Tuesday, 17 August 2010 11:13

25 Years Ago Late Winter/Early Spring 1980

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From general news sources of the day, the three breed papers and our own Spring 1980 issue)

Afghanistan was very much in the news 25 years ago, just as it is now. And for some of the same reasons. Soviet troops had moved into the country just as 1979 wound down. The Soviets claimed that they were invited by President Amin. Amin was a Marxist, but had rejected an offer of help from the Soviet Union. I guess he wanted to be his own kind of Communist.

Convinced that Amin could not control the Afghan rebels, they decided to come and help anyhow. One story has it that they engineered a coup so they had to help. President Carter, for one, claimed they engineered the coup and he held them responsible for killing Amin.

Lots of countries had a stake in this situation. Russia was probably honestly concerned that the success of the Moslem Fundamentalists in next door Iran would spread to Afghanistan-like a disease. China didn’t like the looks of this either. Neither did the Moslem nations. In fact, the Islamic Conference representing 36 countries and 900 million people condemned the Soviet intervention. And we certainly didn’t like it. So politics sure makes strange bedfellows. If anyone figured this would help spring our hostages loose from Iran, they were in for a disappointment. The Russians did not leave. Neither did the Rebels...but they lived there.

So why has this mountain kingdom been so important? The three best reasons might be location, location and location. I don’t think it is the poppies or the scenery.

The United Nations voted 104 to 18 to deplore the acts of the Soviet Union in their neighbor, Afghanistan. I suppose being deplored is better than being ignored.

Exxon reported a profit of three billion dollars in 1979. About the same time, George Meany died. It was just 25 years since Meany had become leader of the combined AFL-CIO. That placed him at the head of roughly 13.6 million union members. I doubt that any labor boss since has had the clout or the respect (from the other side) that Meany had.

There was a new face in the Winter Olympics held at Lake Placid, New York. For the first time ever, China was fielding an Olympic team. I don’t know how the Chinese did, but an Olympics without them would certainly seem strange now. The American hockey team won a stunning victory over the highly-favored Soviet team in the quarter finals and then went on to defeat Finland in the finals. This was only the second U.S. Gold Medal in team play. Eric Heiden of the U.S. won a total of five gold metals on the ice. So, much cheering for that.

But at the same time, the troubles in Afghanistan were casting a dark shadow over the upcoming warm weather Olympics scheduled for Moscow. President Carter first threatened a United States withdrawal from the summer games unless the games were moved out of Moscow. Nothing happened. He also asked Congress to delay consideration of a new arms agreement with the Soviets and imposed some trade sanctions. None of these things worked–so in March of 1980, Carter made good on his threat that the U.S. would boycott the summer Olympics. While it had some effect on the games, it was not catastrophic. Old friends like Great Britain, France, the Scandinavian countries, many South American nations, Mexico, Canada and the entire eastern bloc were represented at the Moscow Summer Olympics.

Aside from the confrontations in Iran and Afghanistan, Carter had an economy to worry about. The inflation rate was the highest in about 30 years. So, in March of 1980, Carter went to Congress with a plan to cut federal spending by 15 billion dollars, which was only about five times the profit that Exxon had reported in 1979. He also wanted to impose tariff fees on imported oil, calculated to kick the price of gasoline up about a dime a gallon. There was a lot of inflation around and about. Take the draft horses at the major breeder-sponsored sales at that time: Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The general average on all animals sold follows:

Columbus, OH
Indianapolis, IN
Cedar Rapids, IA
$ 360
$ 414
$ 330
$ 465
$ 487
$ 386

Now I know that registered Belgian and Percheron horses are not exactly like corn, toothpaste and motor oil, but there was a lot of inflation around. Our money was being devalued. When Exxon reported a profit of three billion dollars for fiscal 1979, that was a pile of money-more than they had ever made before. The government calculated that the inflation rate of 1979 was the highest in 33 years. It was considerably higher in the draft horse markets (as indicated in this chart).

Kind of hard to imagine right now, isn’t it? A president wanting to balance the budget. About as unlikely as having a mountain blow up here in the U.S., which is exactly what happened in 1980. On March 28, Mount St. Helens up in the state of Washington spewed out tons of steam and ash. It was a big one and it had been dormant since 1857. Once every 123 years isn’t so bad.

We will now turn to the horses and see if they were as inflated as many other things.

The cover photo was taken by a great friend of ours, now deceased, named Pat O’Sheel. He is one of those you keep right on missing for the rest of your life. The picture was taken in June of 1978 on a rolling pasture beside the Solway Firth at Torrs, Kirkcudbright, Scotland. There were eleven mares and their foals on that pasture. It was (is) a 550 acre farm operated by James C. Picken, who was carrying on the long family tradition of breeding Clydes. The farm carried 200 odd dairy and beef cows and 250 breeding ewes as well.

Here is Pat’s description of Jim. It is classic O’Sheel. “Jim Picken is a blue-eyed, barrel-chested 50-year-old with a ruddy complexion earned in the bracing chill of Scotland’s mists and gales. He is currently president of the 103-year-old Clydesdale Horse Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a loose confederation of fiercely independent breeders”...and on and on.

