Tuesday, March 25, 2014

For Bruce Streeter and his horses, wagon rides at the NH Maple Experience are all in a day’s work

Teamster Bruce Streeter and his horses have been pulling wagon loads of visitors around The Rocks Estate for the past 16 years. Bruce hauls his team north from Orford, New Hampshire, to pull the wagons during the busy Christmas tree season, the New Hampshire Maple Experience, and an occasional bus tour

Whatever the season, the huge draft horses are always a big draw for visitors to The Rocks. While our volunteers talk with visitors about the history and process of maple sugaring, Bruce's horses get plenty of pats on the nose. Bruce does his own sugaring on his farm in Orford, but most of the questions he fields at The Rocks are about his nearly-one-ton companions. Below, he shares some information about his horses and his work at The Rocks

Tell us about your horses.
They’re Belgian draft horses. Their names are Mike and Burt. I have another one, Bob, who I can use if I need to. Draft horse names aren’t typically very fancy. I like to keep ‘em short so they can understand it when I speak to them. They’re about 1850 pounds apiece. They’ll eat about 40 pounds of hay a day and about 10 pounds of grain each.

How did you get involved with working with draft horses?
I’ve been working with horses about 35 years. My dad logged with horses his whole life and I grew up with them. We log with them and sugar with them and do some of the farm work. We have the horses and a couple beef cows – and 2 to 10 kids, depending on how many neighbors are here.

What do you do, besides driving your team, when you’re at The Rocks for wagon rides?
They have a tour guide on every wagon, so most of the questions I answer are about the horses. I enjoy it. It’s a good time to get out and use your horses and talk to people about what draft horses can or can’t do. The programs at The Rocks have grown tremendously in the last 15 or 16 years. They’ve expanded to mail order trees. The maple program has become bigger.

What do you – and Mike and Burt – do when you’re not pulling wagons at The Rocks?
I have a full time logging business and use both horses and conventional logging equipment. Having both options is more versatile. I do get some landowners who request having horses instead of a machine, because it’s a much lower impact. It’s not as profitable. It takes longer to skid the wood out.
We also do sleigh rides during the winter at the ski area at Quechee Lakes in Vermont and do a lot of logging in the winter.
The horses are much better behaved when they’re working. I think they like to be active. Burt is 9 years old and Mike is 5. Draft horse will work until they’re about 20 years old, if they’re well taken care of and don’t get sick or get injured.

To learn more about Bruce and his horses and discover the sweet secrets of sugaring season, visit The Rocks for the New Hampshire Maple Experience, running weekends through April 5. For more information, visit the Maple Experience website. To make a reservation for a maple tour, call The Rocks at (603) 444-6228.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rocks Estate volunteer Sam Chase: Sharing sugaring secrets and history for 19 years

Hands-on maple learning with a Rocks Estate volunteer.
During any trip to The Rocks Estate – whether to find a perfect Christmas tree in December, discover the secrets of maple sugaring in March, or simply walk along the trails in any season – visitors are bound to learn something new. And if you visit during one of our programs, like the New Hampshire Maple Experience, our dedicated corps of volunteers will be there to guide your discovery.
One of our volunteers is Sam Chase, of Whitefield, NH. Sam discovered The Rocks in his retirement, and for the past 19 years he’s been sharing his knowledge about the history and process of maple sugaring, along with tidbits about the intriguing history of The Rocks Estate, and the Glessner family who built the Estate back in the late 1800s.
What keeps a volunteer coming back each season for nearly two decades? Read on to find out, in Sam’s words.
How did you get started as a volunteer at The Rocks?
I’ve been a guide at The Rocks since about 1994. During Christmas tree season, I’m a guide on the wagons. For the Maple Experience, I do the inside presentation on the history of maple sugaring.
There was a course offered at The Rocks back then, a general science course offered by The Rocks and Fish & Game. I’d retired and didn’t have much to do, and I was interested in the outdoors. If you agreed to volunteer for so many programs, they didn’t charge for the course. I’ve been volunteering ever since with The Rocks, and also with Fish & Game to do a series of programs they have aimed at 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders in the area.
What has inspired you to keep coming back to The Rocks year after year?
I think The Rocks is just a great place to begin with. The whole setting is a lot of fun – the volunteers that work there, and Nigel (Manley, who manages the Estate). I guess that’s a big a part of going back.
One fun part about being involved as a volunteer is being able to tell people about the history of The Rocks. I think the whole thing and the way it got started in the late 1800s by the Glessner family and how it’s still going today is just really interesting.
I went to Chicago a few years back, and we saw Glessner’s place there and could tie it into here. His house is still there, on Prairie Avenue, which used to be “Millionaires’ Row.” They saved a lot of the furnishings and they had mapped it all and so could put it back the way it was when the Glessners lived there.
(To learn more about the history of The Rocks and the Glessner family, check out the history page of our website.)

