Tuesday, 17 August 2010 08:57

25 Years Ago Late Spring/Early Summer 1981

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From general news and our own 1981 Draft Horse Journal)

It was a great spring for attempted murder on the public streets. On March 30, it was President Reagan, gunned down by a 25-year-old would-be assassin. Reagan survived.

About a month later another assassin tried to take out Pope Paul II as he rode in an open car among 10,000 worshipers near St. Peter's Square. Like Reagan, he was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital and survived. His would-be assassin was a Turk who was protesting the imperialism of both the Soviet Union and the United States. He, at least, spread his grievances around.

How about race riots? Surely we had some of those. I suppose we did, but strangely enough the biggest of that spring was in England.

From a basically homogeneous society prior to World War II, Britain had quickly gone to a 4% population of non-whites. A great many of the newcomers were concentrated in a small area of London's south side. On April 12, they did a right good imitation of Detroit, Chicago or Los Angeles.

Also in England a notorious killer called the Yorkshire Ripper (real name Jack Sutcliffe) was sentenced to life in prison–and a good thing too. This is another case of a "holy warrior." His divine mission (self-commissioned) was to eliminate prostitution. He was another one dimensional nut case. Will we ever run out of them?

But there were a lot of "good guys" too–such as Cardinal Wyszynski, the Roman Catholic Primate of Poland. Active in the resistance to the Nazis in WW II and a staunch opponent to Stalin, he walked a fine line mediating between the Communists and Lech Walensa, the head of the Solidarity Movement. He was a brave man and good for both his times and his country.

So you might say that, in general, the early '80s were neither the best of times nor the worst of times. But for the draft horse business here in North America, they were easily among the best of recent times.

The Summer 1981 cover was among the first of the DHJ covers that was not a photograph. It was a painting of eight jet black Percherons in the foreground and the Disney World theme park in the background. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The hitch was making a nation-wide tour calling attention to this anniversary. Providing the music was a 74-year-old steam calliope. The tour started at the Calgary Stampede in July and culminated at Disney World (Orlando), where it was to stay for the "Ten-Cennial" Year.

Throughout its 60 years Disney had restricted its parade hitch to films and shows at theme parks in California and Florida. So this very ambitious road tour of 1981 was a sharp break with tradition. Scheduling from July until fall made it possible for the Disney hitch to appear at several state fairs and special events in both the U.S. and Canada.

While Disney was new to a circuit like this they were old hands in the livestock business. A 700 acre ranch near Newhall, California (near the Disney studios) and a 12,000 acre spread in Wyoming had provided a lot of livestock and several scenes for films such as "Little House on the Prairie" and others for years.

So while Disney was not new to the horse business, this was the first time they had taken the horses to the public in the flesh–instead of in a movie. Here is that busy agenda for this black hitch and 74-year-old calliope 50 years ago this summer and fall: July 3-13 Calgary Stampede, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; July 15 Klondike Parade, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; July 17-21 North Dakota State Fair, Minot, North Dakota; July 23-26 Cheyenne Frontier Days, Cheyenne, Wyoming; August 4 Parade of the Rockies, Colorado Springs, Colorado; August 6-10 Wisconsin State Fair, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; August 12-16 Kentucky State Fair, Louisville, Kentucky; August 18-22 Iowa State Fair, Des Moines, Iowa; August 24-30 Ohio State Fair, Columbus, Ohio; September 1-7 Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota; September 11-14 York Interstate Fair, York, Pennsylvania; September 16-21 Eastern States Exposition, West Springfield, Massachusetts; September 26 Roanoke Transportation Museum, Roanoke, Virginia.

