Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Good Morning, Class of '64
Draft Horse Pull - Dawn Senior Trask

Another Day with Larry
  Christmas, and Other Holidays,
at Our House
Part Two
The West Virginia State Fair was the next big event. While not a legal holiday, it was a holiday for us. It was held near Lewisburg, West Virginia during the third week in August. We always went on Thursday to see the draft horse pulling contest and the livestock parade.
One of the first horse pulls we saw stands out in my memory - I learned a lot about horses and a lot about Dad that one day. There were about 18 - 20 teams in the contest. These contests begin with a fairly small weight on a low iron sled. Each team is required to pull it 30 feet staying between two parallel lines. Each team has up to three attempts to pull it the required distance. After all teams have competed, additional weight is added to the sled. 

The winner is the last team to pull the weight the required distance or the team that pulls the heaviest weight the farthest. In that particular contest, all of the teams made the first pull easily. 

After that first pull, Dad said that a team of dapple gray Percherons was the best team in the field. I, of course, thought he was crazy. At that age, I thought I knew everything and he knew nothing. (Mark Twain said that when he was 18, his father was the dumbest man he’d ever known. But, he said that by the time he had turned 25, it was amazing how much the old boy had learned.) 

The grays were not very big; there were several larger teams. They didn’t look very impressive; the handler almost had to wake them up to take their place in the pulling. They were old; the dapple gray had faded to almost white. Their harness was functional, but it was not impressive - no silver, no gold, no brightly polished leather. 

I liked a team of tall, flashy, black Belgians, the biggest team in the field. They were beautiful, with shiny black leather harness and silver or chrome buckles and decorations. They out-weighed the grays by 3 - 400 pounds each. I was sure they would win. 

After 5 or 6 pulls, with teams dropping out each time, the field was cut to three teams, my blacks, the grays, and a team of Clydesdales that were a little heavier than the grays. The blacks pulled first. Their best attempt was about 7 feet. They were excited, and when they found that the load was so heavy, they started jumping and see-sawing the traces. The handler never had control of them. 

The Clydesdales pulled next. They worked together well, but they only made about 3 feet. Everyone in the crowd, except Dad, thought the contest was over. The grays made 4 or 5 feet on their first pull. They hunkered down a bit lower in their traces and walked off with the load easily the second pull. 

The handler did not seem to do anything after they were hooked to the load. They appeared to be in control of everything. The crowd got very quiet. The Master of Ceremonies said that they had pulled the load so easily, and asked if they would try another hundred pounds. 

The handler agreed, the extra weight was added, and they walked off with that just as easily. I finally understood what Dad had seen. The grays were in control, they pulled together, and they were well-handled. They worked off voice commands with slack lines most of the time. When other teams were pulling, they stood off to the side with heads down and nodding, almost like they were asleep. That same team of grays won that contest for several years after that.

The other teams were too excited and didn’t work together well enough. Some of the teams may well have been drugged with stimulants. I’ve since learned that is not uncommon in horse pulls. That team of blacks were so very excited - they would have been a good candidate for a drug test. If the grays were drugged, it must have been with sleeping pills.
The grays, and Dad, taught me some valuable lessons that day. I learned that the most attractive or the most flashy may not be the best. I learned that if you keep your head while others do not, if you work together, and if you pull your own load, you can accomplish almost anything. I learned that Dad understood horses, and that he had a wisdom that I am still trying to learn.

In later life in the military and working in the prison service, I went through one riot, commanded a riot squad for several years, taught firearms, and was on an armed escape hunt. I looked for people like those grays and tried to always have people like that around me. The officers on emergency squads who talk big about “going to kick butt,” etc., are often the ones who get people hurt. I like and trust the ones who draw their gear, thoroughly inspect it, try to learn as much as possible about the situation, and then go off to a corner and lie down and at least try to sleep while waiting. They’re the ones who will do the job and keep their heads.

We always walked through the carnival, but we didn’t spend much time there. We spent most of our time in the livestock barns, the farm machinery displays, and the exhibit areas. We watched a few trotter races. The livestock parade was in the evening, and the fireworks display was at darkness, about 9:00 P.M. It was the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen.

We always took a picnic lunch and went back to the car to eat it. That saved money and was better than the concession stands food. One year when I was about 15, we stopped at a beer joint called “The Wagon Wheel” on Route 219 on the top of Elk Mountain on the way home. We went in, and my older brother said that he wanted a Pabst Blue Ribbon. 

Dad asked me what I wanted, and, on impulse, I said that I wanted a Blue Ribbon, too. The proprietor asked, “Is he old enough to drink beer?” Dad said, “Yes, he is,” and I had my first beer. Dad told that story several times saying that he didn’t lie, he simply thought that I was old enough to drink beer even if the state didn’t. I didn’t much like it but later acquired a definite taste for beer.

Percheron Pulling - A.G. Rufus -

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