Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002

Ox Teamsters’ Challenge 2002

by Nan Clark of Chesterfield, MA

At the country fairs this year there were serious signs of patriotism. Cummington Fair in Massachusetts was no exception with flags & banners proudly displayed. There was also a new kind of challenge for the Ox Teamsters Challenge – inclement weather! For the first time in eight years, the Challenge day was rainy and 50 degrees. Three weeks earlier the local fairs enjoyed (?) 100 degrees. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later considering the Law-of-Averages or even Murphy’s Law.

Anyway, there we were in our warm jackets and rain hats ready to put on a good show for the hardy spectators, many of whom remained in the bleachers huddled under umbrellas all afternoon. Undaunted, Judge Steve Clark, in a long-sleeved shirt, set the tone for all eleven contestants. Paper work had to be protected from the dampness and, as announcer, I had to pocket the mike to keep it dry between uses. Steve’s ever-faithful helper, Joe Hillman, was fresh from his goat dairy barn in Colrain. He ‘lowed as how he wouldn’t melt in the rain and managed to do his job resetting the pylons, tipsy tennis balls and all. The course was probably harder with wet ground causing the knotty log to stick and then roll in any direction.

There were three new crew members: two Clark ladies (Steve’s wife, Sherry, and daughter, Sabrina) kept close track of the time clock. On camera was Tammy Hicks, a local postmaster from Charlemont. Her close-up pictures tell their own story. I will use them to point out some unique things about the Challenge, things that often bring cheers from the crowd.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #1

Picture #1 – Here Judge Clark gives Ryan Hicks some directions. Seeing their hands pointing opposite ways makes me wonder if Ryan knew which way to head.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #2

Picture #2 – A perfect shot of how this voice command works: “Come Haw!” The nye ox pays attention and pulls the off ox to the left. This team is ‘Jake’ and ‘Joe’ the 11- year-old Holstein twins raised and trained by Ryan Hicks, Challengers for 8 years.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #3

Picture #3 – Here we see Rich Guilford hooking the chain to the log while his wife’s Hereford/Holstein cross team ‘Wilbur’ and ‘Dick’ wait quietly.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #4

Picture #4 – This is a new team for Howard Booker. ‘Tiger’ and ‘Lion’ are Chianina/Holstein cross, raised and trained by Howard’s wife, Marcia. (Often there’s a woman behind the man behind the oxen.) Here Howard has asked team to “Back – Turn” and be hitched to the chain.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #5

Picture #5 – The damp ground shows easily how this team of Holsteins drags the log in-and-out of the cones. Josh Sampson guides ‘Dick’ and ‘Dime” with a quiet voice.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #6

Picture #6 – There is an X cable on the wood-shod sled. Don Silkey has hooked the big end of the chain into the X. From there it goes under the log and back to his team of Brown Swiss. With a voice command to go ahead slowly ‘Sam’ and ‘Duke’ roll the log onto the sled. Notice that knotty end!

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #7

Picture #7 – Here ‘Jake’ and ‘Joe’ stand at attention while Ryan Hicks decides how to secure the log with chains.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #8

Picture #8 – Almost a disaster for the Booker entry. Under the judge’s watchful eye, Howard rescues the teetering log with his own brute strength and keeps it from hitting the ground which would have disqualified his team. The rain-soaked crowd loved his quick action and cheered him on.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #9

Picture #9 – All set to go, ‘Tiger’ and ‘Lion’ and Howard Booker all in step!

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #10

Picture #10 – Another perfect ‘goahead’. Jesse Dewkett with ‘Bo’ and ‘Luke’ in stride, feet together!

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #11

Picture #11 – In the home stretch here’s Don Silkey hurrying his Brown Swiss team ‘Sam’ and ‘Duke’ to the end of the course and carrying the chain to the finish line. They made it just as the timer buzzer went off.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #12

Picture #12 – Time to pick the winner!

For some reason – maybe weather – this was a really hard course. Only one team finished in less than ten minutes. Once again it was time that decided the winner. Both Jesse Dewkett and Ryan Hicks had a perfect score; however, Ryan finished in 9 minutes 19 seconds while Jesse took the full ten minutes.

There was two tense moments: one when the Booker team nearly lost the log. Then at the very end we thought Fran Mason was going to compete with his fast team of Red Durhams. I heard Ryan mutter, “Oh, no. Fran’s team can beat mine!” Turned out one of Fran’s oxen was lame so, using good judgment, he did not compete.

Ox Teamsters Challenge 2002
Picture #13

Picture #13 – Congratulations to Ryan Hicks and a treat for ‘Jake’ and ‘Joe’ now 3-time winners!

There were two new contestants: Elmer Johnson with a handsome Devon/Holstein cross team and Tom Lewis with a young team of Jerseys. This was Tom’s very first team which he named after his brothers, Ken and Bob. We hope to see both Tom and Elmer again next year as well as Brian Mollison who has been a good challenger every year.

The Challenge is open to all ages, male and female teamsters, from near or far. It shows the enthusiastic and considerate crowd the beauty and intelligence of many bovine breeds. (Not to mention the beauty and intelligence of the teamsters.) It’s also about having fun and being good sports. And this is only one of the many exciting events at the Cummington Fair each year. There’s plenty of camping space so you are welcome to stay all four days. See you at the Challenge 2003, on August 23rd – rain or shine!