Bill and Ben, both 11, once again have a busy holiday work schedule in Freeport this year.

The two Belgian draft horses are the muscles behind the free, old-fashioned wagon rides offered Saturdays in December. Given that their owners have had to turn away around 150 people most days they have come to Freeport for L.L. Bean’s Northern Lights, parents of children who want rides had better show up early in front of the famous Freeport store.

The rides will be available from 1-7 p.m. on Dec. 5, 12, 19 and 26. L.L. Bean pays Butch and Becky Durgin, who own Meadow Creek Farm of Maine in Sumner, for their services.

“For the 12 years we’ve been doing Freeport, we haven’t even had a Christmas tree in the house, because we’re down there all weekend,” Becky Durgin said. “It’s a lot more fun to do Christmas down there anyway, and see the smiles on the kids’ faces.”

While Northern Lights runs throughout December, it’s also part of the huge FreeportUSA Sparkle Celebration, which begins with the Parade of Lights along Main Street at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4. Visits follow with Santa, who will activate Freeport’s Famous Talking Tree, on the corner of Bow and Main streets, at 6:30.

The Durgins and their beautiful horses add a special touch, says Kelly Edwards, executive director of FreeportUSA.

“They are just the sweetest couple,” Edwards said. “They keep their horses hitched to a trailer at the (Downeaster) Train Center.”

The Durgins always make sure their horses are safe.

“We sleep inside the horse trailer so we can hear what’s going on near the horses,” Becky Durgin said. “I’m a light sleeper anyway. People coming out of the movie theater are just amazed by the horses, and they come over to pet them.”

Bill and Ben are half brothers born 17 days apart. They weigh 1,800 pounds each and stand 18.1 “hands” (4 inches per hand) tall.

The Durgins had been bringing older horses to Northern Lights 12 or 13 years ago, but they were “getting tired,” Becky Durgin said. So Butch Durgin, who works off the farm in a full-time job, went about the laborious process of breaking in Bill and Ben.

“It’s a two-year process,” Becky Durgin said. “We had to get them broken and trained. We took them to the fairs to get them used to being with people.”

For four hours a night, spring through autumn, Butch Durgin was doing what his wife called “ground-breaking,” before the horses could be hitched to a wagon and hauling people.

“You put a harness on them and you walk behind them, driving them just like they had a wagon behind them. We had to feed them 18 quarts of grain a day, plus all the grass or hay they could eat, to get them up to size as 2-year-olds. They just got used to being around us. In the spring we put the harness around them, then we hitched them to the old horses so they would follow them and learn from them..”

Durgin said that Bill is always on the left and Ben on the right, even in the pasture.

“They’ve done it this way all their lives so this is all they know,” she said. “March through New Year’s they are doing rides.”

For the most part, Durgin said, Bill and Ben don’t mind the big Freeport crowds.

“They don’t do anything but walk,” she said. “We never trot them. For the first few years, we had to make sure people weren’t in front of the horses when rescue trucks or fire trucks went by.”

Sparkle Celebration schedule

The FreeportUSA Sparkle Celebration begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, with a Parade of Lights down Main Street, and continues all weekend. The fun includes a Sparkle Express Train Adventure, free horse-drawn wagon rides, visits with Santa Claus, a talking Christmas Tree and more.

Friday, Dec. 4

5-9 p.m., Musical Holiday Light Show, L.L. Bean campus. More than 25,000 lights synchronized with holiday tunes. A different show every half hour.

6 p.m., Parade of Lights, rain or shine. Main Street comes alive with twinkling lights and song. The Parade of Lights concludes with Santa bringing Freeport’s Talking Christmas Tree to life.

6:30-8 p.m., visits with Santa, L.L. Bean Main Street patio.

6:30-8 p.m., Freeport’s Famous Talking Christmas Tree, corner Main and Bow streets.

