They Knew They Were Pilgrims

The 17th Century Adventures of Plimoth Plantation's Colonial Interpreters

The 2014 Winter Work Olympic Games

February 13th, 2014 by Sally

While we at They Knew They Were Pilgrims take some respite from perpetual 1620/27, we try to keep up with current events in “real” life. So, with the 2014 Winter Olympics underway, I got to thinking about how December-February at the Museum are sort of like an international sporting event of our very own, except without the extensive media coverage, sponsorship and medal ceremony. No, we don’t staff the Village, Homesite, Mayflower II or Plimoth Grist Mill. But that doesn’t mean that we all stop working. I’d even go so far as to say that working in the winter is tougher. It’s certainly less rewarding. There are no children to delight with pig guts, no British tourists to impress with your knowledge of the town they are from, no escaping from technology. The things that need to be done in the winter are that of necessity. Investing in the program so that when we do open our doors to visitors again (March 15th – be there.) they won’t even know we weren’t there all along. So we’re basically working our collective bottoms off for not much in the way of glory or recognition.

Humbling, don’t you think?

If you feel a sense of déjà vu while reading this post, that’s because we’ve all been here before. Much like being stuck in 1627 each season in the Village, the off-season doesn’t feature much variation, either. Thanks for following us so closely! So here follows a small sampling of the 2014 Winter Work Olympic Events we’ve been competing recently.

Figure Scheduling

Not to be confused with it’s much faster and slantier cousin, Speed Scheduling, Figure Scheduling features the incredibly dangerous triple Excel file. That’s an ice skating joke, for those who weren’t sure. Sorry. It wasn’t my best. Our supervisors have been working on the incredibly complex task of casting us all as residents of New Plimoth, passengers and crew of the Mayflower and part-time molinologists. That might sound like a lot of fun, but from my perspective, it’s totally unenviable. Knowing who enjoys what, balancing experience with the need for a mentor, arranging Interpreters to avoid conundrums like all the houses at the bottom of the hill being empty on a Tuesday, making fake families that look convincing, taking into account our eclectic personalities, etc.; all of this requires wisdom, patience and careful consideration. I’ve seen the cast list, so I can officially confirm that this year is going to be a great one! I can also tell you that the Alden house will be the place to be…bet you can’t guess why ;-) !

Freestyle Pot Scrubbing

Kelley, working with various and sundry other people throughout the winter, has been cleaning up and restoring our reproduction artifacts. We think she deserves a gold medal for this. Every winter, the houses are emptied out and the artifacts literally piled up to sort through. Anyone who spends even the smallest amount of time working in Curatorial over the winter is exposed to insane amounts of grubbiness. Nine months worth of dust, smoke, grease and grime has to be removed to make those kettles so shiny that even a Dutch housewife would be proud.

thanks to Alex for this picture of insane amounts of grubbiness


Darning Moguls

The lovely ladies in the Historic Clothing and Textiles Department have done mountains of laundry, repaired our authentically dirty and worked-in clothing and darned hundreds of tiny holes, moth- or otherwise.


Sadly, we said goodbye to the amazingly talented Johanna Tower who is off to invest time in her education. We miss you already, JT. She did leave us with a parting gift – a whole host of new hats, so expect to see them exhibited in all their fabulous hatty glory this season!



Wood Hucking

Yes, I said hucking. That’s a technical term. There’s a lot of wood hucking going on right now. Specifically, there’s firewood processing for the 2015 season’s cooking fires. After the wood for burning is split using a hydraulic splitter, it’s HUCKED into a truck and the truck HUCKS the wood into a pile:


Please accept my sincerest apologies if this .gif made you a tad motion sick…

Once the truck has done its hucking, the wood is hand-hucked into a rick of wood:

wood rick, dusted with snow

“Hydraulic splitter? Chainsaw?” I hear you say. “I thought you guys were into hand tools, traditional methods and all that jazz?” This is what we consider one of our thoughtful compromises that saves time and money. Some of the twistiest, gnarliest, knotted wood (that we can’t use for much else) can be thrown through the splitter to make it small enough to burn. Just watch out for The Dreaded Chainsaw Marks:

this is enough to make our historically accurate stomachs churn..

I’ll put this one face down in the fire – it’s a dead giveaway to those in the know.

Artisan Biathlon*

Timber Framing

Our Interpretive Artisans have been working hard on the next steps towards completion of the Francis Cooke house in the English Village. So far, this has involved some serious joint cutting. Here’s Steve, Jason and a special guest cutting the mortises and tenons that join the rafters at the peak of the roof (tenons go IN to mortises, like tenants go IN to apartments…).




