The Winters

By John D. Fogg

'Recollections Of A Salt Marsh Farmer'

Edited by Eric N. Small -- 1983

Section 13

It wasn't all sunshine for some farmers living quite a distance away, having stacks of hay not far out on the marsh. In the old days the farmers living near the marsh, after harvesting was over, they would turn their cattle out loose t_o browse anywhere, roadsides, etc. Now, if the marsh should freeze over before the snow came, those cattle could and did stray out to browse on those stacks and the owner not knowing about it until it came time to haul the hay.

One hundred or more stacks of hay had to be hauled out through that ledge path, the only way out. A few stacks could have been boated to Newell's Dock. Out in that path was a ledge rock showing up a few inches above the ground. It sloped all the way across the path, sloping so much when the wheels with steel tires hit it, both wheels would slide and scrape hard on that rock and would leave a mark.

Each team would hit it in a different place. When I first saw that rock, I was amazed to think ox carts and horse carts and sleds could even gouge a rock so much. A light wagon when going down to mow a stack would not even make a mark so it had to be all those heavy loads.

Those winters were the best ever for hauling heavy loads with sleds and the sharp shoes of the horses soon made a good path to follow. That was one of those cold and snowy winters like the one with the picture of the Lafayette Road and the electric car tracks at the Village in Seabrook.

The day before going cutting the marsh hay in the summer when using horses we always walked the path to see if the ice had made changes from the summer before. The ice can do a lot - it freezes in the grass that wasn't mowed, then when the ice lifts, it would sometimes take the sods also. So when we did go down with the horse and mowers, we knew better about the path.

The walk to check the path goes for the wintertime also when the season is on for hauling those stacks of hay home. What hay was not boated with gundalows was taken when marsh was frozen over with snow, wet with tides, then frozen again solid just like a mill pond. Except the creeks, they were frozen but not safe for man or beast.

Now, about the first walk I took in the winter. The farmers in those days carried one or two of those red or blue bandana handkerchiefs in their pockets, like they would use if they should get cut when chopping in their wood lots. Well, I found a use for two of those bandanas when I took that first walk down to the steep banks to see how the going would be for hauling the marsh hay home. Just as I got to our marsh and was starting back, it began to snow a light, dry snow on that slippery ice; you can imagine it was a very slippery ice and slightly wavy before the snow, so I don't have to tell anymore about the predicament I was in, being one mile from the island! So I tied a kerchief around each boot. I could then walk real well by scuffing.

Those 1921 and 1922 winters were the best traveling we ever remember in getting the hay home from the marsh. There was so much snow and it came with a wind and filled in everything except the wide creeks. Then came a high run of tides wetting the snow, it being so cold it froze up everything making a thick layer of ice all over. The Great Stake was needed at a time like that for those small creeks were level with ice like the marsh. The creeks, being hollow underneath, wouldn't be safe for teams, and we had the path to the Steep Banks staked out with hardwood brush.

We had two stacks of hay on that east bank. It being higher, the snow would blow off leaving no ice there. A stack of hay would haul hard on that dry stubble and it was important to have horses that were sure to pull any time or place.

Both 1921 and 1922 were good years for the farmers, getting the marsh hay cut in summer and home in winter. How many of you remember those years'? It wasn't bad at all going down there when cold or windy. Loading the sleds, if it was calm, we drove up along side the stacks, lay our long sheepskin coats on the horses backs then the blankets on top, so when we were ready to go, the coats would be warm. Now, if the wind did blow, which it usually did, we would back the sled up to the leeward side of the stack, lay the front end up as high as needed, then tie it down tight, turn the team directly around to the windward side of the stack. That front end then would act as a windbreak in loading and we would get a good shaped load and have very little hay to clean up around the load. That's one thing good about that salt hay. It was so heavy it didn't blow round like fresh hay. When pitching from the stack if the wind did take some off the fork, it would drop down close to the load, never blow out over the marsh. If that was fresh field hay, the hay that dropped on the ice, it would keep going out across the ice to the river.

We had a plank on the bottom of the sled longer than the load would be to sit on. The horses were like a windbreak for the driver. The helper was all set on back of the load on the other end of that long plank. We each had a horse blanket to wrap around our legs.

The bog shoes had other uses than working on the marsh. In 1922, Joseph Woodburn had a retail milk route in Seabrook. He lived on a side road, called Post Road, and after a bad storm the town hadn't plowed him out so he called me and asked if I could get his milk out to the Lafayette Road. He could get to deliver from there. The snow was drifted level full along a face wall three feet deep before getting to his place. I took Jack with the bog shoes and hitched to a drag or stone boat. The snow had all blown out to the field where the wall was, so I drove up on the drift and on top of the wall into the field and then on to his milk room. I loaded the cases on the drag and went back the same way. We both walked.

There was another long drift on Dearborn Avenue in Seabrook. Joseph had some one there to take the milk and deliver with him. The Lafayette Road wasn't broken out all the way from Hampton Falls hill to Hampton. Paul Batchelder made that trip with one of his horses for a grocery dealer in town. He didn't need bog shoes. It wasn't drifted.

Howard Moulton bought some dry wood that was in the wood lot where he cut the year before. He was getting low on wood being such a cold winter. He asked if I could get it out. I took Dollie and put the same drag on a sled. Howard and I with the drag and bog shoes went, got the wood out and loaded it onto the sled which was left beside the road, Charles Green chopped that wood and he was cutting when we hauled that out; he was telling Howard after, where we turned round, it was on top of a half cord pile, hidden in the snow!