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Monday, 16 August 2010 11:05

50 Years Ago Late Autumn/Early Winter 1958-1959

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From the general news sources of the period.)

On January 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state in the United States. It is a big, cold place and per square mile instantly became the largest state in this union of ours. The final vote in the senate was 64 to 20. I don't know where the opposition came from, but I assume that the two senators from Texas were among the minority and probably knew the outcome well in advance. Why not? If the numbers were never in doubt, why make your own constituents angry just for the heck of it. They didn't get to the senate by being stupid.

Halfway around the world, Indira Gandhi, the only daughter of Prime Minister Nehru, and the granddaughter of a statesman as well, became the head of the government of India. She was only 41 years old.

Of much more immediate concern 50 years ago was the conquest of Cuba by the forces of Fidel Castro. Now that was some real castor oil (no pun intended) and I suppose one might say we gained Alaska and lost Cuba in just a matter of a couple months. There was no connection between the two situations but Havana was a heck of a lot closer to us than Nome.

Also in January of 50 years ago the Soviets announced that they had sent a cosmic rocket carrying the hammer and sickle emblem past the moon and into a permanent orbit around the sun, held in common, I presume, with the Kremlin. It was reported to be 340,000 miles from earth traveling at 5,500 mph. Wow! The Soviets crowed that this demonstrated that the balance of power had shifted in their favor. How like boastful boys! Both us and them. Personally, I suspect it may have induced climate change to the detriment of both of us. I'll check in with Al Gore on that.

And before we get to the draft horse business of 50 years ago, I want to go to the publishing world of that era to mention two books published in that year that still merit your attention ... just in case you are sitting there with nothing else to do at the moment.

The first one is Parkinson's Law written by a historian named Parkinson ... naturally. It is simply this. "Work expands to fill the time for its completion." Imagine that ... goofing off, buck passing and gold bricking deserve their own law! Now any kid that has been through the 2nd grade has already figured that out. And the reason I know with complete assurance that this is true is that I did spend two years in the second grade. One for practice and one for real.

The other one that belongs there and came out the same year was The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith. Among other observations, he wrote that "wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding." Imagine that. He blames the financial world and the high flyers for a lot of stuff. It isn't as much fun as Parkinsons but both these authors had their heads on pretty straight. It is a clever author with his eyes wide open to what his fellow human beings are up to. These books were both best sellers a half century ago. I suggest you go to your own public library and check it out. If they don't have them on the shelves, give them a little static.

And with that I will desert the world of a misspent year in grade school and the world of politics and publishing and go back to more familiar territory–namely the draft horse business in that winter of 50 years ago.

The drafters had been expelled from competition at the International Livestock Show in Chicago–except for exhibition hitches such as Anheuser-Busch, Wilson, etc. It was just one more kick in the pants. The Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa, had unceremoniously kicked the National Belgian Show out of their show the same fall. It was apparently the thing to do.

Replacing horses and mules with mechanical power became the standard recommendation of farm papers (profiting from their advertising), farm advisors, the land grant schools, extension service–most everyone and everything fell in line rather quickly and the faithful drafter became "the beloved culprit" in that post-war period of the late '40s and '50s. The fact that we had been engaged in a world war which stripped our farms of millions of young men for military service had, just a few years earlier, taken a great toll. Old men and kids needed help–they found it in mechanization. World War II and its aftermath changed the face of farming, as well as other things. To many, the draft horse became an object of ridicule.

So there we were in 1958 with a faithful few carrying on with their horses and mules, even as their communities and neighborhoods morphed into ever bigger farms and bigger machinery investments. Back to Galbraith's book, he blames the financial world for a lot of stuff. Same way in farming. And the trend goes on and on and on. Bigger, whether it be livestock or crops, is never quite big enough, it seems.

The only one of the great winter shows that still retained the horses was the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Canada. The Canadians were a little slower to dismiss the drafter from their government connections. They even had some of their government agencies and schools standing stallions–such as the great Percheron named Riverbend Monkoncarlaet. One of the great sires of the breed, he was standing in the province of Alberta at the time.

So what did the faithful do 50 years ago? They hung in there, kept their horses in harness, raised a few colts and waited for better times.

Let's just take Earl Bowman, long-time Belgian breeder from LaFontaine, Indiana, as an example. He just went right on raising colts, and showing a few. He was also a Belgian director. We will run the picture from his ad in the Belgian Review. It was people like him and countless others who just calmly went about their business as they waited for better times in the horse business. They could scarcely get worse–so they must be gonna' get better.

Riverbend Monkoncarlaet
Sire of the winning Get at the 1958 Royal Winter Fair. The group included Justamere Stylish Stella–many times champion at that great show, and the Reserve Junior Champion mare. He was, himself, Reserve Grand at the 1947 Royal.
header over Bowman's ad-
FROM THE BELGIAN REVIEW – 1959
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