My husband, Tom, and I originally thought we would build on a parcel of land situated on a wild river in Ellsworth, Maine. But, as fate and a tenacious realtor named Casper would have it, we ended up with the unbelievable good fortune a year later of being able to purchase a 400-acre tract of wilderness across the road from our original piece. This land had been a cattle farm in the early 1900s, no remaining structures, but a large, still-cleared hay field, forests, streams, and three (encroaching) beaver flowages/trout ponds. We named the land Bad Beaver Farm.
Tom and I made a pact that we would be mindful stewards of this land and be as respectful of our gift as consciously possible. In the summer of 2006, we put in a road to reach the field where we planned to build our permanent home. We slogged through the mud, chain-sawed the trees, cut lengths for firewood, brought up Tom’s huge, old Mobark chipper, chipped all the brush, reeked of gasoline, fought off black flies and mosquitoes the size of small pigeons. We slept in smelly, mildewed clothes. Even our dogs permanently stank of stagnant vernal pools.
When we first trailered up Tom’s large Mobark 290—industrial-sized wood-chipper—from NH, we were a little south of Portland when the chipper blew a tire. KAPOW! We pulled to the side of I-95 and Tom got out to inspect the damage and said the rim was “junk”; it was now too dented to be able to install a spare tire. He jacked it up to remove the damaged rim. This made me very nervous as it had rained so heavily the previous week that the shoulder was too soft to support the jack, and the chipper kept wobbling ominously over my husband’s unsuspecting body crouched on the downhill side of the behemoth.
I don’t usually interfere with Tommy World—but I couldn’t tolerate this potential for disaster. I said, “Tom! This is unsafe. You gotta figure out a better way.”
Tom rummaged around in the back of his pickup and came back with a long strip of aluminum grating that he was planning to use at the camp as a rain-splash diverter/boot scraper in the deck in front of the entry door. He put this underneath the jack to stabilize it and prevented it from sinking in the quicksand. This worked like a dream, although the grate was too dented after this episode to be used as originally intended—if and when we ever got a deck.
It was now 4:45 on a Friday evening and we had to look for a new rim for an industrial-sized machine. We drove to the nearest town and found a tire store franchise. They were getting ready to close for the weekend, so they were not incredibly psyched to see us pull in with a funky custom-smashed rim.
The first scruffy looking, bleary-eyed guy to look at the rim said, “Nah. We got nuthin’ that’d fit this lug-nut pattern.”
Tom was not about to quit now. “Do you have your inventory computerized?”
The guy rolled his eyes. I knew he was just dying to get out of there and have a 12 pack and a shot of Jack.
Tom flipped through the bolt-patterns until he found one that had the matching 5-bolt pattern he was looking for. It was from a 1967 Chrysler Imperial. “This will do it.”
The guy looked at us like we were perfectly nuts but we left the franchise with the perfect rim and tire—or so we thought.
When we got back to the crippled Mobark, Tom was again crouched underneath the swaying machine as huge tractor-trailers zoomed by on I-95. Every time a semi-truck blasted by it created a vacuum of turbulent air that made the Mobark tip precariously. ZOOM! Tip. ZOOM! Tip. ZOOM! Topple…squish. I was pushed to the limit of my tolerance.
Tom finally got the new/vintage Chrysler rim on the Mobark but the offset was not right, it rubbed against the spring shackles of the chipper (by the way, this is what Tom told me—I had no idea what in the hell he was talking about). At this point, it was getting dark and I was thinking that we should start heading to the Comfort Inn in Portland for the night—and a shot of Jack. This sounded incredibly appealing to me.
But…Tom just flipped the rim around and put it on backwards and all five bolts lined up. All fantasies about the Comfort Inn were gone. Then Tom said that the center hub of the rim was too small for the Mobark. The Comfort Inn’s lure returned for a split second before he remembered that he had a cordless Sawzall in the back of the truck—with three charged batteries (of course he did).
Tom sawed and hacked and sawed through the life of all three batteries until the center hub fit perfectly. We were on our way to Ellsworth after only a four-hour delay.
That same custom rim is on the Mobark today.
Sometimes I think I am too old for this stuff.
