~ Riceland Meadows ~

Upside-Down Jack
by Ralph Rice

I started logging in February of 1991.When late spring came and mud was everywhere, I realized how tired my horses must get. At the end of the day my own butt dragged, and they were the ones hauling the logs.

Some of the teamsters I worked with used two teams, working one team one day and the other the next. Lacking the money for two teams, I convinced myself that all I needed was three horses, which enabled me to give each horse a day off every other day. I was sure I would be able to haul more logs with fresher horses.

I talked this decision over with my wife and we decided that if we could find a horse in our price range we would get a third one. So I went in search of a horse. I found several great candidates, but all were out of reach for our finances, except one‹Hillbilly Jack. The black Percheron was a quiet willing worker, and he was cheap. My near horse Bob measured 17.2 hands and I was sure Jack would be a good fit. So I brought him home.

Jack was a long and lanky horse, thin yet well muscled. His height was impressive. At 18.2 hands he stood a full hand taller than Bob. He was the highest-headed horse I had ever bridled. He could lift his head so high I couldn't reach his nose, a maneuver that delighted him. Otherwise he did everything he was told, which turned out to be a good thing, because Jack was dumb. Maybe dumb is a bit incorrect~lackadaisical fit him better. Let's just say Jack put the lolly into lollygag.

One day, out of shear boredom, he banged his head against the wall until he knocked several siding boards off the barn. Once he had created this window he watched the cars go by on the road. When he worked, he plodded along and looked at everything in a sleepy sort of way.

When he worked with my off horse Dolly, a much shorter-legged horse than Jack, he just eased along taking about one step to every two of hers. He kept the eveners tight and even. He did not shirk his duties. He paced himself, based on whichever horse he was working with.

One uneventful day I was working with Jack and Bob. On the last load, while the horses rested and Jack did his usual bird watching, I told the boys all we had left to do was haul this last load of logs to the landing. Once they were unhooked we'd be done for the day and could head for home.

I tightened up the lines and asked them to get up. As they started the load I could almost hear Jack say to himself, "Duh, left then right, keep the traces tight." He was glancing around trying to find something to look at. I guided them to the landing and near the log pile.

Bob, being ever watchful, tried to keep Jack going in the right direction. He would nudge Jack over on right turns and sort of drag him along on left turns. As we pulled up next to the harvested logs on my right side, Bob thought Jack was too far from the pile. He bumped into the daydreaming Jack to push him to the right, catching the dreamer off guard. Jack tried to move over, but got tripped by a log. He caught the log at about knee level, fell over it, and landed on his back, cradled neatly between two logs with his feet sticking in the air.

The scene would have been downright funny except that Jack was still harnessed to Bob, the horses were still hooked to the log cart, and the logs were still hooked behind the cart. My mouth froze into a large "O" of amazement while my heart pounded with fear. I was glad help was close by, and since that day I have not entered the woods alone with my chainsaw or horses.

The teamsters I worked with helped me get the horses unharnessed and unhooked. We rolled the log away to free the upside-down Jack. He rolled onto his side and lay perfectly still. I thought I had killed him. I went to his head to search for signs of life, only to find the sleepy-eyed Jack resting and looking for birds. I told him to get up. Obediently he rose to his feet with a little groan, then shook himself all over. He looked at me searchingly, as if asking why I had done that to him. All of us, men and horses, gave a big sigh of relief and then started the laughter that echoes still today.

Ralph Rice writes regularly for Rural Heritage. This article appeared in the Winter 2003 issue.

22 March 2003