The chain gang


Many people, when they finish their day’s work, like to kick off their shoes, stretch out in front of the TV and relax. But not the Cole family.
After supper, the best part of their day has just begun when they can take a couple Belgian draft horse teams out into nearby woods and do some serious work.
It’s a genetic thing with Bill Cole and his wife, Debbie Keys Cole. They both come from draft horse families. Bill’s father, Harold Cole, came from one of those families that never completely gave up draft horses after the war.
In the blood. They could take or leave tractors as the need arose, but draft horses were in their blood.
Harold is a good teamster and made sure his sons, Bill and Mike, learned and practiced good draft horse skills and traditions.
Dave Keys, Debbie’s father, has four daughters and no boys. Dave, too, is a draft horse teamster, and a lifelong friend of Harold Cole. Since Dave had no boys to share his love of horse and mules, some felt sorry for him.
With a love for horses, Debbie especially, the girls developed into fine teamsters. In fact, Debbie can give her dad and anybody else competition at plowing matches.
Both Dave and Harold are charter members of the Central Ohio Draft Horse Association.
Through the last half of the 20th century, when the draft horse was all but abandoned to the tractor, Dave, Harold and a handful of other teamsters kept and preserved draft horse skills and traditions outside of the Amish community in Ohio.
Current project. Right now, the Coles are working in a park-like woodlot across from their farm. They are selectively cutting white oak, cherry and walnut. These species are in demand and the prices are good.
Poplar, maple and a few others are in overstock, so they just let those trees grow and appreciate.
On Saturdays and holidays, three generations of the families get together and make a day of horse logging and family bonding.
With Bill and 18-year-old Allen manning the saws, and Uncle Mike, Bill’s brother, snaking the logs out to the logging road where Dave and Debbie can haul them to the yarding area, they keep three teams of horses busy in a real family effort.
Debbie’s sister Kathy keeps an eye on 3-and-a-half-year-old Sam, who is looking forward to the day when he can be an active part of the team, instead of just a cheerleader.
The Coles cut prime trees selectively for lumber, and weed out damaged, diseased, crooked or other trees that will never be quality timber. This relieves competition from young trees that will grow more quickly, and leaves the forest in a healthier, more productive state.
A properly managed woodlot cut selectively will produce lumber – income – indefinitely. And the trees will help clean air, provide oxygen and hold and build the soil on steep, rough or marginal land not suitable for cultivation.
Custom cart. One of the logging carts Dave uses was designed by him and has evolved over 24 years since he and Charley Adams decided they needed a better cart.
For two years, the original prototype underwent design changes as they perfected the cart to meet their needs.
Ronney Myers from Cuyahoga Falls liked it and cut and contributed parts before building a few copies of it for his own use and for friends. Over the years, others have copied it and there are a lot of them scattered over the Midwest and down into West Virginia.
The logs are sold to local cabinet shops and wood-working mills to provide jobs locally. The products of these small shops and mills are sold across the country and beyond to generate income and support the local economy.
Nothing is wasted. Trees and limbs not fit for lumber are cut into firewood, which Bill uses in his outdoor wood-burning furnace to heat the house.
Competition. In Ohio, where the haul from the stump to the truck is not too long, the draft horse is a very practical means of skidding logs.
Properly shod, they handle most terrain and will haul logs out with minimal damage to other trees and the landscape Their 3- or 4-mph pace is just the right speed.
After a couple of years in the woods, draft horses develop the muscle, sinew and bone to compete in the pulling ring.
Bill and Debbie’s teams are the teams to beat wherever they are entered. At 2,300 pounds or 2,400 pounds, they are an intimidating sight for the competition.
With petroleum at $3.50 a gallon, using draft horses to haul logs from selectively cut woodlots is a very practical option. But the draft horse teamsters have always known that.


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