Hard-working oxen pull a crowd in Northampton

Demonstration at Historic Northampton celebrates old ways of working

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, walks down Hawley Street with his oxen team, Star (left) and Rock, during a demonstration that began at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, stands with one of his oxen, Rock, after completing a demonstration and oxen-pull parade that began at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, with his team of oxen during demonstration at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, hooks Star (left) and Rock up to a log during a demonstration at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, hooks Star (left) and Rock to a log during a demonstration at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, stands with Star, one part of his oxen team, during a demonstration at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, leaves Historic Northampton with his team of oxen, Star (left) and Rock, pulling a loaded sled, to start their march down Bridge Street Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, leaves Historic Northampton with his team of oxen, Star (left) and Rock, pulling a loaded sled, to start their march down Bridge Street Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Followed by a crowd of onlookers, Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry in Westhampton, walks down Bridge Street in Northampton with his team of oxen, Star, left, and Rock, during a demonstration that began at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, walks down Bridge Street with his oxen team, Star (left) and Rock, during a demonstration that began at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, walks down Hawley Street with his oxen team, Star (left) and Rock, during a demonstration that began at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, walks down Hawley Street with his oxen team, Star (left) and Rock, during a demonstration that began at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom Jenkins stands with Star and Rock, above, after hauling a loaded scoot down Bridge and Hawley streets in Northampton, Wednesday. Left, Jenkins stands with Rock. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS PHOTOS

  • Tom Jenkins, owner of Blue Dog Forestry, stands with one of his oxen, Rock, after completing a demonstration and oxen-pull parade that began at Historic Northampton Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 1/24/2018 7:49:13 PM

NORTHAMPTON — It’s been a long time since anyone led a team of oxen pulling a load down Bridge Street. On Wednesday, fans of Historic Northampton were treated to that sight, and more.

Standing by his team, 8-year-old Rock and his partner, Star, Westhampton forester Tom Jenkins told the crowd gathered on the lawn of the museum about the pair’s work, and his.

The owner of Blue Dog Forestry, Jenkins is a consultant who has been working in the woods most of his life. He began training Rock and Star when they were very young, just calves, to help him move heavy logs in small spaces, places where a tractor or other heavy equipment might cause too much damage.

Over time, Jenkins has taught the team more than 15 commands so he can steer by voice, and he said he’s still learning new ways to use their strength.

“I used to use what’s called a Peavey hook to pull the logs on the scoot myself,” Jenkins said, “but by the end of the day I would be exhausted. I eventually found a way to have the oxen do that part, since it’s better if they pull 800-pound logs than me.”

The “scoot” Jenkins was referring to was a kind of skid sled. On Wednesday, the load to be carried was a chunk of a trunk of a white pine tree. The tree had been cut down a month earlier to let sunlight shine on the roof of the museum’s educational center, where solar panels are to be installed.

Rock and Star were the center of attention as Jenkins ordered them to drag the log onto the sled. Once the load was secure, Jenkins hitched the oxen to the scoot and the parade began.

With the crowd trailing behind, Jenkins and his team walked down Bridge Street, a police escort clearing their path. The sight of the two massive oxen — each weighing about 2,500 pounds and standing as tall as their handler — sliding a tree trunk over the pavement stopped more than one pedestrian in their tracks.

Among the onlookers was Wunderley Stauder of Hatfield, who had come to the demonstration after recently seeing a similar one in New Hampshire.

“I think that the event is wonderful,” she said. “You hardly ever see oxen doing this kind of work, and getting to see it is really remarkable. I wanted to see something like this again, so I was pretty excited to hear that this was happening.”

The team of oxen moved remarkably quickly — followers nearly had to jog to keep up — responding obediently to Jenkins’ commands. After turning left at the intersection of Bridge and Hawley streets, the oxen paused to take a breather, and then completed their march to the Northampton Community Arts Trust building.

One of a family of loggers that goes back generations, Jenkins said he loves every second that he gets to spend working with his team. Now a forestry consultant, he strives to use sustainable timber harvesting methods whenever he can. Oxen do not leave the same massive ruts in the soil that heavy machinery does, he said, because the animals only need a narrow trail to move logs.

Jenkins said he’s continuing his family’s forestry tradition. His children have their own team of oxen. Jenkins loves being around his beasts, spending around a third of his working time using them and taking care of them.

“I really like it because I have a real connection with these animals,” he said. “I love to do my work this way whenever I can.”

One of the observers at Wednesday’s event was Michael Tillyer, who is being given the pine by Historic Northampton. An artist at Northampton’s Anchor House of Artists, Tillyer said he was excited by the creative possibilities of the wood.

Tillyer said he has been thinking about working on a figure installation depicting Sisyphus. “Now that I have the materials it seems totally reasonable.”

Laurie Sanders, co-director of Historic Northampton and organizer of the demonstration, said she was thrilled by the result.

“It exceeded all of my expectations,” Sanders said. “I really love seeing how much interest there still is around Northampton for how things were done in the past.”

As community members shared conversation over free coffee and warm cider provided at the Arts Trust building, Sanders remarked on how the afternoon’s events seemed to connect people with the past.

“We had so many people of all different ages come and share this experience with one another,” said Sanders. “How great is that?”




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy