Monday, 16 August 2010 12:04

50 Years Ago Late Summer/Early Autumn 1958

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From the general news sources of the period and the Belgian and Percheron publications of that time.)

It was the era of COLD WAR being waged on far-flung places without the days and nights of bombed cities, ship sinkings and battlefield confrontations of the armies of the two powers. World War II was recent enough to provide many families with vivid memories of the still fairly recent real war. Now the two major powers (once allies not so long ago) contested in other ways. So we will take a brief look at some of those arenas that marked late 1958.

We will first take a look at it in terms of literature … rather than military or financial. Author Boris Pasternak declined the Nobel Peace Prize for literature for his novel "Doctor Zhivago." It was a criticism of Communist doctrine at the time of the Revolution and the demise of the Czars.

Pasternak was 68-years-old at the time and probably both well known and reasonably well-heeled. I doubt that he was in dire need of either the fame or the money. He first approached a Russian publisher who rejected it, probably because he wished to keep on living.

He then released it to an Italian publisher. The book was translated into English. Given the times, it is not surprising that it quickly became popular. Probably first among the academic and political types and then the general public. To read this Russian novel became sort of a rage.

Topper, named the 1958 Premier Sire in the Percheron breed. This great grey stallion was owned by J.A. Honsberger & Sons, Willard, Ohio.
Patagonie Degas IV Again, Junior and Grand Champion Percheron mare at the 1958 National Percheron Show at Ohio and at the Indiana State Fair for veteran breeder, George A. Dix, Delaware, Ohio.
as the faithful carried on.
Conquest, bred and owned by Meadow Brook Farms, Rochester, Michigan. He was Grand Champion at Illinois, Indiana and Ohio–also designated as the American Belgian Show for 1958.
Dorothy Farceur, bred by Doug Palmer, Schomberg, Ontario, and exhibited by Menzie Dairy, McKeesport, Pennsylvania. She was Grand Champion at the American Belgian show at the Ohio State Fair, as well as at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.
Victory Farceur, bred and owned by George Harkness & Sons, Sandusky, Ohio. Reserve Grand Champion mare at the American (Ohio), the National at Minnesota and at Indiana. Three times the bridesmaid …

When Pasternak was denounced as a "pig" at a massive rally in Red Square, it stimulated sales of the book here in our country. If our purebred hog farmers lodged any protest with the government of the U.S.S.R. I'm not aware of it … and I knew several at the time. It isn't often that either authors or pigs get so much attention.

Meanwhile, much closer to home, Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries were being very successful at ousting the Batista government of Cuba. This was right next door, not off in the steppes of Russia.

Global politics was everywhere. We had declined financing the funding and construction of the huge Anwar Dam project in Egypt. It was a bold stroke designed to increase the irrigated acreage of that country by 1/3 and to dramatically increase the major electric generating capacity for that nation. When we said "no dice," the Soviets stepped in and funded the project to the tune of 400 million rubles (about a hundred million dollars in our currency) that pretty much cemented the bonds between Moscow and Egypt's President Nassar.

On a more peaceful note, Pan Am put their new 707s in the air with daily flights to Europe. The Atlantic was still just as broad as before, but the time it took to get to London, Paris, Rome and small towns in Sweden had been dramatically shortened … and thus, those ties had been strengthened.

All-in-all, 50 years ago was a fairly anxious time in geopolitics, but for most of us it wasn't half bad. For one thing, we were 50 years younger. With that surprising fact I will move on to the draft horse scene.

The draft horse business of 50 years ago was a badly wounded duck. The transformation of American agriculture into what is now called agribusiness had exacted a terrible toll on the heavy horse and rural neighborhoods. It was destined to get worse. The Belgians being the most popular were weathering the storm the best. Thanks to that, and a dedicated cadre of breeders who refused to accept defeat, the breed survived. They also had a dedicated and able breed secretary through those lean times in Miss Blanche Smalzried. I cannot think of a single governing body of any kind that exhibited more character or determination in that little group. Their names are legend in the story of the drafter in this country. I want to call the role by name: Earl Bowman, Charley House and Cliff Eller from Indiana; Harold Clark from Michigan; Walt Hoewischer and George Harkness from Ohio; Fred Cook from Pennsylvania and Herb Schneckloth and Les Good from Iowa. In many, make that most cases, their sons carried on bravely in a time when drafters were held in open contempt by many.

With all that going against them, in 1958 they still managed to record 365 new animals, made 529 transfers, maintained the solvency of the Corporation and even showed a fiscal gain of $140.16 for the year 1958. That band of merry men even staged good shows at the major state fairs and when Waterloo, Iowa, ungraciously kicked them out after the 1957 show they moved their National Show to the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul.

You could say much the same thing about the Percheron breed of that period. The color of the horses and the names were different, but the results were similar. With them it was another dedicated woman in charge of the records, Anne Brown of Fair Oaks, Indiana. Her knights in shining armor on the board were: Marv Forwood from Pennsylvania; Lloyd Hanson from Minnesota; Ralph Honsberger from Ohio; Bob Jones from Illinois; Bill McClure and Jerry Rybolt from Indiana; Sherman Read from Michigan; Fred Schell from Missouri; and John Taft from Illinois.

Dedicated farmer breeders every one and, surprisingly enough, a majority of the men on both boards had sons who proudly carried on to see better times. Their old horse-minded allies at the land grant schools had retired or moved to the cemetery. The farm press ignored them except with an occasional nostalgia piece. There were tractors to sell.

As for the other three draft breed registries, they were basically inactive. For me, those guys were Moses and Abraham. They never gave up the faith. Today's healthy trade in the draft breeds owes a tremendous debt to that group of die-hards. The only folks who seemed to think they might be right were the Amish communities scattered from Iowa to Pennsylvania, and a remnant of independent farmers who thought it was madness to NOT grow your own fuel–as in power–and to fertilize your own ground with barnyard manure, lime, crop rotations and legumes.

For some reason I don't have the 1958 Iowa State Fair results … but 1957 will do. The only draft breed left in the show was the Belgians with 11 exhibitors leading 49 head into the ring. And, thanks mostly to our neighbors from Missouri there were 52 mules shown … and over 40 horse pullers for their event.

So what was that big old horse barn filled up with? Mostly Shetland Ponies, Quarter Horses, Arabians, empty stalls and memories.

So long, Moses and Abraham and Blanche and Anne too ... wherever you are. This has been the most difficult "Days Before" column I have ever written.
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