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April 13, 2004 > Ardenwood Historic Farm Greets Spring

Ardenwood Historic Farm Greets Spring

Entering Ardenwood, it is hard not to stop and stare at Tucker and Jiggs, huge Belgian draft horses waiting to pull a horse-drawn "picnic car" along 1 1/2 miles of track through farm fields and Eucalyptus groves, leading to "deer park" and then returning to the entrance area. Tucker, now 14 years old, came to Ardenwood when he was 5 and his companion, Jiggs, now 15 years old, arrived at age 8. The Society for the Preservation of Carter Railroad Resources cares for Tucker and Jiggs. They also laid the 3' gauge track by hand and maintain it and rail stock - most manufactured by Carter Brothers in Newark - of the 1870's and 1880's using hand tools and 19th century techniques.

The society maintains a museum at the farm and "provides a home for more than a dozen pieces of historic California narrow gauge rolling stock and ...thousands of smaller artifacts." Operations Supervisor Mary Jane Gendreau and Lead Driver, Byron Lemmon, sitting close by, welcomed questions about the society and extended an invitation to experience the ride which is included in admission to Ardenwood. They explained that the South Pacific Coast Railroad, a narrow gauge line, helped connect Alameda, Santa Clara counties then wound through the canyons and forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains reaching the ocean in the town of Santa Cruz. The Centerville Branch of the South Pacific Coast connected Newark and Centerville. It was a horse drawn branch railroad for its entire 30+ year existence.

Leaving the entrance and walking towards the barn area, a contented bull, settled in a large fenced enclosure, eyed his surroundings and watched a herd of goats "mowing" the grass in an adjacent area. Goats are used by East Bay Regional Parks because they are often more practical than lawnmowers with the added benefit of being more interesting to watch. A herder from Goats-R-Us and his trusty dog were keep watch close by. Nearby, a blacksmith was busy working at his forge and the sound of bellows and hammering blended pleasantly with farm sounds in the morning air.

Delightful distractions are around every corner at Ardenwood Historic Farm. Moving along, almost to the barn where a presentation on Percheron draft horses was soon to begin, a group of women in vintage costumes were busy mixing a batch of cookies that would soon become a tasty treat for park guests. The Patterson House, an example of upscale living in the area during the 1800's formed a beautiful backdrop as peacocks screeched, strutted and showed off their feathered finery.

Approaching the barn, Tara Reinertson, a naturalist at Ardenwood, was waiting for a group of visitors to gather and learn about a magnificent pair of Percheron draft horses living at Ardenwood. This session, one of many that cover a myriad of topics and activities at the farm, was called "Draft Horses Through Time" and would introduce Duke and Doc who have been living at Ardenwood for the last two years.

A trio of teachers from Piedmont, Hayward and Dublin visiting Ardenwood to "scope out" the farm as a field trip for their students, stopped by and were soon joined by a half dozen more visitors. As the group gathered around to listen, Tara traced the history of Percheron's and their introduction to the United States in 1839. Known as a "knight's horse" due to their size, strength and power, they were bred for sure footing and stamina. These animals proved to be excellent farm and drayage horses. Horse-drawn rail cars in San Francisco employed 1,700 of these animals in the 1880's and fire engines moved through cities using draft horses until the internal combustion engines took their place.

The group learned to place a collar on "Woody," a tame wooden horse that didn't seem to mind amateur attempts to get him ready for hauling - it was explained that these horses are actually pushing, rather than pulling - a load. The use of a "snaffle bit" was explained and an amusing demonstration of its use gave everyone a first-hand experience of either driving or being guided by the bit.

Soon it was time for Doc and Duke to appear and the group was not disappointed. Standing tall and appearing to be as interested in their audience as the group was in them, they stood ready to be prepared to haul a large wagon. Park Supervisor, Yvonne Provaznik and Farm Technician and driver, Karen Lesico worked with Duke and Doc to get them ready and soon they were guided from the corral to a waiting wagon, listening and following commands to get into position.

As the sun moved higher and the farm began to fill with more visitors, Doc and Duke were ready to work. The sound of their hooves blended with a myriad of farm noises, seemingly many miles and a century away from the modern cacophony of Hwy 84 and Ardenwood Blvd. on its perimeter. This is a great time to discover or rediscover this small slice of the 1800's amidst the Tri-Cities. Whether attending a special event, organized activities or for a solitary respite strolling along the calm bucolic grounds, Ardenwood Historic Farm, a jewel of the Tri-Cities, is waiting for you.

SPCRR (Society for the Preservation of Carter Railroad Resources)
Thursday, Friday, Sunday, Holidays & Special Events or Mary Jane Gendreau (510) 796-9164

Ardenwood Forge (Blacksmith)
Thursday, Friday, Sunday & Every Other Saturday or Scott Thomas (510) 790-9060

Ardenwood Farm
Tuesday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. or (510) 796-0663
Patterson House Tours
(510) 791-4196

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