(From The Draft Horse Journal and general news sources of that period.)
Want to read something pathetic? Twenty-five years ago, in late June of 1980, several heads of state and their entourages met in Venice to discuss "the situation." There is always a situation. In this instance, these countries were faced with sharply escalating prices for petroleum from the OPEC nations. So, they faced the situation squarely and issued a declaration saying that they could reduce oil consumption by up to 20 million barrels a day by the end of the decade (which is now 15 years ago). They went on to say, "We must break the existing link between economic growth and the consumption of oil." Yep, that by cracky, is what the leaders of West Germany, France, Italy, Japan and the U.S. said. Hopeless drunks, swearing that they will quit ... tomorrow.
Mother nature did her best to remind them to get serious about this. Back on March 28 a volcanic mountain in Washington called Mt. St. Helens had given the northwest a good scare. It had been dormant for 123 years when it issued its warning. Then, in little more than two months-on May 19, it blew its stack again. The timing was perfect-right before the big meeting in Venice. But did the politicians heed the warning from Mt. St. Helens that you can't mess around with Mother Nature indefinitely? There will, of course, be people who see no connection, but you have to expect that in this business.
The Summer Olympics, held in Moscow, were somewhat muted. The 81 teams on hand was the lowest number since 1956. We (the U.S.) were boycotting the games because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Sixteen of the participating teams chose to fly the Olympic flag rather than their national banners to protest that invasion.
The Republican convention in Detroit nominated Ronald Reagan as their standard bearer. Gerald Ford, the former president, declined Reagan's invitation to be his running mate. So, much to everyone's surprise, Reagan turned to his principle rival for the nomination, George Bush, Sr.
A month later President Carter was renominated by the Democrats. His only serious rival had been Senator Edward Kennedy from Massachusetts. When Kennedy sensed that the game was up he released his delegates and pledged to work for Carter's reelection to defeat the Reagan-Bush ticket.
With that done we were in for a long hot summer of campaigning. By comparison, the draft horse business looked like a better deal than politics. So let's go there.
The opening article 25 years ago was a reprint from Avocado Grower by a gal named Diane Ciarloni Simmons. The title was "Mule Power Strips Hillside Trees." It was a good story, well told, about the pickle that H&M Ranch of Carpinteria, California, found itself in. The fruit was ready and the pickers were there. Then-the rains came, turning those steep hillsides into the well-known slippery slope. Add to that the fact that this ranch was riddled with natural springs and you have ruled out any sort of "mechanical rescue." It was impossible for pickers to scramble up and down the muddy slopes. And ripe avocados aren't like bricks. They won't wait for you.
The answer came in the form of a mule-a sure-footed mule borrowed (or rented) from George Chamberlain of Santa Ynez who dealt in mules; lots of mules, some for saddle, some for driving and some for pack. Well, that pack mule bailed the H&M Ranch out of their dilemma and the pictures run with that article are about the best in the issue.
Avocados (I learned) are grown on very steep slopes. As Ms. Simmons said in that article, many people ask in amazement, "How do the growers ever pick that fruit?" It is not the sort of agriculture that lends itself to mechanization. That was 25 years ago. So did this experience start a mini-boom in the demand for mules from avocado growers?
The answer is, "I don't know." I haven't even thought about avocados since we published the story.
The bulk of the editorial content of that issue was Part II of the "Harold Clark and the Matrons of Meadow Brook" story. Since that story has been published in its entirety as part of the book, A Century of Belgian Horses in America, we will skip over that completely. That hogged so much of the space that I suppose the Percheron and Clydesdale people could have organized a protest, claiming discrimination, but they didn't.
The other fairly sizeable thing was the featuring of three different big-bale movers via a team and forecart. We declared them all as "winners" in the Cumberland Contest. There was no "law" that said we couldn't hand out a check and a blue ribbon to three people instead of just one. We made up the rules and decided that all three were winners-and all three rigs were just a bit different. The farmer-engineers were L.O. White, Havana, Arkansas; George Conrad, Huron, South Dakota; and Willard and Wallace Olson, Oldsburg, Kansas. Our great friend, the late Lyle Bare, was in charge of the Cumberland Contest. And he was a fairly accomplished tinkerer himself. It takes one to appraise one and we felt real comfortable with Lyle handling that Cumberland thing.
We touched on the circus parade held July 4, 1980, in Baraboo, Wisconsin, in this 25 years ago column in the last issue. We should also mention the big "Reunion Of The 40" held at Allegan, Michigan. It was called the "last roundup" of the 40-horse hitch, first put together in 1972 for the Schlitz 4th of July Circus Parade in Milwaukee. Well, civil unrest-in part anyhow, put an end to the great Milwaukee parades. Sponsor fatigue might have played a role, too. But the horse community had withdrawal pains for years. It missed Milwaukee on the 4th.
Anyhow, the 40 was dispersed on a blizzardy day in December 1977. Roy Rieman, Milwaukee publisher, purchased four of the horses and twenty sides of harness and proceeded to organize reunions of the "40" at the Agricultural Hall of Fame near Bonner Springs, Kansas, in 1978 and '79. And that was supposedly that.
But Jim Chestnut, dairyman and Belgian horseman (who also had a pair out of the 40) started beating the drum for one last reunion to be held at his hometown. With the help of folks at Farm & Ranch Magazine and the Sparrows, he pulled it off. And you know what (sounds like Grandson Henry-"you know what?") about 50 horses showed up along with thousands of people. This raises the question of how can 50 horses show up for a 40-horse reunion? That's easy. They came and went in the hitch. Some were in the hitch for years, others for one season, and, I suppose, a few for about fifteen minutes.
And that, folks, is the latest news from our DHJ issue of 25 years ago this fall.