|The Farm at Shelburne|
Four ladies who had never traveled together before, but held the common thread of horse lover that bound them in friendship, embarked on a journey that would take them to the green mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York over the next four days.
Each passenger on this adventure would soon reveal their own unique personality that richly blended with others for the enjoyment of the trip.
Phyllis was the “take charge” person in the group. Ruth was the mischief-maker who liked to knock on men’s rest room doors among other things; Carolyn was the one who became known as the wrong-way driver, while I was simply referred to as “the boss”. The Boss would later be known for spilling things on herself or dropping things in her tired stupor. Just couldn’t seem to hold on to anything for long.
By late afternoon, the car was piloted into the parking lot of the American Morgan Horse Association Headquarters and Museum. After touring the hub of Morgan activities, it was off to the motel. A not-too-friendly innkeeper who confirmed their reservations with a rude politeness first greeted me. After surveying the premises and finding just one lonely small bar of soap and two towels which was to be shared by four adults, Phyllis took it upon herself to ask for additional toiletries and linens. Big mistake… The manager was outrageously indignant when Phyllis made her plea. He insulted her, and turned away with the parting words – not to comeback to this establishment again. There was no worry of that! It upset everyone, but not for long as the modern buggy was spurred on to dinner at the famous steak house down the road. After a waddling good feast, the ladies decided to go for a stroll to burn a few recent calories they had just acquired. Off to a mall with Carolyn solidly behind the wheel.
It was becoming more apparent as the miles passed by, that our volunteer chauffeur had a bit of dyslexia when it came to white directional arrows on the black pavement. It seemed that the downward arrow meant forward to Carolyn and the upward arrow meant backwards. She just couldn’t get the hang of those arrows, no matter how many times she encountered them.
As the ladies began to march ahead with great gusto, Cathy and Carolyn quietly faded into a local popular hunt – Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Parlor, while Phyllis and Ruth continued their trek to conquer fat cells.
That evening, Ruth decided to entertain the sleeping quartet with her own musical renditions of Miss Piggy. You see, there is no subtle way to put it - Ruth snores. Oh dear, now the whole world knows!! Carolyn was too scared to move too much and awaken “the boss”. She was the most silent member of the sleeping quartet. We never heard from Ruthie again, so I don’t know if she ever got any sleep after we teased her so much. Probably felt so guilty (as Ruth does) that she must have stayed up all night thereafter. There was no more snoring from her pillow for the rest of the trip.
After a restful night for Ruth, the rest of the weary travelers packed their bags and departed from the dust bunny motel post haste. It was a glorious day in the comfort of the Cadillac as the car gently followed the slow bends, opening up a new delight of landscape with each curve in the road. As the car climbed the last roadway to the Inn and found a shade tree to park under, the doors opened and everyone stepped back into another time. You could feel the ambiance of the old Vanderbilt/Webb estate beckoning you into its great vista rooms. They were decorated with freshly cut flowers from the ground’s own Victorian gardens. We were graciously greeted and invited to visit the estate before breakfast. Out through the wide screen doors, we ventured onto the tranquil and endless manicured lawns and wonderful gardens that lay before us with Lake Champlain as the backdrop.
After sampling the English garden with its fragrance, herb patches and beauty, the four of us strolled slowly back to the Inn and were ushered into the great dinning room. Like ladies of nobility, we were seated in the grand hall. Once again the décor of the room, the elegance of the fine china and bouquet of flowers made for such a pleasing sight. Classical music played softly as we enjoyed the fresh fruit cups, crepes and other delights. Soon it was time to leave the inn and hop on the wagon tour of Shelburne Farms.
The guide was pleasant enough, but Ruth, Phyllis and Carolyn thought that my version of the history of the farm was much more interesting. After all, Bob and I had first hand knowledge of the farm when we stabled and raced Trillium Reflection on these very grounds 15 years ago. Both of us have visited and toured the farm many times since then and had watched its restoration from the beginning. Each time we came, we acquired a little more history of the majestic model farm that once totaled more than 4,000 acres.
Everyone was awestruck by the Mule Barn with its inner courtyard that equals two football fields and the large corner turrets and copper roofs that stand boldly on guard against the blue sky. This building once housed more than 100 mules in its day. Now it is home to one the country’s finest cheddar operations, with the cheese made from the farm’s own prize dairy of Brown Swiss cows.
There was one special tour of the farm yet to be taken and that would prove to be one of the highlights of the trip. The Breeding Barn or horse barn was now opened for tourists and so we horse crazed ladies boarded a van for the spectacle we were about to be treated to.
I had heard the stories of the magnificent riding arena that was a marvel in its day and still is today. The story goes that Dr. Webb imported the finest Hackney stallions to be put at stud for the local farmers to improve their stock. What Dr. Webb didn’t understand, was that Vermonters already had what they considered the perfect horse – the Morgan, durable and strong enough in the mountains and in the fields, fancy enough for a carriage. Why fix something if it isn’t broke. His kind offer of his prized Hackney stallions’ services for little or no stud fee, had no takers. The proposed breeding program of Dr. Webb for the local inhabitants was a failure. Adding insult to injury, the advent of the car, eventually over-shadowed the horse and its prominence in transportation and farm labour. His beautiful stable and dream was abandoned.
