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Tuesday, 17 August 2010 09:58

50 Years Ago Late Summer/Early Autumn 1955

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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Let us first discuss "the value of the dollar." On August 12, 1955, the federal minimum wage was raised to $1 per hour. Jeannine and I had gotten married the previous summer. Her annual salary on her third and final year as a full-time junior high math teacher had been $3,150. I was making about the same as lab manager at the Nebraska Dairy Association bull stud plus a house to live in. If you had a lot of bales of hay to put away before the rain, you could hire high school kids, but they were savvy to this darned minimum wage so if you worked four kids for five hours, you would have to part with twenty bucks. There was a risk of "spoiling" the kids, with all that buck-an-hour money.

If you project this far enough you can see yourself, or your successors, paying $10,000 for a vacuum sweeper and eating a Maid-Rite that costs $15 without the meat or $20 with the meat. So when people tell me these horse prices are crazy, I tell them that I wouldn't know. Because I don't understand anything as crazy as money.

Same with Latin American politics. I don't understand that either.

The biggest political act in our hemisphere was taking place down in Argentina. Juan Peron was president-also known as dictator. In early June, Pope Pius XII kicked him out of the Catholic church. Excommunicated was the word used. This cannot have surprised Peron, as he had kicked out the Vatican's representative in Buenos Aires and arrested a whole bunch of priests. He had gotten pretty cocky so he was probably very surprised when the military did not stick with him. But they did arrange for him to be packed off to Paraguay for asylum, which was better than getting shot.

Eight years later the Vatican absolved him and reinstated him as a Catholic. The following year he headed from Spain (where he was by then) to Brazil and, lo and behold, in November of 1972, he re-entered Argentina to cheering crowds. A year or so later he was elected president-so in September of 1973, eighteen years after getting kicked out of the country, he was again president. He died on July 1, 1974. Almost as crazy as the "value of money" in places like Nebraska and Iowa, isn't it?

Most of the World War II leaders were gone, either dead or out of office. The new Big Four which met in Geneva, Switzerland, in August, was made up of Bulganin from Russia, Eisenhower from the U.S., Mendes France from France and Anthony Eden from Great Britain. It didn't sound like a whole lot got done, but at least they didn't make things worse. Those meetings were, I think, part window dressing and part annual meeting.

France was having trouble with their colonies in North Africa. Morocco and Algeria were not happy campers and the rank and file in France was not crazy about sending their sons to war to maintain the old order. Nor were the sons wild about going. Same old story with colonies everywhere.

A young movie actor named James Dean was killed in an automobile wreck. This young man had captured the imagination of his generation as no one else ever did. He was a good looking kid and a marvelous actor with his slouchy body language. It sure wasn't his enunciation. Many actors are very articulate & shy-Dean was anything but. He was a mumbler-almost inarticulate. He appeared in only three movies-East of Eden, Giant and Rebel Without A Cause. The latter was a fair description of him. We saw them all-he was truly great & shy-mumble, mumble. His early death was a pity, most of them are. It would have been fun to see him grow old. I think he would have done very well at it-mumble, mumble.

In baseball, Leo Durocher, long time manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and later the New York Giants (both national league clubs), quit baseball to enter business. Durocher did not mumble-as many umpires could testify. His signature phrase was "nice guys finish last."

And with that we will go to the horses-in the form of the Belgian Review and Percheron Notes for the 1955 show season.

The draft horse trade had sort of stabilized at a pretty low level. The only purebred sale of great consequence was the one in Indianapolis every March. Like the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto and the old Internationals in Chicago, Indianapolis had become a gathering of the clan; an annual reunion of the faithful-a spring ritual.

So far as the state fairs are concerned, they had gotten about as small as they were going to get, draft horse-wise. And the folks who still had drafters were not about to get rid of them. The shows were important in holding this determined band of brothers and sisters together.

Belgians had more horses and more shows. One of the mysteries to me is how the Percheron population here in Iowa just plain vanished for a few years. The breed literally dropped out of sight, and quite fairly, got kicked out of the Iowa State Fair for lack of participation. So Des Moines was the only Midwest state fair with classes for Belgians and Clydesdales by the mid-'50s. Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois had Belgians, Clydesdales and Percherons. Most of the rest were limited to Belgian and Percheron shows.

The one program that kept going through those lean times was the Hoosier Gold Medal Colt Program. It was conducted by Purdue University and the Indiana Livestock Breeders Association. The 1955 winner of the Conner trophy was Farceur's Major, owned by Adrian Buck, Otterbein, Indiana. The horse was bred by Charley House of Arcadia, Indiana, sold to Adrian Buck and then later sold to Earl Bowman, LaFontaine, Indiana. Three great guys and one great horse. That program, along with the sale, was important in keeping Indiana at the core of the draft horse business. I think it is safe to say that by 1955, Indiana had become the epicenter of the draft horse business and it remained so through those lean years.

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