You might say our two main articles were one entitled "A Business of Horse Logging in Tennessee" and "Bill Yoder & Family and Their Belgians." First to Tennessee–this was sent to us by Clois Snyder, a forester with the Tennessee Division of Forestry. The author obviously had a great deal of respect for the subject of his article. Here are the first four paragraphs:

"Jesse Kendricks of Haywood County, Tennessee, is an unusual lumberman, depending almost entirely on horses to keep his sawmill supplied with logs. He is a believer in horsepower, working his eight teams 8 to 9 hours a day the year around. He is not a rich man keeping heavy horses for a hobby or a breeder working draft horses for show and exercise. He is a practical businessman whose stock must work and work well, regardless of their size, breeding or color.

"Using a portable mill carried from tract to tract, his operation is reminiscent of numerous similar operations of years past. While other mills either became larger and more mechanized or went out of business, Mr. Kendrick's continues. He combines an ample measure of personal integrity with low capital investment and the advantages of horse logging into a profitable business. Employing twenty-five people, the mill produces 50,000 cross-ties and 1,000,000 board feet of lumber annually.

"Mr. Kendricks lists several advantages of horse logging. Because the logs are hauled to the mill, there is less embedded sand and dirt in the bark. Filing time is reduced and sawing time shortened.

"He is able to work horses on more days than is possible with skidders and tractors. He can log in wetter ground, with less damage to the site. When floodwater is backed out, or when logging in swamps, mud boats are used instead of wagons to "float" the logs out."

And so it went for a couple more pages. Makes you think that author and area forester Snyder scratched his head once in a while asking himself, why others didn't "go thou and do likewise."

But we've a lot of stuff from Summer 1981 so we will just run a couple photographs from that article and move on.


The other major story was about Bill Yoder and his extended family in northern Indiana. Bill and his wife lived on an 80-acre farm where they raised 12 children, the oldest of which was then 15. Add in four sons and two sons-in-law and you find them farming a total of 549 acres at that time. That is less than a section, supporting seven farmsteads and families. My last drive across north central Iowa suggested that it takes at least a 640 acre section to just turn some of that machinery around in, much less make a living on. Hard to believe both those scenarios can be found in the same country and/or just 25 years apart.

Many of you knew Bill and know his boys. They were and are good people. They were standing about a half dozen stallions at that time and buying and selling Belgians like mad. Bill alone had sold 18 since the previous fall. The fact that the draft horse market was very strong in the '80s helped the cause along.

I recall being with Wendell Berry at the sale in Indiana about that time. At the other end of the ring stood Bill Yoder, feet planted like young oaks, arms akimbo–everything about his bearing belied his age, and said, "Here, I stand, take it or leave it." Wendell said, "Look at that ... We have an old testament prophet in our midst" ... or something to that effect. Wendell's exact words escape me but the memory of Bill's stance is still clear in my head.

The progesterone business was booming at that time and Bill had a lot of mares on the urine line. They were also good carpenters. When they needed a new building, they built it themselves.

It was fun to reread this article.

The Bill Yoder story was written by Ben Webb, a young man who was, I believe, our first full-time hired male employee. We had part-time clerical help from the git-go, but nobody to send out with a camera and a note pad until Ben came along. So I'm sure he was the first DHJ employee who wore trousers. He has since become the rector in the Episcopalian church serving a parish down in Cedar Falls, about 20 miles south. (I had absolutely nothing to do with that.)

The price of draft horses had risen steadily during the '60s and early '70s. By the late '70s that "steadily" had turned into "sharply." The question had changed from "Will the draft horse survive?" to "Are they too high priced?" So three of us sounded off on the subject of "Are Draft Horses Too High?" Since I owned the piano, I got to play first. Bob Mischka from Wisconsin and John Hahn from Nebraska were the other two oracles. Bob, being an accountant, had by far the best credentials. We all three answered the question a little differently. The consensus was, "No–they aren't too high–maybe about right finally." John's piece appeared last. I like the way he closed it. He said, "Horses are cheap. They'll pay for themselves easily. I've proven this to myself. You better get yourself some while they're so cheap." At a way to go, John!

High, low, or in between, we remember it was a great time to be in the draft horse trade.

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