It was summer 1949, and young showman Jim Wiegers and his hogs were blazing the competition at Ohio fairs.
That season alone, Wiegers took home nearly 50 awards – including a first place in every event he entered.
It was also that year the 18-year-old made his first trip to the state fair and set records unlike any other, even 57 years later.
Only one of those shows, though, made such an impact that the now-75-year-old still keeps the winning photograph next to his telephone.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
There was 132 entries in showmanship. Barnes from Ohio State was judge. It got down to two of us. We didn’t make any mistakes. Barnes went to the microphone and said both us boys deserve to win it as we didn’t make no mistakes.
So we had to drive our hogs to the end arena and turn around and come back. The other hog got to the end arena and didn’t want to turn around right away. I guess it was tired of that BS, and mine turned around right along so that’s what won it.
Wiegers took eight hogs to the state fair that year. He’d already won all the top prizes in Auglaize County and planned to show at his home county fair, Mercer, too. But it was canceled that year because of polio, which in hindsight he thinks was a blessing because that meant his hogs weren’t too tired to go to Columbus.
I remember I went to Columbus with a 1946 Jeep and big trailer at midnight with a buddy of mine. I wasn’t worried about the trip but I bet Mom and Dad was.
It’s about 90 miles to Columbus. Never been there before. Drove 40 miles an hour to make sure I didn’t wreck the Jeep.
Mom and Dad might have worried but imagine their pride when they heard their son took home not only the top showmanship award, but also best gilt, best boar, grand champion single barrow and grand champion pen of barrows.
Junior fair officials told him he was the first youth to capture a placing in every class he entered.
I wasn’t prepared for all that. Even got on TV as I just was coming out. Haven’t been on TV since.
Within a year after that famous summer, Wiegers graduated from New Bremen High School, took his fair winnings and bought more livestock.
It was perfect timing, too. The market was booming.
I was buying and selling livestock, was a cocky young man going to capture the world. Us kids were wheelin’ and dealin’.
An old man livestock dealer told me, “Son, everything goes up so high and has to come down and the coming down is rough. It gets them all. The only thing that doesn’t come down is age.” How right he was. You remember that.
In ’52 to ’54, Army got me, so when I got out, went to trading again. While I was gone, though, the bottom fell out of livestock. I got a truck and went to dealing. It was rough – calves 50 cents to $2.50 a head.
I found out early what the old man told me.
But Wiegers survived, got smarter.
He sold out, packed up his wife and two children and headed to Miami and then Ocala to train horses.
Wiegers spent the next 40 years racing, training and cleaning horses’ teeth from Florida to Maine, finally retiring in 1999 in West Virginia.
He never showed hogs again but did take a Thoroughbred filly to the Ohio State Fair once. Came in first, of course.
I wish I could do all that over again. Would not trade my life for anything, though.
Two years ago, Wiegers wrote to the fair, asking if he still holds that record for all those hog wins in 1949. He never heard back, but he bets he still does.
And if it ever comes into question, that 57-year-old photograph next to his telephone is his proof.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)