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Monday, 16 August 2010 14:56

25 Years Ago Spring/Early Summer 1982

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From general news sources and the Summer 1982 Draft Horse Journal)

No one can successfully accuse the 20th Century of being dull. It could, in fact, have used a lot more peace and quiet instead of so many wars. It was 25 years ago that the most surprising and unlikely conflict of the bunch was waged. It took place clear down at the south end of the known world, not some chronic hot spot.

On April 2 of that year, several thousand Argentine troops stormed the Falkland Islands, easily overrunning the 84 British Marines stationed there. Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Great Britain and a special friend to our president, Ronald Reagan, rejected any notions of being nice and working things out. Britain had both a Navy and an Army and she proceeded to use them. The Falklands were 8,000 miles from Great Britain and its two biggest occupations were fishing and sheep farming. If the Argentines thought Maggie Thatcher would consider the Falklands expendable they had made a grave mistake. It quickly turned into a little full-scale war complete with a naval blockade, war ships sinking one another–including Argentina's only cruiser, airplanes dropping bombs, assaulting beachheads, dead soldiers and sailors–all the things you get with war.

Prime Minister Thatcher rejected a United Nations offer to negotiate this little war. Maggie said, "Thanks, but no thanks–we will do it ourselves"–or something to that effect. On June 14, the Argentine forces surrendered to Great Britain. I haven't been there, but I would guess that fishing and sheep farming are still the primary occupations.

But, if the U.N. wanted to bring peace on earth about, there were plenty of opportunities. Iran and Iraq had been waging a nasty war against one another for over two years. On June 29, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon. That is what is so amazing about the Falkland's war–Britain had governed them for over 150 years or so and most of the residents were of British extraction. It wasn't oil, or religion, or any of the usual suspects. It was way off the beaten path. From a distance it looked like it was done just for the hell of it.

This may be crazy but I think that P.M. Maggie Thatcher attracted men of consequence. In May of that year Pope John II chose to go to Great Britain. It was the first visit of a Catholic pontiff to set foot on English soil in 450 years. Personally, I think the Pope just wanted to meet this Thatcher woman. Plus the fact that he liked to travel and probably put more mileage on his odometer than any other pope, before or since.

The following month, our President Reagan went to pay his respects. His speech to Parliament was the first ever by an American president. Nearly 200 members of the opposition (the Labor Party) boycotted the speech but it drew rave notices from others. I'm sure Reagan's praise for the manner in which Britain had dealt with the Falklands problem brought a big smile to P.M. Maggie Thatcher's face–and he came down very hard on the Soviets. So hard that it is possible that it was the major factor in the resignation of his Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, back home. That was no big surprise. It had been brewing for some time.

That is probably enough of the so-called world news. I think it is time to go back to the Summer 1982 issue of The Draft Horse Journal and see what was going on in the draft horse scene.

The cover of that issue is reproduced here. It was taken a year prior at the Big Four fairgrounds in Nashua, Iowa, which is just a few miles from home. It was on one of those not too hot, not too cool, beautiful late summer or early autumn days that brings out the "Let's go to the fair" feeling in rural people. One of its many virtues is the short lead from the stalls to the show ring, which is in the shade.

On the far left, heading the class, is Howard Buerckley from just a few miles northwest of the fairgrounds. He and Mable are still breeding and showing top-notch Belgians. The judge, scurrying around at the end of the class is Jon Bast, Percheron breeder from Wisconsin at that time–now from sunny Southern California.

As you can see, the stands for the halter class spectators were mostly lawn chairs. If you were very young and agile, blankets on the grass also worked.

A great spirit of fellowship had been fostered at Nashua by the late Arnold Hexom. He was the patron saint of that friendly little Labor Day show. It had a good track and infield for the hitches and its extensive maple trees provided the shade for the many pull-type campers. We showed both horses and sheep there from time to time. You never had to worry about where the kids had disappeared to. It was, and still is, that kind of place.

There were/are hundreds of those local-type shows across farmland America. They serve a noble purpose–just as important in their own low key way as the super duper shows. And it was possible for some pretty decent horses to "get whupped" at Nashua, too.

The current head honcho at this fine little horse show is Brad "Gomer" Messersmith. He is doing a great job following Hexom in that patron saint role. For the really ambitious among you, check out the dates, Labor Day weekend. Same as the big hitch show at Britt, which is not very far up the road. With just a little additional driving you can take in both Britt and Nashua. Some of each. What a deal!

From the maple trees of Nashua's fairgrounds we move to Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University. Twenty-five years ago the New York State Draft Horse Association, in cooperation with Cornell University, sponsored a Draft Horse Short Course and it was our privilege to be a part of it.

