VTdigger.org | By Eric Blokland | May 22, 2011
For over three decades Claude Desmarais has been laying line with draft horses. Fred has been on the job for five years now. VTD/Eric Blokland
Two miles above the village of Greensboro Bend on Stannard Mountain, a crew of linemen for FairPoint Communications takes a break. A garter snake slinks around the rear wheel of a work truck parked on sparsely-populated Norway Road. One of the linemen picks up the snake by its tail. It wriggles as he brings it close to Claude Desmarais, a 67-year-old lineman who stands over six feet tall.
Desmarais remarks that he has no plans — and no need — to retire from his work — which is negotiating tough terrain with his Belgian draft horse Fred. Snakes, however, give him the freaks.
“You don’t get close to me with that snake,” he says, a Kingdom lilt in his speech.
“What about Fred?” says the lineman, dangling the snake as he moves past Desmarais.
“Wouldn’t bother him,” says Desmarais. “Just me.”
Fred, the draft horse standing next to Desmarais, is unperturbed by the snake or much else. The muscled 1,700-pound cable-hauling Belgian is in full draft regalia. Studded leather flaps keep his eyes on the task at hand. A leather collar wraps around his neck, bearing the hames, or a frame from which the traces span Fred’s torso and connect to an iron whippletree trailing behind.
The hames, now wrought from aluminum instead of the traditional wood, are about all the progress Desmarais has seen in draft horse technology since he started contracting with power and telecommunications companies over three decades ago.
“My part of it has always been the same,” says Desmarais.
It’s perhaps a fitting irony that Fred is the anachronistic vehicle for broadband installation in remote areas of the Northeast Kingdom. Without Fred pulling his weight in fiber-optic cable, however, FairPoint would be hard-pressed to meet its 2013 goal, set by Gov. Peter Shumlin, to bring Internet to every home in the state. Read more about Draft horses bring fiber optics to remote locations