In the Woods With of One of Maine’s Last Horse Loggers

Scott Stevens is one of only about two dozen horse loggers left in the Pine Tree State.

Scott Stevens is one of only about two dozen horse loggers left in the Pine Tree State.
By Virginia M. Wright
Photographed by Dave Dostie
From our December 2021 issue

Babe is a muscular white draft horse weighing in at 1,700 pounds, and he’s a very good boy. He waits, untethered, while his owner, Scott Stevens, disappears around a brushy curve in a skid road, bouncing atop a cart drawn by two other horses and dragging three long, narrow logs. “Babe is good about standing and waiting,” Stevens says, working in the Eustis woods to cut a driveway to his neighbor’s lot. “He’s got a great personality. He talks to me when I come in the barn in the morning. I pretty much like everything about him.”

Babe is a Percheron, a French breed known for gentleness and stamina. He chose Stevens 13 years ago, when the logger stopped at a Vassalboro horse dealer and asked to see the draft horses. “Babe walked right up to me and wanted to be my friend,” Stevens recalls. (When Babe and I were introduced, he leaned in and nuzzled my notebook as if to snatch it.) Babe is the strongest horse Stevens has had in 30 years of logging, although Hulk, a honeyed brute of unknown lineage, may one day surpass him. Acquired from a farmer who used him in horse-pulling competitions, Hulk is twitching — dragging logs, in forestry jargon — for the first time today, hitched to the cart alongside Slim, a deep-auburn bay.

Until the 1960s, horses were the main means of hauling timber to drivable streams, rail yards, or logging roads. Then came mechanical skidders equipped with huge treaded tires for rolling over stumps and shrubs, plus blades for pushing over trees. Today, Stevens estimates, he’s one of only about two dozen horse loggers in Maine, but demand for their services is growing, particularly among owners of small woodlots doing selective, lower-impact harvesting. Stevens owns a skidder too, but horses have advantages. They require a much narrower trail than skidders, and their twitching is less likely to scrape and gouge the trees left standing. “You can cut with greater precision,” he says, “and you don’t leave big ruts in the earth.”

Lean and strong at 52, Stevens logged as a side hustle until last winter, when he retired from the Maine Warden Service (North Woods Law fans may remember his low-key appearances: “Chris McCabe and Rick LaFlamme were John Wayne; I was Ward Bond”). Growing up, he’d listen, rapt, to his grandfather Ernest Caldwell’s stories about working in the woods with his favorite horse, Jack. Caldwell also drove a team that hauled supplies from the railroad station in Carrabassett Valley to financier J. P. Morgan’s farm retreat in Stratton. “He said he always felt good when he worked in the woods, and I do too,” Stevens says. He named his bay after Caldwell, whose physique earned him the nickname Slim.

Stevens was in college when he acquired his first horse, an Appaloosa he trained to yard wood. Later, he logged most of the wood used to build a home for himself and his wife, Leah, with a sweeping view of East Kennebago Mountain. He and the horses work year-round, though towing logs is easiest on packed snow. Summer heat dictates a shift to lighter chores, like haying.

horse logger Scott Stevens and horses Slim and Babe

Back from the clearing where he stacks his cut wood, Stevens hooks more logs to the cart. This time, however, Hulk and Slim can’t maneuver them around some standing trees. “Hulk is nervous,” Stevens observes. “He doesn’t trust Slim yet.”

He turns to Babe. “This is your chance to be the hero,” he says. Babe doesn’t disappoint. He drags the pieces to the skid road one at a time. At 21, Babe is nearing retirement, but he won’t be going anywhere. “He’s like a pet,” Stevens says. “He’ll always have a home here.”