Originally created 06/05/99

Edgefield has foothold on logging

EDGEFIELD COUNTY, S.C. -- Down a boggy clay path off Sweetwater Road, curves and crannies lead to a life 60 years gone, but not forgotten.

With the first sign of dawn, men and women from Lugoff to Greenwood hunkered down in a forest largely of pines to log timber on John Kemp's property with true horsepower, not torque.

It seems a strange sight to happen upon a horse hooked to a pine on a Friday afternoon in 1999, especially when their owners drive dual-wheel pickup trucks and 4x4s.

But the group members are at ease in the bush with their blue jeans and boots, Percherons and work mules.

But the real story of the day was about a group of commoners coming together to make life better for disabled children and adults. And the main characters are David Snodgrass and Joe Clapp, two men from Trenton who helped fell timber that will eventually become a Dutch-roofed barn for the project.

Six months ago, they struck up a conversation about Mr. Clapp's daughter, Josette, who was born with cerebral palsy in her right side. She needed a therapeutic place to ride that didn't break the bank. For a while she went to a program in Trenton that eventually closed and moved to Augusta.

But a bigger place meant more overhead, which was passed on to the customer. And his wife, Eleanor, could benefit from the exercise, too. Severe diabetes recently caused the loss of her legs.

The practical solution was to start his own program that would cost little to no money. And with Mr. Snodgrass' help, it's within reach. Participants will learn how to feed a horse, ride a horse, harness a horse and everything in between.

The fledgling group responsible for the program calls themselves the Broken Wing Driving Club. And their survival code: See your goal, understand your obstacles. Clear your mind of doubt. Create a positive mental picture. Embrace the challenge. Stay on track. And show the world you can do it.

"Wheelchair or no wheelchair, there's no reason why handicapped people can't learn how to ride a horse," said Mr. Snodgrass, whose mother was a invalid, unable to feed herself or speak.

"Take Wetzel there, for example," says Mr. Snodgrass as he points to the stout man behind the reins of two mules. "He works mules better than any man I've ever seen, even with braces on his legs and artificial knees. If he can do it, most anybody can."

Duane Wetzel was the eldest of the bunch Friday, and the hardest working, too.

While most of the men spent the better part of the afternoon dodging the sun, Mr. Wetzel sat on his cart, guiding Rudy and Kate along the bumpy terrain.

He likes to see his mules work, to see them dig in their hooves and outdo a draft horse 2 to 1.

"These mules can do anything that a tractor can do, if not better," Mr. Wetzel said.

Even skidding logs. In the early 1930s, Caterpillar put its first diesel tractor into the woods to fell and haul logs. Skidders that brought down and cut trees greatly reduced costs for many logging operations and it wasn't long before horses were replaced by heavy machinery.

Harvesting operations have been noisy since, but at least Edgefield County has kept a foothold on horse logging.

Chasiti Kirkland can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.


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