Ox Teamsters Challenge 2001
Ox Teamsters Challenge 2001
Josh Sampson showing off special trick with “Dick & Dime” at Guilford, Vermont Fair.

Ox Teamster’s Challenge 2001

by Nan Clark of Chesterfield, MA
photos by Seth Clark

It was the 7th year for this unique event at Cummington Fair in Massachuesetts. Once again the weather was sunny with a light breeze – perfect for participants and spectators alike. As in the past the Challenge commenced right after the Oxen parade. Competing teams were guided to the Outdoor Arena by eager teamsters. This year we had 12 contestants including one woman and one boy only 12 years old. There is no limit on the age of teamsters nor on the age of teams; however, Judge Steve Clark reserves the right to disqualify any team he feels can’t handle the load. Each year the load is different because the log Clark supplies is never the same. It can be long and knotty, short and rolypoly, knobby on one end, etc. By now the teamsters know the log is sure to be hard-to-handle! Still, they come and vie for the winning plaque, generous premiums, and colorful rosette ribbons given by the fair. Also they come to show off their handsome and talented teams.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2001
Josh Sampson and his span easily loading the log.

Remember in 2000 there were some 4-H youth in the contest? Well, this year, 2001, two of them were back, as well as the three teamsters who have been winners – Howard Booker, Ryan Hicks, and Don Silkey. In the bovine lineup we had these breeds: Holstein, Devon/Holstein cross, Brown Swiss, Red Durham (Shorthorn), Durham/Holstein cross, Roan Durham, and Hereford/Holstein cross. Always a picturesque group here to show their skill and training as well as power. Most of what you see here is done with voice commands which proves that hours of patience and persistence, plenty of nutritious feed and water, do pay off. In the bovine brain I’m sure constant loving care doesn’t hurt any either.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2001
Jesse Dewkett with”Bo & Luke.” Team lines up the log with quiet voice commands.

Basically, this event is an obstacle course designed originally by Mernie Clark, Judge Steve’s father. Although he retired from the Challenge several years ago, Mernie never misses watching it. Today the help is mostly familiar folks: Joe Hillman, a teamster from Colrain, Mass, who runs a goat dairy with his wife, is on the job setting up pylons with those teetering tennis balls on top, Shane Clark, the Judge’s son, is in charge of the all-important timer, his cousin, Seth Clark, will be roaming around snapping the pictures for this story. His parents are always in the grandstand as they really enjoy this event. I handle some of the paper work and the mic, giving information about teams and teamsters. As the teams perform there is quite naturally a lot of tension and the polite crowd is quiet. In between there is plenty of good humor, laughter and very good sportsmanship. With so many contestants the Challenge takes all afternoon as each team is allowed 10 minutes to load the miserable log onto a wood-shod sled and take it through the ornery obstacles.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2001
Young Daniel Clark (age 12) with his young pair of Red Roan Durhams was a real crowd pleaser.

Something unusual usually happens. Today is no exception. The one lady teamster was surprised to find her team had no desire to participate. They simply walked off the course while she was busy chaining the log. She chose not to return but got a cheerful send-off from the encouraging crowd. Our youngest teamster had a beautiful pair of Red Roan Durhams (the envy of many adult teamsters.) I asked Daniel how old he was when he began driving calves. He thought a minute and said, “Well, I was walking!” What a crowd-pleaser that was. He comes from several generations of ox teamsters so that was no surprise. By the way, Daniel’s last name is Clark but he’s not very closely related to the Judge or many of the other Clarks who live in Western Massachusetts. Daniel had a really hard time chaining the log for loading (it’s a major mystery) and he was timed out before he got into the course. Judge Steve gave sympathetic help and the crowd gave him an encouraging send-off. We urged Daniel to try again in 2002. One should never get discouraged here. Remember Ryan Hicks – age 13 when he first tried? His team didn’t do very well but he returned year after year until he finally won.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2001
Matt Boyden with “Buck & Fire” eyeballing a tennis ball.

On went the Challenge and there was another surprise. The Amy Booker team of Brown Swiss driven by her dad, Howard, didn’t do well either. They had problems with tricky tennis balls and ended in 4th place. Last year Ryan Hicks and his team of twin Holsteins had such a bad day. You never know with animals, but Ryan determined to do much better in 2001 and he did. He gave ‘Jake’ and ‘Joe’ more exercise at the fair before the Challenge so they’d pay attention to him. They sure did. They lost first place by only ten seconds!

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2001
Don Silkey with “Tony & Spike” Devon/Holstein beauties.

Don Silkey, a one-time winner, was close enough to take 3rd place. Josh Sampson, a 4-H teamster came in 5th. I suspect Josh will be back in 2002 with ‘Dick’ and ‘Dime’ trying to claim first place. He exercised his team this spring at Windy Hill Sugar House in Worthington, Mass, giving rides to families in his newly restored ox cart.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2001
Judge Steve thanks our youngest winner, Jess Dewkett age 15!

After all this, I suppose you want to know who won. You read about him in last summer’s issue when he took 4th place in his first try at the Challenge. Jesse Dewkett, age 15 and a 4-H teamster, came back strongly this time and took over the winning spot. He’s from Hinsdale, Mass, where he raised and trained his hardy, young Holstein team named ‘Bo’ and ‘Luke.’ Jesse exercises his team at home and does well showing them at the Eastern States Exposition. According to the Judge, the score for Jesse’s team was nearly perfect. The keen crowd could tell that ‘Bo’ and ‘Luke’ did a super job and cheered loud and long at the finish.

On Saturday, August 24, 2002, you’ll want to be at the Cummington Massachusetts Fair to watch the 8th Annual Ox Teamster’s Challenge. I expect the four winners will be there with their eager teams. Come early for a good seat in the bleachers. Better yet, come for the weekend and enjoy all the fair attractions. Plenty of camping space. Just contact fair secretary Rose Sherman at Old North Road, Worthington, Mass.. See you there.