Chief of Operations writes:
Thank You, Paul
With the tragic loss of the historic Percy barn and all the cows within, it’s my time to chime in with appreciation for all the Percys have done to keep agriculture alive in the Stowe area.
It was the fall of 1976 and I was hellbent to do some sugaring. In my early twenties I had no land of my own and zero financial assets, but I overflowed with naïve determination. The parents of a college friend, Eric, had recently moved to Stowe and had done some backyard sugaring with the few maples on their property. I wanted more than a backyard operation and quickly saw there were many more maples not too far from this property. I was thinking if only I could get a real sugaring arch (the metal frame housing the fire box that the pans sit on) and pans I could really make some syrup!
Enter Paul Percy, a go-getter who knew the art of a deal. He had an old galvanized back pan (this type of metal is no longer considered food grade and is prohibited for food processing) and an English Tin front pan stored in the loft of that historic barn. The pans were aged and rusting, but I couldn’t refuse the price he offered. To clinch the deal he offered to throw in the arch that those pans used to sit on back in the day. The arch was sitting in the field behind his sugarhouse where it had settled into the ground. It took me and Eric a couple of hours to dig it out, find the cast iron doors that were part of it, and load it onto his truck.
We built a log-framed shack with plastic siding on Eric’s parents’ property, and set up over a thousand taps on adjoining property about ¼ mile into the backcountry. It was a constant chore scouring the rust and fixing the pan leaks that first year. On the third boiling, the bottom of the arch fell out when the rusted sheet metal finally gave way. In spite of these problems, and the steep learning curve we faced trying to learn how to collect sap and boil it down to syrup, we remained two undeterred kids enthralled with the image of being “real” sugarmakers.
We sugared that site for another two years before I moved the operation to Nebraska Valley. We were constantly peppering Paul with questions and though his answers were often curt and obscure in the tradition of a true Vermonter, he always kept us oriented in the right direction. And, after 46 years, I am still using that same arch! In that time, I have replaced all the sheet metal and angle iron frame at least once, have installed a new airtight front and rear with new doors, and have replaced the pans several times. All that remains of the original arch is a few minor cast iron pieces, but I still like to think of it as the same arch that Paul and his relatives had used way back in the day. In this age of waste, it’s nice to think that occasionally some things have such an extended shelf life.
It reminds me of an ax I saw being used, and the fellow wielding it bragged about how it had been in his family for many generations. It didn’t look that ancient and I questioned him, commenting that the handle especially looked quite new. “Oh,” he said, “the handle has been replaced a number of times and the head once, but it’s the same ax.”