The 20th annual “Back to the Past” is this weekend in Harrison at the historic Scribner’s Mill along the Crooked River. There’s something for everyone: from pillow fights for the kids and ice cream making, to live music and tours of the historic 1849 Scribner Homestead, to barrel making and blacksmithing, as well as a farmers market and a display of antique cars, trucks and tractors.

Oh yeah, there’s a pig and turkey roast at 5 p.m. Saturday and a worship service at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

A highlight this year will be a teamsters rally: oxen demonstrations, which will include the hitching together of eight teams. A local 4-H group needs the practice; the event is a great opportunity to ready the teams and their drivers for a big event this fall in Lexington, Ky.

“Scribner’s Mill used oxen a lot in its heyday,” said Dottie Bell, spokeswoman for the group. “We’ll probably be pulling a few saw logs around.”

Oxen were the draft animal of choice for 19th-century loggers. Remember Paul Bunyan’s companion, Babe?

Horses were considered too weak for heavy operations. One account says it was because of the yoke and the anatomy of oxen – their broad shoulders – that allowed oxen to pull a heavier load. Harnesses and collars that allowed horses to haul great loads didn’t appear until later in the 19th century. Another account says there were no horses on farms in Maine until after the Revolutionary War. But the speed that farm chores could be carried out with horses ultimately saw them carrying the day.

Bell has had oxen at her Thunder Hill Farm in Waterford for about 17 years.

“I like working with them; they’re steadier than a horse,” she said. “It’s more of a hobby today on our farm. We go on parades and do demonstrations at other events. I like their quiet demeanor; they’re actually quite intelligent.”

So how did a bunch of Mainers and their oxen get invited to a big event in Kentucky, smack dab in the heart of serious horse country? Bell said she sold a pair of oxen a few years ago to an organizer of the event, History Heritage Days.

“He was so intrigued with the oxen,” she said. “It’s a New England thing; oxen are a novelty down there. There are only about four teams in all of Kentucky, which are kept at museums.”

Last year the man had an idea to do an old-time logging demonstration with eight teams of oxen. And since he already knew about Bell, he gave her a shout.

“He eventually said that everything had been cleared with the horse park down there and that they’d raised some money to bring us down,” Bell said. “So we’re going to be on our way in November.”

Several trucks including a 27-foot trailer filled with the necessary yokes and implements will be driven down. “They don’t have any oxen equipment for us down there,” Bell said. Bringing eight teams of oxen weighing 1,400 to 3,600 pounds each 1,000 miles has been a considerable exercise in logistics.

“The oxen will all be in one truck,” Bell said. “Most of us are flying down beforehand to get things set up.”

Saturday will be the only day to see the oxen at “Back to the Past.” Ox cart rides for a small donation will help the group haul to Kentucky. Other events run the whole weekend from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 583-6455. Scribner’s Mill is located off Maple Ridge Road in Harrison.


Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]