The stable had fallen into disrepair over the years and was sadly neglected. However, funding was found to restore it and what a prize it is.
As you enter through the mighty stone arches of the building, it is the immense size of the structure that literally takes your breath away. Imagine if you will, a riding arena more than 400 feet in length and over 140 feet wide. Imagine that facility filled will 60 box stalls, tack rooms, coach rooms, a balcony overlooking the arena, and a hay loft that goes on forever. Imagine the hustle and bustle of grooms and trainers doing their daily routine. Once again, just imagine life with the horse and carriage and how it must have been in this place so long ago.
The great stable is looking for a purpose as the tour guide explained. They are thinking of hosting special events and market type activities. Being the horse people we were, we simply blurted out with all the enthusiasm we could muster – “it should be used as it was originally intended – it should be used for horses!” Novel idea, the tour guide suggested. “We’ve never had that idea put forth, but then again, we never had horse people before.” She must have thought us a little strange, but the more she lingered on our proposal for horse events, the more she seemed to like it. She must have thought those people from Canada have some good ideas! We suggested a number of activities from polo matches for charity fund raising, to a Vermont showcase show for the Morgan Horse.
We said goodbye to Shelburne Farms and headed south to Middlebury and the UVM Morgan Horse Farm. It would be our final destination of sightseeing for the day. One quick stop at a tack shop along the way, and then on to UVM.
The young lady giving the tour (which happened to be the last tour of the day) was rather lackluster in her presentation. Her “ho hum” guided tour was met with just as much enthusiasm by her guests. She seemed a little off guard when I filled her in on some bio of some the farm’s famous residents, such as UVM Dexter (Moonraker’s sire) and the great world champion stallion, Royal Fleetson. Of course, being an old timer in the breed I knew my Morgans and was quite willing to share some bit of history with friends, even if the official tour guide didn’t.
Off to the famous Middlebury Inn. We decided to dine in the inn’s pub room. We chose the room because of its name – “The Morgan Room”. Photos and paintings of famous Morgans hung on the wall. The food was excellent and the evening most enjoyable. Take Charge Phyllis took charge all right and stumbled on her way up the grand staircase to the ladies room. After dinner and a quick walk about the historic town, we headed back to Shelburne and our new accommodations for the evening.
After a restful night, we awoke to rain – lots of rain. Ruth was our weather person who checked conditions every morning on her way out for a run. I don’t think she ever did get a run in. We dressed accordingly and headed off for our complimentary breakfast at the little establishment down the road. You have to wonder when something is free. Believe us, nothing is free.
We crowded into the tiny restaurant waiting patiently for our turn to be seated. There were line crashers that day (not us) and a restaurant that was short of staff and short on temper. We would later comment that a few of the waitresses needed a “happy pill”. After an infinitely long period of time standing elbow to elbow, Take Charge Phyllis decided to investigate the seating situation and report back. She marched forward, but with discretion, only to be quickly ushered back in line by the sergeant-in-arms. It didn’t seem to matter that some ignorant patrons pushed their way by us and seated themselves. It seemed to be the “pick on Canadians” day at the restaurant and other patient individuals.
Phyllis decided she might pour us some coffee while we were waiting and headed towards the deserted coffeepot. Take Charge Phyllis was once again dissuaded when one poor desperate soul grabbed the pot to pour himself a cup. “That’s against the law, sir” the waitress bellowed for all to hear. “You can’t serve yourself in here.” A little embarrassed – or maybe a lot embarrassed, he retreated back to his seat. Eventually we got service – well maybe not what you would call service. As we were seated waiting for the waitress to finish taking our orders, Ruth’s school mom training came alive. Ruth gritted her teeth every time the waitress opened her mouth. It became a joke eventually. All you had to do was look at Ruth and try not to laugh. Her face said it all. So, at every restaurant, we had a few chuckles when the waiter or waitress tripped up on their grammar and repeated such slang terms as “OK” and the like. We wasted no time exiting that place. Out in the pouring rain we dashed to the car. It was off to Shelburne Museum for a day’s adventure.
Only Phyllis had the foresight to bring an umbrella and it was far too small for all of us to fit under. In the gift shop, Ruth and Carolyn decided to purchase the over-inflated priced clear garbage bag rain ponchos. (Phyllis had another word for it, but it can’t be printed here – something to do with what the male species might use on occasion, if you get my drift.) I declined to purchase the flimsy plastic and said that I wouldn’t melt in the rain. Sure enough, the rain stopped mid way through the tour.
We managed to take in about one third of the sites before leaving to catch the mid afternoon ferry across Lake Champlain to New York state. Timing was perfect when Carolyn turned into the parking area at dockside. She was particularly nervous when the cars were being loaded onto the ferry. Parking attendants guided each driver into their prescribed tight space on the lower deck. There was barely enough room to open your door and exit the vehicle. All Carolyn could do was think of Bob’s car and that she better not scratch or ding it. It might be an old Cadillac, but it was still as Cadillac!