Next on the list was to cut the collar ties that will hold the rafters at the appropriate angle. If you imagine the roof as an “A” shape, the collar tie is the cross piece that, once raised, will be parallel to the ground. There’s one collar tie cut like this for each gable end.


Then came another Olympic event, that is to prepare the purlins.

Alpine Lumberjacking

Purlins run horizontally along the length of the house in order to fix the distance of the principal rafters from one another. This way, Goodman Cooke’s roof won’t fall simultaneously into the street and into his Goodwife’s garden leaving the poor Cooke children stuck under a big pile of thatch. They will be joined onto the inside of the roof frame with that weird looking joint on the collar tie:

collar ta

Usually, when a timber of this size is needed, that is to say 20-foot long, and large enough in diameter to hew out a 6×8 inch log, we buy it. But thanks to the generosity of Gloriana Davenport at Tidmarsh Farms, the guys went to a snowy island in the middle of a marsh and found two trees that would fit the bill, and felled them themselves. That’s all well and good, actually, it’s really a pretty thrilling process for those involved…BUT…once a tree has been dislocated from its roots, it has to be relocated for its use. And those are some HEAVY trees.

So we all trekked off to the marsh on a fairly cold, but not too wet day last week to fetch those trees out of the woods. Here’s Steve (AKA The Lone Woodsman) getting rid of any awkward branches before we started the moving:

just one man and his broad axe

With a bit of cunning and ingenuity, the first purlin came down this hill, over a sheet of ice, round a corner and back up a hill into the truck.


The second timber was almost a straight shot down hill. For this, we tried using a dreg which may not have been designed exactly for this use. As you can see, it was a big help most of the way:


Long story short, we picked up all the rest of the wood that is needed to frame the roof that day. The other timbers in the truck are mostly destined to become common rafters; the rafters that belong in the mid-section of the roof between the more structurally significant, shape-holding principal rafters (the ones whose joints were being cut above).


And Steve and Jason got to hewing in the parking lot, just like old times

tandem hewing - another olympic event?

Tandem Hewing – another Olympic event.

Jason’s professional photographer and wife, Amanda MacDonald, kindly sent me a these shots of parking lot hewing last week. They are so stunningly beautiful that I couldn’t just share one with you all. She’s really good, check out her website!

I'd say that's pretty plumb

 Thanks Amanda!

There’s even some proof that I’ve done some work this winter!

artisan chic


*You’d think that a biathlon would always refer to just two events, you know, like a triathlon is three, but apparently the Winter Olympics Biathlon is as many cross-country skiing and rifle shooting events as the IOC thinks we might enjoy.  This year, “across the 11 events, biathletes cover distances of between six and 20km, stopping at a shooting range either two or four times to fire at five targets – sometimes as small as golf balls – from 50m.” Likewise, the Artisans carry pieces of wood of between three and 20-foot long, covering distances of between ten feet and five miles, stopping at a riving brake/chopping block/hydraulic splitter/parking lot to make that wood somehow smaller and a different shape. New job description, guys?

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15 Responses to “The 2014 Winter Work Olympic Games”

  1. Alex says:

    That wood hucking .gif is worth a gold medal.

  2. Rick McKee says:

    Triple Excel File-heh heh. Better a truck hucker than a truck huckster. Thanks for shooting the tree-skidding–very cool. Will the Autobot transform into a dry trenail as well?

  3. Pat CLaus says:

    Enjoyed this story so much. All your work, year-round, is so appreciated. It means so much to descendants like me that I couldn’t even begin to express it. Really looking forward to the Alden events this summer as those are my people. Will visit this Summer/Fall for sure. Thanks again – and be careful with all that sawing, etc.!

  4. Hilary says:

    And a big cheers to Team Education, medaling in Cross-Country Driving! Our Colonial Museum Teachers — Malka, James, Vicky, Chris Messier — have been on the road all winter going into classrooms around the state!

  5. Kelley says:

    Sally you truly are an amazing person. Thank you for the blog and thank you for you!

  6. Steve says:

    Nice to see the photo of one of the willow backpack baskets made by Katherine Lewis in use. Pretty photo by Amanda MacDonald.

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  9. Sally says:

    Thank you, Ray, for adding another Olympic Event, Super Studying, to our list. It’s true that our work as Interpreters never really ends. There’s always more to learn! There is, of course, a lot more going on that I could ever possibly write about, some of it I probably don’t even know about.
    Can’t wait to see you in a couple of weeks!

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