Do you see return visitors at the Maple Experience each season?
Yes, and during the winter, too. I have people who have been coming back for 10 or 15 years, lots of family groups. We go through and test them to see how much they remember from their last visit.

What do you do when you’re not sharing stories and information with visitors at The Rocks?
I worked for a gas and electric company headquartered out in Syracuse, New York. My great grandfather left Whitefield with his two brothers and headed west in 1860 and got as far as Syracuse. My family kept a place up here – the family still owns the farm. It was divided up amongst the family. So, we came up here summers and in the late 1980s built a house here. When I retired, we decided to move here.

We have a lot of land, which I manage. I work in the garden, play with our two golden retrievers, do income taxes during the winter for the AARP program, and I’m on the board at Weeks State Park.
The crew of Rocks volunteers - Sam is the tall guy in the back.
To enjoy the hands-on New Hampshire Maple Experience and learn a bit about sugaring and The Rocks from our corps of volunteers, come for a visit this spring! The Maple Experience runs weekends through April 5th. For more information, please visit the New Hampshire Maple Experience website.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sugar maker Brad Presby educates and entertains at The Rocks Estate’s New Hampshire Maple Experience

The New Hampshire Maple Experience opens at The Rocks Estate this weekend, but for our resident sugar maker, the work – and joy – of making maple syrup is a year-round process. 
Sugar maker Brad Presby at work.
Brad Presby has been making maple syrup since before he can remember. He learned the tricks of the trade from his grandfather, Lester Presby, as a young boy, and he’s been hooked ever since.Brad manages some 1,200 taps and many miles of sap line at The Rocks Estate
Visitors to the Maple Experience will see this fourth-generation sugar maker in action – and be entertained by his funny and informative maple tales – at the Estate’s own sugar house.

Below, Brad shares a little about what he does at The Rocks during sugaring season and beyond.
What do you do at The Rocks during the Maple Experience?
Well, my wife calls me an ‘edutainer.’ I talk to people about sugaring in general, and specifically about the work done in the sugar house, where the sap is transformed into syrup. I talk about the process and the different grades of maple syrup. And I like to tell stories from my many years of sugaring. I’ve been at The Rocks since 1986 or ’87, when they started doing some small maple programs. Now I’m there weekends for the Maple Experience and really enjoy it.
How did you learn about sugaring?
My grandfather had a small dairy farm in Bath, New Hampshire, and was well known in the area. His old sugarhouse is still down there. He used to have 600-800 buckets, and he was one of the first ones around to use [plastic] tubing. We used to drive through the woods in a tractor to collect the sap, so I have a lot of experience in how to bury a tractor in the mud! Sugaring time is when the mud’s out.
Jo and Brad Presby work on the main sap line at The Rocks.

What’s made you stick with sugaring for so long, and how does that tie into your work at The Rocks?
I just like talking sugaring. I could go on all day about sugaring. It’s something that gets into your blood. It’s almost like an addiction, where every year I think, "How many more gallons of syrup can I make? How much more can I handle?"