The ferry ride would take one hour to reach the shores of New York State. Everyone enjoyed the scenery, even on a cloudy day. The shoreline was always in view. Rocky projections of small islands jutted out of the water like stone green icebergs. We decided to scout the waterline for signs of the mystical lake monster “Champ”. It probably wasn’t sunny or warm enough for Champ to surface for a visit, as he was not sighted.
Once the car rolled off the lowered drawbridge of the ferry, we headed what we thought was north towards Lake Placid. Mistakenly we followed the highway (pardon me, that should be “route” as they call the highways in the U.S.) 9N, assuming that “N” meant north – NOT. But being of the female persuasion, we didn’t drive too far out of our way before logically stopping to verify directions. (I don’t know what it is about men, but they would never admit to being lost or helpless.) Ruth, the only available lady in the group, liked the look of the attendant who gave us proper directions. We told her she was robbing the cradle, but that didn’t seem to deter her. She liked his smile, at least that’s what she said. Back south we headed and picked up 9N that eventually headed north towards Lake Placid.
On route we decided to find a rest room so that we might be more comfortable. After a long stretch of scenic but winding highway, we came upon three signs – “clean”, “flush”, “toilets”. Carolyn decided to signal and turn into the gas bar when Ruth noticed one more sign – “Phil Has Worms”. That was the kicker that turned us all off – and so without missing a beat, Carolyn signaled back onto to the road and we continued. I don’t think the bait sign went well with the theme of clean washrooms! Soon we found a respectable place with washrooms, but once again, Carolyn had some difficulty in the rest room. All I could here from a frantic sounding Carolyn was the word “SHI…..” You see Carolyn had drop the car keys in the toilet bowl. Since I was the one with dropsy, this wasn’t expected from Carolyn. Luckily she had just flushed the toilet so at least the water was clean and the keys hadn’t penetrated any further. After a little try off, the keys turned over the ignition and off we were again.
Eventually we found our way to the Olympic town of Lake Placid. Wrong Way Carolyn some how made it into the parking lot of the motel, but only to the annoyance of other drivers trying to navigate around this detoured blue Caddy that was determined to come in the wrong way.
Our accommodations were spacious and quite nice – pool side too. Unpacked and ready for food, we strode off again to the Cadillac with Wrong Way Carolyn, who once again, thought that they had painted the angle parking lines wrong.
We found a nice pasta place to dine at. After dinner Take Charge Phyllis headed for the washroom. You have to understand something about Phyllis. She has great difficulty figuring out those little people characters you see posted on the washroom doors. So in she went – INTO THE MEN’S WASHROOM! Hardly frazzled by the episode, she excused herself and went into the appropriate bathroom. One fellow told Phyllis that she might be quite welcomed in their rest room. I’m not sure if that was a compliment? There would be other episodes (two more in fact) where Take Charge Phyllis would enter the sacred domain of men. In one of these instances, Wrong Way Carolyn followed right behind Phyllis into the men’s room only to notice a man standing there in bewilderment. Ruth inevitably had to ask the question – were his hands up or down? Carolyn was so embarrassed; she just wanted to make the quickest exit as possible. And Take Charge Phyllis didn’t even notice the man!!
Once back in the hotel and after an evening swim in the pool, we decided to get ready for bed. We all seemed thirsty, but only Ruth was still dressed. Ruth devilishly encouraged myself and Carolyn to come with her to the vending machines down the hall. So Ruth headed off along the passageway with Carolyn in her PJ’s and a sweater, and me in my “Pooh” nightshirt and jacket. Strange looks were given by the passerby. These vending machine vixens turned a few heads while they were dropping their coins in the machine, as Ruth of course (the famous lamp post lady) made the most of it.
In the morning, after one of Ruthie’s marathon morning put together, we left the hotel for a “shop till we drop” outing. I think every boutique and antique store in Lake Placid saw our faces and sometimes wallets. Ruth made her big purchase in one of the antique shops; an ornate lead/brass clothing hook featuring a large horse head in the centre. She was so worried about Customs that she had us all going. She was afraid she would be over her limit and for those of you who know Ruth, she kept repeating “I can’t lie”. Wrong Way Carolyn assured her that it would be fine since the rest of us weren’t over our limit and she could just pond off some of her purchases to one of us. Still Ruth was skeptical and continued to repeat the commandment “Thou shalt not lie”.
Exhausted, we made one more trip to Ben & Jerry’s before opening the trunk of the car one last time and making tracks north to Canada.
The border crossing was a non-event, much to Ruth’s relief. I thought Carolyn handled the nice customs officer well. We stopped for dinner one last time and reminisced about our trip. We must have made an impression in the restaurant as one old gentleman came over to our table to compliment us on our sense of humour. He told us we would all live long lives if we kept that up.
So as we headed out the door, once again Take Charge Phyllis entered the men’s room. I don’t know, but I think her husband should know about her wayward tendencies….
Finally, the car turned down a familiar driveway and the trip was over far too soon. We gave each other a hug and said goodnight.