BY: MATT FARNHAM, F. A. PEABODY INSURANCE
Rhonda Brophy opened the doors on a blustery March morning for our Risk & Business interview, ready to talk about the exciting history of Patten Lumbermen’s Museum and upcoming museum events. Even though the museum is closed this time of year, Rhonda is very busy in her practically full-time paid job as curator. She took this job 10 years ago after 25 years of operating hunting and fishing camps. She says running a museum is much like running a business. A curator for a museum is responsible for advertising, writing grants, fundraising, organizing events, public relations, maintaining and coordinating the museum displays, collections, activities and much more. The museum’s purpose is to tell the story of Patten, Maine’s rich and fascinating history in the logging industry. A busy 2017 season is ready to begin!
The museum was founded in 1963 by Patten residents Lore Rogers and Caleb Scribner. Rogers grew up in Patten, the son of a prominent logger, and spent most of his adult life in Washington, D.C., as a bacteriologist for the USDA. Upon retirement, he returned to Patten and collaborated with Scribner, a fellow Patten Academy graduate and long-time game warden, to begin preserving logging history.
In the early 1800s, Bangor, Maine, was the largest shipping port for lumber in the world. Just up the river in the heart of the Pine Tree State, Patten was chock full of trees ready for cutting. Teams of men would travel to Patten every November and spend the entire winter cutting wood, which they would then float down the river to Bangor in the spring. Wood was cut by hand, hauled out of the woods by horses, and stored until spring when the river was ready to take it to Bangor.
During the winter, they would live in simple wooden structures held together without nails and with cedar roofs that were tied down with roots and bark strips. The cabins were built around a fire pit used for warmth and cooking, with a hole in the roof for smoke to escape. One section of the camp was dedicated to the sleeping area, with beds of balsam fir spread out on the floors. Up to 15 men would sleep here under one large blanket. A restored cabin is housed at the museum and available to tour in the summer, along with a larger double camp used in later years.
In the early 1900s, the industrial world started changing the logging industry. Steam engines and diesel tractors meant that lumber could be hauled on trains and trucks and roads were soon built. Hauling lumber out of the woods became easier with the invention of the Lombard log hauler in 1901. The first “cleat track” was an idea of Johnson Woodbury, a Patten resident, and patented by Alvin Lombard of Waterville. It was first used on the log hauler which could then haul multiple sleds of logs and replaced the work of about 50 horses. The cleat track has since been used,
and is still used today, on bulldozers and military tanks. Patten Lumbermen’s Museum is proud to have an original, steampowered, Lombard log hauler, one of only 83 ever built, as well as a gas-powered log hauler on display. Using these stories, Rhonda likes to tell local schoolchildren who come on tours not to be afraid of new ideas and that just because you are from a little town doesn’t mean you can’t do great things.
Also on display at the museum is a sawmill, a blacksmith shop complete with a local blacksmith working with the tools of the trade, a horse-powered drag saw, many old tools, equipment, artwork, and over one thousand photographs taken during the lumber camp days.
The 2017 season will kick off the Saturday before Memorial Day with the third Annual Fiddlers Fest. This event brings in fiddlers from all over the state and hosts a local craft fair with local food vendors, a silent auction, and a Fiddlehead Cook-Off in which contestants are given a basket of ingredients and must use their creativity to make a fiddlehead dish. Each year brings two thousand visitors to the museum with many coming from Europe, especially during the peak of the fall foliage season. Rhonda said that she especially remembers a group of loggers from Sweden
making sure to visit the museum on their trip to America because they had heard so much about it.
The highlight of each summer is the Annual Bean Hole Bean Day Celebration in conjunction with Patten Pioneer Days in August. Sixteen pits are dug in the ground and fires built in them. When the fires burn down to coals, pots of beans are placed in the holes, covered in dirt, and cooked overnight. The dinner is served the next day with red hot dogs, coleslaw, boiled lumberman’s coffee, locally made gingerbreads, and biscuits cooked on-site in the open fire reflector oven. Around two hundred pounds of beans are served each year and families come for miles to celebrate this unique event.
The logging industry is alive and well even today in Northern Maine, with large, high-tech harvesting equipment and dedicated logging roads the new norm. Today’s logging leaders are great supporters of the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum, knowing that honoring the past helps build the future.