A continuing tale of life in the boonies
No white steeples
There is a New Hampshire in which tourists rejoice - the covered bridges and the steepled churches, the roadside corn and maple syrup stands, the hiking trails and white-water canoes trips. Calendar New Hampshire, quaint and pretty. But hardly the stuff of Farmington Corner, which mines on the other side of the mountain.
Take last Saturday. Feet up on the porch rail, I was alternately picking a banjo and slapping blackflies, when old Elmer Berry stopped his truck out on Mad River Road. I thought he was giving his pickup a well-earned breather after bucking over the newly-patched Hacketts's Crevasse, but no, Elmer had news. Said he was on his way to the pony pulling, near the junkyard off Hornetown Road, and maybe I'd like to come see.
The New Hampshire Draft Pony Pulling Association has 21 members and a sage following, on whom those nice tourists, drooling over their white church spires, might bestow a withering glance. The NHDPPA also boasts formal rules that belie the casual dress code of the equine tugging fraternity.
"Cowboys started rodeos, loggers started pony pulling," commented Elmer, squinting at the preparations from his box seat on an old telephone pole.
The ponies had been weighed before 11 a.m., divided into classes, and now, harnessed in pairs, were having final adjustment made to their collars and tugs. The first team belonged to Tony Smith and Duane Marcoux and, tipping the scales a a combined weight of 771 pounds, was accordingly loaded with a sled and rocks totalling 1,156 pounds – 1.5 pounds per pound of horse is the formula. Lots of yelling, swinging the team around at the end of the 100-foot pit, more yelling, pausing while the animals caught their breath, and off again. But no whips or slapping with the reins. Three minutes of hauling precisely, and pony pulling president and official measurer Sonny Nason of Sanbornville announced the total distance covered to be 466 feet 3 inches. Then a truck, under the tutelage of ex-Gardener-of-the-Month Bubber Haycock and his beer can, hooked onto the sled and hauled it back to the starting line, while the ponies, freed of their load, high-stepped into a shady spot. That distance looked good enough to win the class, but pot-bellied Fred Lawson of New Durham prophesied that it wouldn't be over until the fat boy pulled. His team, comprising of Queen and Jerry, weighed in at 838 pounds and 1,257 pounds of rock were piled onto the sled. The excitement of Fred's team being urged towards the 500-foot mark was only topped by the news that a goat was munching Bubber's motorcycle.
"You don't have to eat a $6,000 Harley. Let him eat a rice burner. Give him a Honda," yelled Bubber, as the goat swallowed a set of rubber handle grips and Fred took the blue ribbon.
"Oughta send that boy to driver education," muttered Elmer, and later, when the faulty navigator blamed the poor showing on his ponies, advised him, "You dance with who you brung is how it is."
As the sun got hotter, knots of old-timers like Elmer and harness-making John Knight swallowed cool beers and talked of bygone days. (John is a self-proclaimed hermit though some claim to have seen ghostly female shapes flitting around his property.) The name of Joe Sims kept cropping up in their conversation - the guys, not the ghosts, that is. Joe Sims, M.N.T., some one said, Machinist Not Tinkerer. A man who contributed more than his share to the Yankees' reputation for ingenuity.
"I saw him cut a glass pane one time with scissors, like it was paper. Plunged the whole thing into a barrel of water and did it," said the hermit. (Farmington Corner will give $3 to the first person who can publicly duplicate that trick! The Great Ladini, please note.)
But Saturday was trickling by. Time to move on to less pleasurable things, like driving to the big city Rochester for seed potatoes, pole beans, broccoli and cauliflower plants. Then back into the Farmington garden until blackflies and heat induce a roaring, bawling rage, a hurling of the hoe in a crazed arc, and the cat asleep in the long grass, nearly beaned, shoots up a tree.
Early evening came, but no easing of the blackflies. (An honest calendar of New Hampshire should show fewer steeples and more gardeners lashing the varmints.) The phone rang, and Brad Bowden of Farmington Ambulance Corps passed on the info that for the first time in 18 years the ambulance dashing to Frisbie with an expectant mother hadn't quite made it resulting in a perfect delivery at the side of Route 11, near Northgate Apartments, said Brad, with all parties now doing well.
As he talked, his scanner went off and he passed along the snippet that a deranged man with a gun was holed up in a North Main Street apartment, and Farmington police were calling for back up.
Deciding I'd better race down and get the big scoop before Foster's appeared, I called for journalistic backup. "Mike," I yelled to my Courier sports editor roommate, who had just gone off for one of his famous power naps, "Deranged man with a gun, downtown."
"I guess I'll give it a miss," came the drowsy reply. Hmm. Should've told him it was a deranged man with a baseball mitt. He'd have moved then, I reflected.
Downtown it was hard to tell if anything extraordinary had, in fact, happened. Sure, several clumps of people were hanging around, but that was normal for any hot summer night. It made good sense. There were no blackflies on Main Street. Someone volunteered that the deranged-man-with-a-gun-thing had all got sorted out, and that the action had moved off to Winter Court, so, dedicated to bringing our readership the facts I took a spin over there. Yup, Winter Court had its own special clump of people, quietly and earnestly discussing a Situation with a couple of police officers. No guns, though.
But way at the back of the crowd I glimpsed a familiar spectator holding a familiar can.
Hi, Bubber! Howdya like to feature on the People's Alternative Calendar? No covered bridges, no white steeples.
May 20, 1991
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