(From the general news of the period and Belgian and Percheron publications of that time)
On November 6, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected in a landslide carrying 41 states to 7 carried by Governor Stevenson from Illinois. It was the most lopsided win since FDR's win over Kansas governor Alf Landon in 1936.
The combined British, French and Israeli attack on Egypt by seizing the Suez Canal had made some strange temporary allies, namely the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Both offered resolutions in the United Nations to bring the carnage to a quick end. Egypt was being pounded by vastly superior foes. By late November the much maligned United Nations had managed to defuse the situation and, as mentioned in this column last issue, the British and French troops left the canal zone on December 24-a Christmas present to the world. There haven't been very many of those.
But as one fire was being put out, another was being lit when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, one of their own satellite nations! The government of Imre Nagy was apparently not submissive enough to suit them-so they literally went to war with one of their own. Long term, they were probably the losers for both Poland and Yugoslavia increasingly took issue with their Stalinist masters.
So just between the Suez situation and the Soviet crackdown on Hungary, the world was not a very peaceable kingdom. While the U.N. had been quite competent and responsible in the Suez deal, they proved to be just about helpless on the Hungarian thing.
On a more peaceful battlefield, the baseball diamond, the 1956 World Series found the New York Yankees capturing their 17th World Title, over their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers.
There was one no-hit game in that series. On his trip to the pitcher's mound, Don Larson took out every Dodger player he faced. I admired his special preparations for the big game. When asked about any special preparations for the no-hitter he said, "Why, no, I did just like I always do. Had a few beers and went to bed around midnight." Now, there is a regimen for a real champion. The "like I always do" gives you quite a bit of head room.
Just one more thing before we move over to the draft horse business, which was in a pretty bad state of repair. Clarence Birdseye died in October of 1956. He was the fellow who commercialized selling deep frozen foods.
It pays to be observant. When he was working in Labrador as a fur trader he noticed that fish frozen quickly in the winter tended to remain fresh when maintained at low temperatures. To make a long story short, he formed a company to market frozen fish in 1924 and four years later sold out for more than 22 million dollars. Birdseye was a bullseye-you have probably eaten some.
And now to the heavy horse business of a half century ago.
Was the big shrink in the draft horses over? Had the last few loads of perfectly sound horses been hauled to Estherville here in Iowa to be translated into dog food? What would the fox farms do? They had been good buyers of old decrepit horses. The big questions of 1956.
Jeannine and I were young marrieds living in Fremont, Nebraska, at the time. Actually we lived north of Fremont on a farm where the Nebraska Dairy Breeders bull stud was housed. I was the lab manager at the time. I recall coming back home to Iowa on a spring weekend and seeing six abreast working in the field. It was such a rare scene that I waited for the driver and his horses to get within close camera range-thinking I might never see the likes of this again. How wrong can one be?
Anyway to answer the question, "When did the drafters touch bottom?"
Let's go to the Belgian Reviews of that period. Fifty years ago they were finally turning things around. Their fiscal year, ending on November 30, 1956, reported the registration of 85 stallions and 195 mares, a total of 280 animals along with 455 transfers with a total income of $11,261.58.
That was better than fiscal 1955 with a total of 230 animals registered and 446 transfers and a total income of $10,808.76.
And that, in turn was better than fiscal 1954 with 245 registrations and 402 transfers and a total income of $9,986,93.
That was enough of how bad things were. When you consider that by that time the Percherons were well back into second place in terms of activity and the Clydesdale, Shire and Suffolk stud books were basically dead to the world, it is perfectly safe to say the 1950s just about had to be low tide.
Two of the reasons the Belgians and Percherons didn't simply die out was (1.) There were some second and even third generation families that (a.) wouldn't permit it and (b.) loved to show. And (2.) the fact that the Amish farmers did not desert the horse, but became serious breeders, as well as users, of Belgians and Percherons. They also acted as a life preserver. Where the Clydes were concerned, I think you would have to credit Mr. August Busch, Jr., and his Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales. Where the Shires and Suffolks were concerned, there was scarcely anyone left to thank.