When does the work for sugaring season begin?
You never really stop. In November and December, we check to make sure the sap lines haven’t been knocked down. Moose will walk right through an orchard and knock the lines down. Bear will chew on them. Coyotes will pull them down. Last year in May we had a snow storm that knocked the tubing down. So in the fall, we push the lines up so they don’t get buried when it starts to snow. 

In winter, before the sap starts to flow, we pull the lines down and check them to make sure there aren’t bites in them from squirrels or other critters. Sometime in February we start tapping the trees. You have to keep an eye on the weather. We like it to be fairly warm to tap the trees. If it’s too cold, you can split the tree. 

(See Brad and his wife, Jo Presby, at work in this video.) 

After we’re done sugaring, we go out and pull the taps, which allows the trees to heal quicker. And we check the lines again, feeling for cuts. Then we push the lines up high so the deer and moose can’t get to it as easily.

Sugaring has changed. You’re constantly monitoring what you’ve got, making more plans. There is no end of the season. It’s a constant thing. 

What do you do when you’re not sugaring – or thinking about sugaring?
Well, I’m retired. I used to work for the State of New Hampshire, Department of Resources and Economic Development. Now I manage the property and logging operations for my family. I’m kind of a woodsy guy. I have a portable sawmill. We always have projects going on. We never stop working on projects. 

To hear more of Brad’s maple sugaring stories and learn about the process of making maple syrup, come visit us at the New Hampshire Maple Experience. The Maple Experience runs March 15, 22-23, 29-30, and April 5. Find more information at NHMapleExperience.com or call (603) 444-6228 to make a reservation for the 2014 Maple Experience.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The New Hampshire Maple Experience museum at The Rocks: A journey through the history of sugaring

When did people first make maple syrup and sugar? How was the sap collected from sugar maple trees 300 years ago? What has changed in the modern era of sugaring?

Visitors to the New Hampshire Maple Experience will discover the answers to these intriguing questions – and many more! The long history of maple sugaring is on display in our interactive museum. Housed in one of the many historic buildings restored for modern use at The Rocks Estate, the museum offers visitors a centuries-long tour through the springtime tradition of sugaring.

(See a panoramic view of the inside of the museum here.)

In our museum, visitors will learn the legends of how the native people of the Northeast discovered the sweet sap of sugar maples and learned to cook that sap down to a syrupy sugar. They’ll see the evolution of sugaring as European settlers adopted and adapted the tradition. And they’ll discover how maple syrup is made today and see the process unfolding in the working sugar house adjacent to the museum.

While modern day sugaring involves the same basics of collecting sap and boiling it into syrup and sugar, the tools and equipment involved look considerably different now than they did when settlers first arrived. From wooden spiles and hollowed out logs, to metal taps and buckets, to plastic tubing, the evolution of sugaring is on display in our museum. 
Wooden spiles, metal taps, and plastic tubing on display.
One place this evolution is easily seen is in the type of taps – or spiles – and spouts used to extract sap from the trees. Early sugar makers used whittled wooden spiles and spouts to allow the sap to flow from the tree into buckets placed below. During the 19th Century, sugar makers replaced the wooden spires with metal taps. These taps included hooks for hanging buckets to collect sap. In the mid-20th Century, some sugar makers incorporated plastic taps and plastic tubing into their sugaring operations, allowing them to eliminate some of the tedious work of transporting sap from the tree to the sugar house via bucket and barrel. 

(Here's a video of the different taps and spiles used through the years.)

While many sugar makers continue to use traditional metal taps and buckets, blue lines of plastic tubing weaving through the forest are common in today’s sugar making operations.

When you visit the New Hampshire Maple Experience at The Rocks, you’ll experience first-hand the traditions and innovations of maple sugaring! Read more about the Maple Experience here.