When Jim took over the farm in 1950 (he must have been about 28 years old then), he had to sell 26 of the 76 horses there at an average of 36 pounds (around $58 per head), compared to the 1980 prices of about 1,000 pounds or $2,250. A great many of them were going for export.

We had met Jim Picken at the 1976 Royal Winter Fair in Toronto where he was judging. We visited Torrs and the Picken family on one of our draft horse tours. The place where Pat had taken the photo was a stiff little hike up from the building site. Jeannine and I took the hike. It was beautiful. Had we not already been married for 30 odd years and had a houseful of kids, I would have gone promptly down on my knees and proposed to her.

A further word about Pat O’Sheel from Maryland. I don’t remember when it was, but it was during a Waverly Sale. We were very busy, Jeannine peddling our papers and myself taking photos of the high sellers. This dapper guy (he was dapper) came along and asked, “When would be a good time to sit down and have a visit?” I gave him an honest answer. I told him that we would have breakfast at the farm about 6:30 in the morning and he was welcome to join us. He did! We got along famously. He was a state department employee and my guess is that this man did a marvelous service for our government. While serving in Britain, Pat fell under the spell of the Clydesdales–”Thudding hoof and flowing hair,” etc., the skirl of the bagpipes–all that stuff really got to him. He was enraptured by the whole scene and wound up being very knowledgeable about the Clydesdale. He was, in fact, gathering notes and making interviews with a book in mind for when he retired from the diplomatic service. It never happened. All the documents were stolen in a railroad station shortly before he was slated to return home. That was a crying shame. It would have been a good book.

In addition to the cover scene, we will run a picture of Jim Picken. What a delightful bunch of memories that Spring 1980 issue brings with it.

Jim Picken handing out the winning tickets at the Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland.   Andy Amsbaugh, Ukiah, California, with four span of mules out in front and a pair of Belgians on the wheel.

This mother and daughter, coming 5 and 10-years respectively, were the first pair of registered bay Belgians with black points that I had ever seen at a major sale. In the early days, very early days, bay was the predominant color of the breed. Then they became sorrels and roans, and by 1980, it was pretty much sorrel. The young mare brought $5,000 and her dam $3,000. They were consigned by Dr. A. F. Allen, Plain City, Ohio. Doc was a Belgian board member at that time and later served as president. I have no idea where the mares went.

The third, and what was promised to be the final reunion of the 40-Horse-Hitch was ON said the folks at Farm & Ranch Living Magazine. The first two reunions were held at the Ag Hall of Fame near Bonner Springs, Kansas. The next one was scheduled for the Allegan County fairgrounds in Michigan. This is a Des Moines Register & Tribune photo taken on the track at the Iowa State Fair in the mid-’70s (with 48 head).

It was 140 pages so I’m just going to go through it from that cover on.

I must have been in an evangelistic state of mind because the first long (winded) article was a call to arms–to get like-minded people together at the big show in Detroit in October and put the old Draft Horse & Mule Association of America, or a reasonable facsimile, back together. We did. And it prospered for a few years and, I think, did some good things. Now, the most tangible legacy from that effort is the annual Horse Progress Days and the many short courses around the country that were patterned, to some extent, after the ones offered by the DHMA.

There were two stories written by Andy Amsbaugh from Ukiah, California, in that issue. One of them was called “Mule Power” and featured hitches of 25 to 33 mules that pulled the combines in that wheat country up in Washington state. The other was about driving big hitches with the jerk line. We’ll run a picture of Andy doing just that.

Andy was a bosom pal of Orval Pierce from here in Iowa. Both were great horsemen and good company. I think they were both part farmer, part rancher, part cowboy, part long line driver and part horse. Wonderful men, both of them.

There were so many spring sales by that time that it would be tedious to review them all. We will simply picture a few of the high sellers from the three breeder sales mentioned earlier and the National Clydesdale Sale.

The Belgian Association was experiencing its biggest years–forget about the “good old days” when everybody farmed with horses. The previous high year in Belgian activity had been 1937 with 3,196 registrations and 4,510 transfers. The low point had been 171 registrations in 1952 and 317 transfers in 1953. Twenty-five years ago the Belgians were headed for 3,719 registrations and 4,738 transfers in 1980. Those figures would get even bigger for a few years in the mid-’80s. Lazarus has nothing on the Belgian horse in America. Needless to say, the other draft breeds were also prospering. It was basically “happy days” in the draft horse aisles.

About the time you think you have heard about all the breeds of horses (or dogs, cattle, sheep-what have you) in the world, along comes another one. Toward the end of that issue is a story about “The Swiss Mountain Draft Horse.” Since that small nation had produced Brown Swiss cows, which I literally grew up with, why not a breed of horse? We will run one picture from that article.

It was an interesting experience to go back and read that old magazine from 25 years ago. Sad, in a way, because so many of the men and women pictured and mentioned have left us...and fun in another way because it was surely “the best of times” and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But then, almost anytime is the best of times for someone.

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