Ox Teamster’s Challenge 19th Year
by Nan Clark of Chesterfield, MA
photos by Peter King of Easthampton, MA
Here I am – after a big snowstorm – writing about my favorite Summer event. What a winter! So far we’ve weathered a Polar Vortex, snow in Sacramento, and freezing temps in Texas and Florida. People in Pennsylvania will be without power for days, as they dig out of Nature’s latest fury. Chesterfield was lucky. We only got light, fluffy snow which kept my bird feeders busy. My cats and I enjoy watching the antics of 14 different species of birds – including a perky Carolina Wren. What’s he doing way up here?
Oxen are all from the Bovine species which includes Cattle, Buffalo and Kudus. On hand for the 19th Ox Teamster’s Challenge last August were eight different Bovine breeds of cattle: Brown Swiss, Belgium Blue, Chianina, Devon, Holstein, Milking Shorthorn, Normande, and Randall. This turned out to be our best show so far, with enjoyable and not-so-enjoyable surprises.
In the enjoyable column there were THREE lady teamsters: Gail Roberts from West Fairlee, VT; Kathi Poswiatoski from Wales, MA; and Aubrey Staines also from Wales. Spectators love having women compete! Like so many other agricultural events, the Challenge needs young participants in order to keep it going. In 2013 we welcomed six eager and talented kids under the age of 13: Nichole Demastrie from Savoy, MA (12); Kenny Patton from Springfield, NH (11); Cole Dunham from Ware, MA (6); Tucker Hicks (6) and Hunter Lanoue (6) both from Charlemont, MA; and Sam Jenkins (5) from Westhampton, MA. These young teamsters were by far the most enjoyable part of the day. Spectators were amazed at what these kids could do with their teams and how well they handled the ox equipment. All of them were good sports, patient and kind with their animals, and very good using Voice Commands. With young teamsters like these I feel very confident in the future of the Challenge.
So what was not-so-enjoyable? In 2012 Tom Jenkins’ team missed the Blue Ribbon by only 9 seconds! This year Tom was determined to beat the stopwatch. In his haste to place the log on the sled, it ended up on the ground. Tom and his team were disqualified. One of the rules. And Tom was not the only teamster that had like trouble. Bryan Mollison, D.J. Clary, and Kathi Poswiatoski also were disqualified with logs on the ground. Rather amazing! Even more amazing was what jolly good sports they all were – setting a good example for the youngsters who were carefully watching. Lots of applause from a caring crowd.
Many buckets of water were spilled (12) for $20 each for the teamster. Two buckets were spilled by a team of Normandes guided expertly by a 12 year old girl, Nichole Demastrie. What a crowd-pleaser! Our winner, Ryan Hicks, didn’t spill a single bucket with his team of Chianinas. However, his name will be the first one put on the awesome Memorial Trophy provided by the Cummington Fair and many friends honoring the founder of this educational Challenge, Merwin Clark.
Sadly, Mernie died in March 2013. He was 91 and had spent most of his life as a kind and dedicated Ox Teamster. In many parts of this country there are teamsters using the yokes, bows, and traditional hickory whips that were custom-made and hand-crafted by Mernie Clark. What a legacy! How it would please him to know that so many youngsters are learning to love oxen, to treat them with the kindness and respect they deserve.
Our 19th Challenge was dedicated to Mernie, and his Memorial Trophy hangs in a place of honor in the main building at the Cummington, Massachusetts Fair. It is definitely worth seeing when you come to the 2014 Fair on August 21,22,23,24. Of course, the Ox Teamster’s Challenge is also worth seeing on Saturday the 23rd. Our whole crew will welcome you. You will be treated to beautiful, brainy Bovines; talented, top-notch Teamsters; a good-natured, groovy Gateman; a tenacious, tie-breaking Time-keeper; a phenomenal, free-lance Photographer; a just and jovial Judge; and an absolutely awesome Announcer. Come help us celebrate our 20th year.