Pittston Farms is the kind of place that makes you wish it took 6 hours to trim a horse and two days to shoe one. Any horse person driving up the dirt road couldn't help but notice various sets of hoof prints lining the side of the road. From pony to draft, every size is represented. The tracks go on for miles. For every set that branches off on to one of the many old logging roads, a new set seems to enter to take its place. As a farrier family we've entered a horseman's paradise. Hundreds of miles of dirt roads and woods trails, scenery that rivals that on most calendars, and no vehicle traffic.
The serenity is suddenly broken by a few choice words from Frank as the brakes of the Chevy grind us almost to a halt. He shifts frantically into the lowest gear and I grab the travel mugs out of the holders so they won't go flying around the cab. The road has practically disappeared. A saving grace is that someone's been out to mark the washout with red flags. Probably the same kind sole that filled the massive holes with large rocks. For a moment I'm taken back to a few years ago and 4-wheeling around Pouder Canyon in northern Colorado. Reality soon takes over. Its not northern Colorado, its northern Maine, where the lack of traffic is complimented by a lack of electricity and telephones. The seemingly gorgeous riding and driving trails are the logging roads for one of our States leading economies, and the thousands of hoof prints all belong to cloven hooves of moose and deer.
The roads are quiet this time of year, closed to the huge logging trucks until the frost is out of the ground and it's the end of "mud season". I'm thankful the road is dirt now, and not solid ice like the last time we made this trip. The logging trucks travel when the road is frozen and they need the right of way to make the hills. On a day of good traveling, Pittston Farms is almost a four hour drive from our home. We crossed the Moose River in Rockwood, "the last town till you get to Canada", over an hour ago and I secretly begin to hope we meet another vehicle: a sign the road ahead is passable. My wish is answered as a white Ford truck rounds the corner. Strangers still wave to strangers up here but these are the owners of Pittston Farms, so we stop and chat for a minute. Ken and Mary say a friendly hello, tell us they're headed out for the day and will see us when they get back late tonight. Gregg, Ken's son and aspiring teamster, will be there to help us with the horses.
Another 10 miles of slow going and the barns and lodge come into sight. The melting snow and the rushing waters of the Penobscot River have replaced the roar of the snowmobiles we met last trip. When we arrived in February everyone knew we had to be the farrier. We were the only pickup to pull in all winter without a snowmobile in the back. Except for the sounds of nature, complete peace and quiet abound this trip. Gregg greets us with a pot of coffee and the promise of a hearty meal. We joke about last time and how he helped us trim horses after dishing up 130 lunches to hungry snowmobilers.
The matron mares of Pittston Farm, Jessie and Buffy, are a team of perfectly matched Belgians. Their pasture is the floodplain of Seboomook Lake with one side bordered by the Penobscot River. Only one white foot and a little broader blaze distinguish Brook from Beauty, their 1/2 Percheron daughters. The herd is complete with Pittston, the rambunctious '97 foal of Buffy, and her best friend, Sammy, the resident donkey who loves everyone unless your someone who wants to trim his hooves.
April in northern Maine is mud season. For the Twitchell's and Pittston Farms its the quiet time between the crowds of snowmobilers and the summer tourist season. It was a perfect day for working on horses. Sunny, in the mid 60's, no wind, and the nicest treat of all: no black flies. After trimming the two younger mares we all decided it was way too nice a day not to be hitching horses. Gregg always worked the horses single as he'd never had anyone around to help hitch them as a team. One almost new leather harness hung on the wall, which created a small dilemma as we had two nicely matched bay mares standing before us. We were lucky that in its day, Pittston Farms housed over 120 draft horses. Sets of old harness, hames and collars still lined one side of the barn's main isle. We took the best pieces from several harnesses, found another collar and bridle, and soon Brook and Beauty were an official team.
The hours Gregg had spent driving the mares as singles proved a good foundation. Brook and Beauty stepped off together like they'd done this before. They knew their range covered just 65 acres. From the huge main barn, past the potato house and around the shop, down the hill to the Penobscot River flowing on their left. Up another hill past the blacksmith shop, the carriage house and around the main lodge. A detour to the left took them past the greenhouse, full of seedlings for the summer garden, and out through the campground. We ended the day with a promise we'd finish trimming the rest of the horses in the morning, then help hitch Brook and Beauty again before we headed home.
A heavy frost the next morning quickly gave way to another warm and sunny day. We had just finished trimming the two older mares when Ken arrived with a second cup of hot coffee. He stayed around as we trimmed Pittston, and helped hold Sammy, who was still determined not to have his feet trimmed. We harnessed the young mares, chatted and watched as Gregg drove the team around the farm. We wondered about life on the huge farm, 50 years ago when it provided major support for the areas logging companies. I tried to imagine how much planning it would take to feed over 120 working horses all winter long. The hand forged snowball hammers reminded me to say a silent thank-you to the god of horse supplies for the wonderful invention of snowball pads and Frank made some comment about wondering how they maintained all those feet and how he hoped he never had to work without his portable forge.
The sun was warm and I wanted to fall asleep against the big barn doors. I was dreading the long drive home and wondered why driving south always seemed worse than driving north. I told Ken that someday I was going to come up here and stay until I was sick of the place and wanted to go home. I knew from the way he smiled he had said the same thing 30 years ago.