Maine Tales. Packing Trail on the Old Bank Farm Road. Township D, Range 2, Maine Circa 2014.
Deep snow and heavy rain can be one destructive combination. The East’s winter build up of snow and cold has extended to Northern Maine and beyond. This week school was closed for ‘Tournament Week,’ a particularly apt local expression for a Maine obsession which signifies Mainers universal fixation on high school basketball. Maine has always parted ways from the other 49 states’ celebration of long gone Presidents. Our son, Caleb, in a week reprieve from Diesel-Hydraulic-centric classes at the local community college, was snow shovel crew boss.
Disrobing Drifted Valleys.
Caleb drafted sisters Sarah and Amy and his able friend and Wood Prairie all-star co-worker and college chum, Justin, to attack and disrobe the drifted roof valleys. Every roof had two-to three feet of built up heavy snow. In places, there were drifts approaching five feet. The forecast has been calling all week for the possibility of rain today. Piled snow which soaks up rain like a sponge can increase roof weight to unbearable and catastrophic extremes.
Our tired crew finished their snow shedding roof work last evening. Soon after, we learned of a tragic Massachusetts barnful of Jersey cows trapped inside when the snow-laden roof sighed, buckled and collapsed the barn down upon them, killing some and injuring many of the survivors.
Grooming Winter’s Snow.
Notably, it is the energy and drive of youth which is admirable and seemingly limitless. One night this week between long days on roof snow removal, Caleb and Justin traded shovels for a real sit down job. It was their turn to work as volunteers and run the local Mars Hill Snowmobile Club’s snow machine and groom snow sled trails associated with the main trail known as ITS 83. To avoid snow sled collision and congestion this grooming work is done at night. This week, Jim started out with Caleb at the Mars Hill shed around 630pm and filmed their grooming procedure. You will find the result in today’s Snow Grooming You Tube video (2:43).
Justin, a hardworking young man in his early twenties and a Registered Maine Guide for years, ‘spelled’ Jim and they swapped places at the point where the old railroad bed crosses Bootfoot Road three miles east of Wood Prairie Farm. When there are no mishaps the boy’s work takes around seven or eight hours. Traveling around 7 MPH they clock in over 40 miles a night. This week after grooming they got to bed at 330am. Four hours later they were up and ready for another day of snow shoveling.
Old Bank Farm Road Detour.
Due to logging in the immediate area this winter, a four mile stretch of the former rail bed ‘roadway’ is closed to snow sleds and instead reserved for exclusive use by logging trucks. This dilemma has required invention of an imaginative, somewhat crude 17 mile snow sled detour which lies about three miles west of our farm – halfway towards Number Nine Mountain – utilizing logging roads and connecting up the overgrown old Bank Farm Road with the ‘new’ Hannington Road. Look on Map 59 of your Maine Delorme Atlas and this may begin to make sense.
The boy’s grooming responsibility extends south from Mars Hill to the north side of the old railroad trestle on the Meduxnekaeg River in Monticello. Midway at Harvey Siding, they must groom an almost nine mile leg of the detour northwest up the old Bank Farm Road as far as Three Mile Hill. From there, other snow groomers from further north take over responsibility for trail grooming and on up towards Presque Isle.
A Bump in the Night.
Now last week, grooming didn’t go quite as smoothly. It was around midnight and Caleb was taking his turn to drive the snow machine. Justin was sitting in the padded “Buddy seat” cleverly built into the left side door. Everything was going well as they headed northwest at 6 MPH going deeper into the North Maine woods on the crude Bank Farm Road.
Then, suddenly, the groomer snagged a hidden and buried stump not far enough off the edge of the trail. Instantly, the groomer stopped. However, the heavily-gripped tracked snow machine wanted to keep going. In the few seconds it took Caleb to react and push in the clutch the now chained powerful snow machine bucked up and down like a rodeo bronco. In one of those seconds, Justin was jolted upwards towards near Earth orbit. Unfortunately, at that same split second, the snow machine was descending under the force of gravity from its most recent lunge upward. It wasn’t clear exactly what Justin’s wool capped head had hit, but the blood that began flowing down his forehead was a pretty good indication it was something harder than Justin’s head. Once the boys took a deep breath and regained their bearings, being resourceful Mainers, they went into action. They got the groomer unstuck from the stump and then set to driving deeper into the woods to a spot where they could turn the huge machine around and head back towards civilization and help.
Cell Phone Rendezvous.
In the meantime, their cell phone allowed them to wake up Justin’s girlfriend, Chelsea, another longtime Wood Prairie co-worker. Chelsea woke up her sister Michelle, yet another Wood Prairie lifer, and following instruction, on that cold winter’s night they drove across town from their home by the Canadian border to the appointed meet where the Bank Farm Road takes off north from the snow-plowed logging road near Harvey Siding.
It wasn’t long before Justin was patched up with five staples and a shaved head at the Houlton Hospital emergency room. In the meantime, Caleb made his way smartly and solo back to the shed in Mars Hill by ‘panning’ shallow and packing the trail. Both Justin and Caleb’s nights had ended around 230am. When this week’s grooming slot rolled around, there was no question from any quarter as to where those two boys would be.