Historic Northampton to put on oxen logging demonstration

  • Tom Jenkins and his oxen. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 1/22/2018 10:25:56 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In an unusual sight for community members, a team of two oxen will parade down a short stretch of Bridge Street on Wednesday after a demonstration of oxen logging organized by Historic Northampton.

Moved from Tuesday due to a rain delay, the free event will begin at Historic Northampton at 11 a.m. where Tom Jenkins of Blue Dog Forestry in Westhampton will display the process of oxen logging. The two oxen will then march the wood down Bridge Street and around the corner to 33 Hawley Street, where they will end at the Northampton Community Arts Trust.

“It’s a really great image,” said Laurie Sanders, co-director of Historic Northampton. “Oxen and horse logging have become increasingly more important and people are beginning to see the benefits.”

Oxen logging as a technique for transporting lumber has been largely scrapped in favor of using tractors for increased time and quantity efficiency. But in small workspaces, using oxen can end up being a more practical and cost-effective method for transporting lumber.

Both a descendent of the Clapp family, one of Northampton’s earliest English settlers, and a consultant forester for over 40 years, Tom Jenkins says that oxen give the craft of logging a smaller and different economy of scale.

“I think it’s really important for modern forestry to have some mix of old methods and new methods,” Jenkins said. “Oxen logging is low-impact on the environment, it doesn’t disturb the trees or leave 12-foot-wide tractor ruts that would stir up the soil.”

Jenkins’ two oxen, named Rock and Star, will carry logs from two 40-year-old white pine trees that were recently removed from Historic Northampton in preparation for installation of new solar panels on the museum’s roof.

The logs will be donated to local artist Michael Tillyer for materials in upcoming sculptures and art pieces.

“Typically we would have just given the wood to a sawmill or a lumberyard, but the risk of there being a nail or a screw in the wood because of the method would have been too high so we decided to donate it to a local artist instead,” Sanders said.

Historic Northampton is a nonprofit corporation that strives to connect residents to the city’s past, to encourage conversations about the city’s change but still bear witness to its history.

Although the demonstration of oxen logging is a first for Historic Northampton, the organization puts on around 50 programs a year for the community, with large events like these only happening a handful of times per year.

“We’re hoping we can get a lot of people to come down and join us for this event, since kids have school off,” said Sanders. “I just love how it all comes together. I think it’s really  going to be a lot of fun.”

Editor's Note: This story was changed on Jan. 23, 2018, to add details to the oxen’s route.

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