LONDON, Ohio – Forgotten shoe boxes often hold keys to the past. In Dean Hopkins’ case, they also unlock the future.
Tucked in his late father’s belongings was a ticket stub lovingly placed in an envelope, “Dean’s ticket” scrawled on the outside in his mother’s penmanship.
In a flash of nostalgia, he opened the envelope, finding his forgotten 50-cent ticket to the 1957 World Plowing Contest.
The childhood memories flooded back: a first grader, playing hooky from school for the first time, watching the tractors parade through fields of freshly turned earth.
Ticket in hand, Dean called his cousin Gary to reminisce. Then a sophomore in high school, Gary also spent the day at the contest in Peebles, Ohio, hauling spectators through the fields on a tractor and wagon.
Forty-six years after the contest they remember so fondly, the cousins from southwestern Ohio hosted a plowing contest of their own. This time, no tractors were in sight.
First contest. While the annual September Farm Science Review typically boasts the biggest, newest, sleekest equipment to catch farmers’ fancy, the true horsepower was down the road at the Hopkins cousins’ horse plowing contest.
If the turnout and talk are any indication, the old art spurred a new wave of curiosity. Spectators showed up before the Sept. 17 contest started, loaded down with cameras and lawn chairs, and settled in for the afternoon.
At the first state-level contest of its kind in Ohio, 24 contenders vied for first-place titles in one of four plowing categories: one-bottom walk-behind plow pulled by two horses; sulky-riding plow pulled by two horses; a three-horse sulky; and a two-bottom gang plow pulled by four to six horses. Competitors used draft horses or mules.
Three judges rated contestants in 10 areas, including depth of furrow, straightness of furrow, throwing of the land and teammanship with horses.
Taking home blue ribbons and invitations back next year were Mike McCormick of Wilmington, one-bottom walk behind; Roger Vogel of Mount Orab, sulky with two horses; Jack Parker of Lima, sulky with three horses; and Fred Judy of Dundee, two-bottom gang plow.
Tim and Tom Mootz, sons of the 1957 contest winner (Dwayne Mootz), presented Vogel with the high-points award.
Talk of the town. Gary and Dean Hopkins did their homework months ago, helping to make the contest a success.
Starting last spring, the cousins covered 2,500 miles of Ohio, speaking to local draft horse associations about the contest.
Although many groups sent plowmen to the contest this year, the cousins hope the associations will host their own contests next year and send the winners to the state contest, which is guaranteed to be at Farm Science Review for the next two years.
Their ambitions reach beyond just Ohio. Having other states interested is the key to the cousins’ ultimate goal: a national horse plowing contest in 2007, the 50th anniversary of the World Plowing Contest.
Teamster respect. Although the cousins didn’t participate in the state contest, saying it was a conflict of interest, both participate in local contests and take pride in being a teamster.
“If we don’t keep doing this, it’ll be a lost art someday,” Gary emphasized. “After all, this is how we fed this country for a lot of years.”
Competitor Scott Link agrees. He uses both his draft horse team and tractors in the fields at his cow-calf operation in Fort Recovery, Ohio. While using his tractors is considered work, horses are his pastime.
It’s more challenging, he admits, but “it’s good to remember where I came from.”
“Anyone who can plow with a horse can get on a tractor and do a good job plowing, but it doesn’t work the other way around.”
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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* Ohio Horse and Mule Group
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