Vermont uses draft horse to lay cable for Internet access

Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:58pm EDT
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By Zach Howard

HARDWICK, Vt (Reuters) - In Vermont's remote Northeast Kingdom an aging Belgian draft horse named Fred is part of a team racing to bring broadband Internet access to all corners of the state by 2013.

The horse, 14, and his owner, Claude Desmarais, 66, have been laboring up to seven days a week, over all four seasons, to haul miles of fiber-optic cable and rig it to telecommunications lines.

It is part of Governor Peter Shumlin's vow to get Vermont entirely wired for broadband and cell phones.

The man and animal are indispensable to cable and phone-service provider FairPoint Communications because they easily can access hard-to-reach job sites along country roads, which bulky utility trucks often cannot.

"It just saves so much work - it would take probably 15 guys to do what Fred and Claude can do," said Paul Clancy, foreman of a line crew from FairPoint. "They can pull 5,000 feet of cable with no sweat."

On a recent June day, the tall, burly man and his muscular workhorse toiled 10 yards off of a desolate dirt road in hilly Hardwick, Vermont. They were assisting a work crew manning trucks and together they lashed cable to existing aerial utility line strung along wooden power poles.

As Desmarais murmured a signal, Fred tugged a length of cable from a mammoth truck-mounted reel. With a pull, the cable rose to a lineman, who looped it through a "lasher," or a device that slides along the aerial line. By this method, the new cable was linked up to it as Fred ambled along.

The Belgian horse was outfitted with an old-fashioned draft harness and, attached behind that, an iron whippletree, which is a mechanism used for pulling.   Continued...

<p>Claude Desmarais and his Belgian draft horse Fred pull fiber optic cables between utility poles in East Burke, Vermont June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder</p>