We picked up our rental car at the airport in Syracuse and proceeded on to about a week of the most fun with some of the greatest people we had ever experienced. I think I used up almost ten pages to tell you all about it in 1982. I can't be that extravagant now, so I'm going to rely heavily on pictures from that romp through upstate New York. Some of our hosts from that time are no longer with us. So this might resemble a photo album with captions attached.

We started out at Sanger Hall at Waterville and a memorable overnight stay with John, Joan and Stacy Hall in the biggest house we had ever slept in. I think the three photos I took there and our 1982 cutlines will give you a feel for what fun it was to meet the Halls. They were having a lot of fun with their Clydesdales.

From Sanger Hall it was to the home of Jack and Fay Briggs, then in semi-retirement. Both were native to the area. As for the old Briggs farm itself, it had been in the family for 157 years at the time it was purchased to become part of the Cannonsville Reservoir, which is part of the water system for New York City. As we drove around the perimeter of the reservoir, Jack would point out where 40 cows were milked on that farm ... 60 on that farm ... Holsteins here ... Jerseys there, etc. All of this under water, of course. It was pretty clear that Jack preferred the company of the cows and draft horses that had been evicted to the fish that inherited it.

As for our tour guide Jack, he had once had the job of superintendent of horses at Cornell University and was in charge of a general work crew for the Animal Husbandry Department. On his own, Jack was a very successful Belgian breeder. He and Fay really knew the territory, even what was under water.

The first place Jack took us to was Vince Warner's Warner Crest Farm Belgians and Morgans. There we found some nicely restored vehicles along with fine animals of both breeds. There was a pretty little stream going through his pasture and we were glad our two sons weren't along. We would still be there ... fishing.

From Warners we went to Bob LaTourette's Vallee-Cote Farm. This was also the home of 90 registered Holsteins. The labor was all family. Bob said, "As on most farms with horses, they don't get used to their full capacity but we do haul manure (90 Holsteins sounds like a lot of manure), use them in the woods, rake hay and do a lot of parades and shows."

The LaTourettes were sugaring when we stopped by. Jeannine has a thing about maple syrup. She is daft about it ... especially home-brew. This picture tells you the rest of the story.

I enjoyed Bob's sense of humor. For 12 years they had an uncommon streak of getting filly foals. So–Bob decided to release his formula to the general public. Here it is ... "The mare must be tied to the silo, faced toward the north and bred immediately after breakfast." End of instructions. If you want a lot of filly foals, you now know how to do it.

Bob also had this observation to make about stone walls and fences. "Originally the walls served two purposes, as a fence and a place to put field stones. The problem arose when the fences were finished, but there were still a lot of rocks to pick up." Bob LaTourette was, indeed, a wise and observant man.

By the time we got to our next stop we were accustomed to the Belgian-Holstein combination. It seemed to be everywhere we went. This farm was owned by Bill and Marj Rockefeller (that is not the Standard Oil Rockefellers.) They were milking about 70 cows, about half registered and half grade. Good management was evident everywhere you looked. It was a 350-acre farm with about 100 tillable, the rest in woods and pasture. The rolling herd average was 18,000 pounds of milk, which is mighty high. Or at least it was in 1982.

Our last stop for the day, before ending this wonderful little excursion, at the home of our guides ... the Briggs, Jack and Fay, was extremely rewarding, just as the others–each in their own way.

I had about decided that all the dairy cows in New York were black and white, until the stop at the McNee farm dispelled that notion. For it was at the Bob McNee farm where we encountered one of the sweetest herds of Jerseys you could ask for. So ... at least some Jerseys carried on near the old Meridale Farm which welcomed so many Jersey imports to America. The McNee farm was 210 acres with 60 of it being tillable for growing corn for silage and alfalfa and timothy for hay taking two cuttings and pasturing the third.

The McNee's had been in this Belgian business for some time, standing two stallions, the younger one a recent acquisition from Iowa-bred by Eldred Pierce from down around Council Bluffs.

Bob had just recently acquired his own oats crimper and was well satisfied with it. Everything on that place spoke of good Animal Husbandry (a phrase that is endangered). Another thing that interested us a lot was the thick 1-1/4" rubber mats in every horse stall. They were made from conveyor belts used in coal mines or gravel pits ... corded rubber, similar to tires. He bedded over them using straw and/or shavings. He said he had used them for years and saw no wear-out to them.

The motto, if you want to call it that was "Well-bred, well-balanced, well-broke." The whole farm operation answered to that description.

Our next day found us in the Cortland area with another series of farm visits. Our driver on this day was John Beard, Belgian breeder and president of the New York State Draft Horse Club.