We were putting a road in through a thick forest to the field, which was about a half a mile from the main road. It was a typical Maine forest of mixed trees—hardwoods and softwoods. It was thick with downed spruce and tall pine and “popple” (this is what Mainers call poplar), and lovely mossy glens with vernal pools. Tom chain-sawed the trees down and cut the trunks to stove length for firewood and I dragged the treetops and brush and fed them to the jaws of the Mobark, which spewed out mountains of evergreen smelling chips. We later used the chips for landscaping.
Tom is amazing with a chainsaw. I swear I’d let him shave my legs with it. He studied each tree to decide where he wanted it to fall, then made the perfect cuts as though he were cutting through butter, and the tree would fall crashing down exactly where he planned. I think Tom is part beaver.
We worked on the road on weekends all summer. Tom’s father, Leo Lajoie and his brother, Lee Lajoie came up to help us a great deal of the time. Unfortunately for the four of us, it rained a lot that summer. The road soon turned into a quagmire of mud and muck and deep ruts of sludge that came up to the running boards of the truck. Tom hauled up some huge wooden timbers that his friend AJ got from a job building a Concord Hospital expansion. These timbers had been in our front field at home that I had been bitching about as just too white-trashy for words. But now I was growing to appreciate all the crap that Tom constantly dragged home from jobs. All that redneck hoarding was starting to fall into place. Tom and his dad threw the timbers in the muck and the planks disappeared from sight pretty quickly, but we were able to drive over them and not get stuck.
The rain also brought hoards of flying insects. A veritable plague of bloodthirsty bugs of biblical proportion. First came the black flies, then B-52 bomber mosquitoes and just when we thought we could handle the annoyance and pain—came the most ferocious of them all, the deer flies. Tom made me wear a logging safety helmet with a mesh faceguard and ear protection when I was working feeding the chipper. The flies would get up under the faceguard and bite mercilessly all around the perimeter of the helmet. Any exposed skin was chewed and covered in little bloody speckles that itched like hell. The only time they didn’t attack was when the chipper was running. Something about the huge noise and/or vibration from the Mobark made them stay away. One weird benefit from feeding the beast.
When the road was about halfway to the field, all progress came to a screeching halt…temporarily. Tom was using a peavey pike to try to pry out a large log that was stuck in the roller-blades of the chipper. Somehow the peavey slipped and sheared through the gas line. The chipper was hemorrhaging gas all over the ground—spewing out gallons of precious fluid. Tom told me to stick my finger in the tubing while he whittled a stick that would fit the diameter to stanch the leaking fuel. I was lying in the pine needles with a torrent of gas running down my arm.
Good thing I don’t smoke.
Tom got the gas line plugged enough for us to go look for parts to fix it. We drove around to several auto parts stores in Ellsworth while he picked up all the widgets he needed to create a fuel-shutoff valve. I stayed in the truck because I smelled like a cocktail of gasoline mixed with the tantalizing aromas of sweat and mildew.
He finally got all the pieces he needed and went back and installed the homemade fuel shutoff valve, and the old Mobark was fixed and we were back in business.
I honestly don’t know how Tom knows how to do all the stuff that he can do.
By the end of summer, we finally got the road cleared to the field. There was one last remaining tree that needed to go and that was out at the entrance to our drive. It was on the tarred road, the old “Bangor Road.” Tom was studying it. I knew it was leaning in the wrong direction as it was growing out of the side of the road bank. Tom doesn’t usually screw up—but I had a bad feeling about this tree.
He handed me a long metal pole and told me to push the tree away from the road when he made his cut. I looked up at this huge tree and I was standing there poking it with a measly, pathetic toothpick. I felt like Don Quixote jousting with the windmill. As soon as Tom made the uphill cut, it started coming right at me.
I screamed, “I can’t push it!”
Tom ran over to me and tried to push it back, just as the tree fell forward and hit the top live wire—the “hot wire” of the road’s electric lines. A huge jolt of electricity surged through the tree and into our bodies.
ZZAAAAAPPP! (I swear my hair has been wicked curly ever since. Is this possible?)
Then the tree bounced down onto the next wire, the neutral line and stopped dead. The tree was leaning up against the electrical lines in the middle of the road. Tom managed to drop the tree and get it cut up before anyone in authority meandered down the road.
I was just standing there with my mouth dropped open, still zinging from the shock. I guess even beavers occasionally make mistakes.
Tom asked, “Honey, is your life insurance policy paid up?”