BEASTS of BURDEN

By

Lily M. Zinck


Written in August 1999

Most families in our community owned a pair of oxen or a single ox. Lion and Bright were the favourite names for a team. A single ox was referred to as a smiler. Each animal sported a bell around the neck. The bells helped the owner to locate his animals when they were out in the pasture. A perfectly fitted yoke was essential if these beasts of burden were to work in comfort. Fortunately, our area had gifted craftsmen who could chisel and fit a first class yoke. Carl Meisner of Blandford and Arthur Cleveland both practised this art. Arthur walked from his home in Bayswater to make our yokes. He always had dinner with us, so he must have worked all day until the yoke was finished.

It was necessary to have oxen shod in preparation for hauling heavy loads over slippery roads. Roy and Ernest Meisner followed in their grandfather's footsteps to provide this service. Lee Zinck also prepared many animals for busy, safe days ahead. The ox-shoeing frame used by the Meisner family for generations is one of the exhibits in the museum at Kings Landing, New Brunswick. While visiting there, Roy was thrilled to draw attention to the staff that the initials carved on the frame were that of his grandfather, George Meisner..

During the winter months we kept our cattle in the barn, except at noon, when they were put out to get a drink at the barn well. The day prior to a bad storm is usually fine and mild. Dad called this "a breeder." The cattle sensed this change in weather. It gave them a wild feeling that forced them to frolic with tails outstretched as they galloped across the field. After this exhilarating exercise, they were loath to return to the warm barn where they could only munch on hay and nap all day. Dad's favourite saying was, "Your work is your pleasure." Both man and beast enjoyed hauling out the firewood. Dad yoked the oxen, hitched them to the set of sleighs and with their bells jingling and Dad whistling, they were off to the wood lot. Sometimes, Erna and I went along for a ride on the snow covered trail. The over-hanging branches always tempted us to pull one down and give us a snow shower. Finally, the logs were piled in our yard, ready for Ervin Young to arrive with the sawing machine.. Neighbours helped in sawing the firewood into stove lengths. Meanwhile, our mother was busy preparing a hearty meal for the workers. Later, our oxen were happy to get out of the stuffy stable and haul, the sawing machine to the next wood pile.

In March, Dad and Uncle Tom cut rockweed from the cold, wet rocks on the shore. This slippery weed was piled on the ox cart and hauled to the field where the potatoes would soon be planted. It was the.,custom to plant in March in order to be ready to go fishing. Our neighbor, Dudley (Dud) Gates, always planted his cabbage seed on Good Friday, whether it came in late March or mid April. His crop never failed.

Spring was a busy time for our team as the garden had to be ploughed and harrowed. We grew a wide variety of vegetables for summer and winter use. During spring cleaning our mother scrubbed her hand-hooked mats with a brush and home-made soap. (She used animal first aid training and lye to make the soap.) After the mats were washed they were piled on the ox cart, and Dad took them down to the beach where he rinsed them in the salt water. This rinse removed the soap and brightened the colours. In days gone by, May first was observed as Moving Day. I remember looking out the school window when Herbert Meisner moved his family and belongings to the house on the point in Upper Blandford. His lone ox hauled the hay wagon slowly past the school. His wife, Jerusha, and children John, James and Josephine, walked behind the wagon.

"Make hay while the sun shines," was an old saying. Quite often, when we were ready, the sun didn't shine! Mother recalled weaving a blanket in the six week period when we had to wait for the sun to shine. Dad and Uncle Tom worked the farm together for many years. When making hay they used an ox drawn mowing machine in the open fields. The rough spots were cut by hand with a scythe.

One summer, our cat, Beauty, was hopping in the grass looking for mice. The fast moving blade of the mowing machine cut off part of one of her hind legs. The wound healed quickly, and she continued to hunt mice for the remainder of her life.

We enjoyed making hay, but always worried for fear a horse fly would sting one of the oxen while they stood unattended when Uncle Tom forked hay up to Dad, who always stowed the load. The accident did not happen that way... The team was on the level, close to the barn, when a pile of hay slid off the loaded wagon. Dad came tumbling after. It was a shock to him and us. He wasn't seriously injured, but ever after he walked with a limp but did not give up working. For many years, hay was forked off the wagon by hand. Finally they bought a "forker" It was a huge fork that was attached to ropes and pulleys. The oxen were used to pull the hay up to the mow. Dad worked on the load while Uncle Tom unloaded the fork on the mow. It was necessary to have a third person to act as a teamster. Dad called me to perform this task. I didn't know Lion from Bright, and certainly didn't know when to say, 'Gee" or "Haw " I sensed that the oxen were in shock when they heard my erratic commands. Oddly enough, the dumb animals stood still while the fork was stuck in the hay. They went forward to pull the load and again stood still until the hay was safely in the mow. Next they backed, at my command, while the fork returned to the wagon. These acts were repeated successfully until the job was finished. Never again will I say, "Dumb as an ox!".

Back in 1929, Cyrus Eaton of Acadia Farms, Cleveland, Ohio, looked for a holiday retreat in Nova Scotia. He considered Blue Rocks, Peggy's Cove and Deep Cove. Deep Cove was his final choice, and he purchased land owned by Robert Schnare and Joseph Baker. Dad and Uncle Tom were hired to help in the landscaping. Our oxen were used to prepare the extensive lawns. Later the team was called upon to take the luggage from the wharf to the house. Mr. Eaton and his guests always came to Chester where they boarded his yacht to cross the bay to the mouth of Deep Cove. The children and grandchildren enjoyed seeing the oxen and cart ready to take the many suitcases up the grassy path.

It was upsetting to everyone, especially the butler, Mr. May, when the party arrived, but our days of owning men had ended. He exclaimed, "But, where are the oxen?" After recalling some of the many tasks performed by our oxen, I'm better able to understand why the humble ox was listed in the tenth commandment as one of the "Thou shalt not covet" items. As children, our favourite legend was about the oxen falling to their knees at midnight on Christmas Eve. We often talked about checking it out, but we never did get around to it.


Go home "Lion"