines, the horses reared up in the air.”

Chet had my attention as I imagined the situation. Two broncos, terror in their eyes, front hoofs flailing in the air, crowd scattering in panic, a teamster’s worst nightmare.

Chet paused for what seemed like a long time. I couldn’t stand it. “So what did you do?” He looked at me and with a straight face, and in a calm voice he said, “I let them down easy.”

Then he smiled.

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Chet Mann on the lines driving Queen and Lady at the Forest History Center. I miss him.

Payback time

A few years ago they got me with a good one. At that time I owned three oxen — Norman, Turk and Star. I would take them to the farm show at Blackberry. We would do a little plowing, but mostly I would bring them for people to see. They weighed over a ton each and had impressive horns. It was mid afternoon when a couple of draft horse club members invited me to go with them to get a piece of pie. I like pie, and the Blackberry ladies make some really good ones.

On the way back from the pie break someone came running towards me from the horse barn.”Ed come quick, there’s something wrong with your ox!”

When someone says there’s something wrong with your ox, all kinds of things go through your mind. Did he fall over and can’t get up? Did he jump the fence and run away? And, heaven forbid, did he drop over dead? By the time I get to the barn I am trying to figure out how to discretely remove a dead 2200-pound ox. Entering the barn I witnessed several people standing in front of Star’s pen. They were pointing and laughing. I swallowed hard and walked over to the pen.

There, with a crowd in hysterics, stood Star. Someone with the initials BC assisted by DB had transformed my dignified, gentle Star into a “Moose Ox” by duct taping a set of moose horns to his horns. By this time everyone was looking at me to see my reaction. Good one, they really got me.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I visited Johnson’s Pen and Perch website. Libby has a picture of my Moose Ox. It made me laugh all over again.

Funny, one of the conspirators was my friend Duane. This morning I was looking through the pictures I took yesterday and discovered something. Here is the picture. See if you can figure it out.

20130111-174702.jpg. Duke is the right hand horse, Bud, the left.

The horses are nervous tonight

The horses were nervous tonight. The wind shifted this afternoon. An east wind is not the norm, it usually means something is brewing. Horses seem to sense when storms are coming. A couple days before a cold snap, their appetites spike. They don’t like the wind and move around more than usual. I am a little anxious too. Maybe it is because my arthritis is acting up but more likely it is because I watched the Weather Channel and learned about “Gandolf” a blizzard heading this direction. Honestly I can’t take a blizzard named after a wizard seriously. Old man winter storms should be called manly names like Bruce, Mike or Brutus. By using manly names we could use them again like Brutus Jr. A real “son of a blizzard”

I spent the week building a new sleigh with my buddy Duane. This project actually began about two years ago when the North Star Draft Horse Association did its first Winter Fun Fest at the Blackberry Tractor club show grounds. Club members donate their horses and time to give sleigh rides. This year the event is February 23. Last year club member Sam Yoder donated a large bobsled to Blackberry for the event. The sled was a fixer-upper. Club president and pretty good handy man, Duane Barrow, accepted the challenge. With some financial help from the tractor club to buy some of the wood and some red oak lumber sawn on the tractor club’s sawmill, Duane made up his mind to “get-er-done”.

We spent the week in his garage putting it together. Duane and I work well together because neither of us really has a plan. We look at our materials and make the rest up as we move forward. A week or two ago we finished a new sleigh at my place. Bolstered by that project we set out to make this one even better. Mine is 15 feet long. This one is 16 feet. Mine has one step. This one has three. Duane is already talking about the next one and what we should do to make it bigger and better.

The moment of truth came at 2:09 today when we hooked Bud and Duke, his awesome team of Belgium horses to the sled. After a quick start out of the garage, we headed out for the maiden voyage of the “Yoder Express”. Duane has a beautiful network of trails through the woods behind his house. The sun was warm, snow sticky, and the trails in perfect condition. As we wound through the woods we reflected on the moment and on horses and how they had been instrumental in the history of our forests. The sun was low on the horizon when we put the horses away. It was a good week with a satisfying ending.

Bring on the storm. Horses have it figured out. The don’t run and hide. They simply lower their heads and point their butts into the wind. Take that Gandolf!

20130110-204024.jpg One handsome sleigh

20130110-204146.jpg. Bud and Duke and their proud owner Duane Barrow