7:30 p.m., Freeport Players Present “WFCP Home Time Radio Hour: 1950s Holiday Edition,” Freeport Performing Arts Center. An all-new collection of songs from the 1950s and original sketches by Freeport Players writers. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. See www.fcponline.org to order tickets.

Saturday, Dec. 5

9 a.m.-9 p.m., free gift wrapping, L.L. Bean. Donations accepted. Proceeds support local nonprofit organizations.

9 a.m.-2 p.m., “Night Tree,” hosted by Wolfe’s Neck Farm, inspired by Eve Bunting’s book, “The Night Tree.” Each hour during the day, the story is read, and pine cones are decorated with birdseed and string popcorn, dried fruit and cranberries. Once completed, take a short hike on the trails to leave the treats in the woods for the animals. $5.

10 a.m., holiday movie at the Nordica Theatre, Freeport Village Station. A special showing of “The Polar Express.” For admission to the movie bring a food donation with you for the food bank.

10 a.m.-2 p.m., Winter Sports Weekend, L.L. Bean campus. Cross-country skis, snowshoes, sleds, ice skates and accessories. Ice Walk features special ice sculptures.

10 a.m.-4 p.m., Freeport’s Famous Talking Christmas Tree, corner Main and Bow streets.

10 a.m.-6 p.m., holiday gift wrapping at Casco Bay Cutlery. Volunteers will wrap any items purchased in Freeport. Donations will go to the Coastal Humane Society.

1-4:30 p.m., Sparkle Express Mini Fest, Train and Information Center, Depot Street. Enjoy holiday music, carolers, kids’ activities, and Freeport businesses on hand selling holiday gift items, warm beverages, tasty treats and more. This year, find a selection of New England Crafters and Artists selling family-friendly and holiday-themed items.

1-7 p.m., in front of L.L. Bean Flagship Store. Free old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon rides. Take a break from holiday shopping and explore the village at a slower pace.

2 p.m., 25th Annual Worldwide Tuba Concert, Freeport Performing Arts Center. An annual music concert in cities worldwide that celebrates those who play, teach and compose music for instruments in the tuba family. Free.

2:30 and 3:30 p.m., Sparkle Express on the Amtrak Downeaster. Sold out.

5-9 p.m., Musical Holiday Light Show, L.L. Bean campus. More than 25,000 lights synchronized with holiday tunes. Different show every half hour.

7:30 p.m., Freeport Players Present “WFCP Home Time Radio Hour: 1950s Holiday Edition,” The Freeport Performing Arts Center. An all-new collection of songs from the 1950s and original sketches by Freeport Players writers. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. See www. fcponline.org to order tickets.

Sunday, Dec. 6

9 a.m.-9 p.m., free gift wrapping, L.L. Bean. Donations accepted. Proceeds support local nonprofit organizations.

9 a.m., Jingle Bell Run/Walk, Mast Landing School. Benefit for Arthritis Foundation. Registration at 9, race begins at 10.

10 a.m., holiday movie at the Nordica Theatre, Freeport Village Station. “The Grinch.” For admission to the movie bring a food donation for the food bank.

10 a.m.-2 p.m., Winter Sports Weekend, L.L. Bean campus.

10 a.m.-4 p.m., Freeport’s Famous Talking Christmas Tree, corner Main and Bow streets.

11 a.m.-5 p.m., holiday gift wrapping at Casco Bay Cutlery. Volunteers will wrap any items purchased in Freeport. All donations will go to the Coastal Humane Society.

2 p.m., Freeport Players Present “WFCP Home Time Radio Hour: 1950s Holiday Edition,” The Freeport Performing Arts Center. An all-new collection of songs from the 1950s and original sketches by Freeport Players writers. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. See www.fcponline.org to order tickets.

2-4 p.m., visits with Santa at Wilbur’s Chocolate Factory.

5-9 p.m., Musical Holiday Light Show, L.L. Bean campus.

With owner Butch Durgin driving, draft horses Ben, left, and Bill pick up riders in front of L.L. Bean as they do every Saturday during Northern Lights.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.