The first stop was to that of his traveling side-kick, Doc Richard Sears, near Cazenovia. Doc was a vet with, as you can guess by now, a sizeable dairy practice. I admired his coveralls immensely. Imprinted on the back side was "I'm Really Into Cows." He did a lot of preg checking and had a laid back sense of humor. This was our first Percheron farm visit and to commemorate it, I'll use the picture I took of Doc and his five-time grand champion stallion at the New York State Fair.

Doc Sears is a feature in himself and this is a recap of the travelogue from 25 years ago. To solve the problem I'm going to forget about New York long enough to tell you about a little experience with Sears I've never mentioned.

We have two houses on our farm. The second one, the little one, served as the Draft Horse Journal office sort of ... for a while. In that little house were, among other things, all my treasured Breeder's Gazettes, Volume 1, Number 1, clear up to when that magazine fell apart.

Jeannine and I came home one day and found a pull type trailer parked by the little house. The car had New York plates. The lights in the little house were on. We knocked on the door and Doc Sears invited us in. He had been catching up on all the latest news from the 1901 International in Chicago, I guess. Ruth, his wife, was also an omnivorous reader ... but not of the same stuff. I had forgotten what brought them here ... maybe the Waverly Sale or the Milwaukee Parade. They stayed for a night or two and were delightful guests.

New York was blessed at that time with what we called the holy trinity (not to them ... of course) of Beard, Briggs and Sears. Those three would generally come to the Eastern States Sale at Columbus and just being with them was enough to make the trip worthwhile ... never mind the sale. That was merely a bonus.

Our next stop was at the farm of Dick Menkins near Tully. By the time we got there the snow was really coming down ... it is upstate New York after all. No milk cows here. Dick was a lineman for Niagara Mohawk, a big utility. The utility, celebrating its 100th year in business, had built a new line wagon patterned after an 1882 model. Dick was going to take it to parades and schools ... four-up in the parades and just a team at the schools. The Menkins had 16 head of Percherons at the time and used them in harness a lot.

From the Menkins we went to another Percheron couple on a small farm without dairy cows ... Jonathan and Linda Harrington near Groton. This young couple was actually a second generation operation, because the Percheron story started with Linda's parents. Lester Greene acquired his first registered Percheron in 1939 and became very successful. He served as president and director of the New York Club and was superintendent of horses at the state fair for years. Linda, their daughter, was horsey both by birth and by choice. When she and her husband, Jon, moved back from eight years at the University of Calgary, they took over the draft horses from Linda's parents. At the time of our visit, Jon was a consulting geologist and Linda was secretary of the Plant Disease and Diagnostic Lab at nearby Cornell and an officer in both their breed and state draft horse clubs. They had two kids and it was another wonderful place to visit with inspiring people.

From Harringtons we went with John Beard to his own place, Wonderspring Farm, and their three sons. This was a case of going "back to the earlier pattern" ... namely drafters and dairy cows. The Beards lived on a farm that had been in the Beard family since 1812. The farm name, Wonderspring, came from the spring that furnished all the water for two farms without any electric pumps whatsoever. A Delco plant provided electricity for the farm long before R.E.A. was a factor. It had never been without horses in its 170 years. The main enterprise was a herd of about 180 Holsteins, including 97 that were milking at the time. It was a big operation run by two generations of fine people. The Beards, like the Sears and Briggs, are worth a full-grown book by themselves.

Our next two days in New York were taken up by the Draft Horse Short Course at Cornell. Like everything else, it was well done. Our final farm visit took place on the morning after the two-day clinic at Cornell.

Its location was very handy ... just about ten miles north of Ithaca, home to Cornell. As we started our traveling with Clydes ... we wound up ending it with a second Clydesdale stop.

That location was not an accident. Both David and Mary Flinn went to Cornell, met at Cornell and were married in the school chapel. So it is not surprising that they found their farm close to Cornell ... high about Cuyuga's waters. Compared to most of our other stops, David and Mary were almost newcomers to the draft horse scene.

They moved to this 480 acres (180 tillable-according to my notes) in 1966. Five years later they purchased two Canadian-bred Clydesdale mares and ... as they say, the rest is history. The Flinns have provided a proud chapter in current Clydesdale history. Mary, a relative neophyte at the time, went on to serve as a very efficient and capable president of the Clydesdale Breeders of the United States. Their Starlane prefix has earned great respect in both Canada and the U.S. They have been very important players in the Clydesdale renaissance in the east. We also saw our first Cleveland Bay there ... and I think they still keep one or two of them around.

We had an airplane to catch ... time to go! It is now 25 years later and neither of us can recall a week in our lives that was any more fun than "Upstate New York–Springtime 1982." What a marvelous bunch of people!

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