Plowing Match at Howell Farm
by Chris Feller of Titusville, NJ
Howell Living History Farm’s 13th Annual Plowing Match was held on Saturday, August 31, 1996. Howell Farm is a 130-acre working farm located in Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. It was donated to Mercer County in 1975 by Inez Howell, widow of State Congressman Charles Howell, and it is in the ongoing process of restoration to a family farm circa 1900-1910, when horses were still the main power source. The Mercer County Park Commission opened the farm to the public in 1984 and their first plowing match was held that year. It has been a success ever since.
This year’s match was held in the north crop field, where winter wheat will be planted in October. There had been very little rain for two or three weeks prior, so the ground was fairly hard in some places. The day was clear, sunny, and humid, and temperatures reached the mid to upper 80’s by early afternoon. The match was well attended, as usual, by both participants and audience. The old standbys were there, some not missing a year since the beginning, as well as a new face or two and a team that returned after several year’s absence. The 16 competing teamsters came from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York, including a team of horses and a yoke of oxen from Howell Farm.
After a 45-minute warm-up period on two practice lands, judging began at 10 a.m. on individual lands drawn by lot. Teamsters were allowed to use one, two or three horses, ponies, mules, donkeys, or oxen to pull a righthand, lefthand or hillside walking plow of any width. Some first-time visitors were surprised to find that a plowing match is not a race and is not a pulling contest. They learned that teamsters were judged on straightness of furrows, uniformity of depth and width of furrows, coverage of stubble, evenness of ends, steadiness and control of the team, adjustment of the plow, and appearance of animals (soundness, fitness) and equipment (well maintained, including harness).
After much deliberation and consideration of several dead furrows to break ties, Fine Plowing Judges Elmer D. Lapp and Jeremy Mills decided on the following order of finish: Jack Hineline of Stroudsburg, PA (first); Dan Ruth of Telford, PA (second); Robert Brown of Mickleton, NJ (third); Halsey Genung of Howell Farm (fourth); Wilber Hartranft of Bernville, PA (fifth); and Ben Haskey of Lahaska, PA (sixth). There is a first place trophy, and first through sixth places receive a ribbon and a cash prize. Because Howell Farm teams do not receive the cash prizes, the fourth place premium was passed down to Mr. Hartranft, and so on down the line to seventh place Pat Hlubik of New Egypt, NJ. Mr. Hineline, as winner of the match, will also be named on the Ben Ellingson award, which is given in memory of the Tennessee farmer and rancher who taught animal-powered farming skills to Peace Corps Volunteers. The award is held by the winner for one year.
In addition to the many competing teams, there were two exhibition hitches. Archie McCauley of Vineland, NJ, the match’s most colorful character, plowed with a four-up of Belgians using a rope and pulley hitch, and Jim and Dana Kruser of Bernardsville, NJ, who are long-time volunteers at the farm, had their team of American Creams hitched to the farms restored “Sunny South” wagon. I handled the plow for a round behind Archie’s team, and they were smooth, steady, and not too fast – just right for this rank amateur.
The morning’s activities also included Novice Plowing, for visitors who wanted to handle a plow behind a team driven by the owner, and Old Timer Plowing, using a Howell Farm team, for experienced teamsters who did not bring their own horses or equipment. Novices received first through sixth place ribbons and Old Timers received first through sixth place ribbons and first place trophy.
After a lunch of roast pork, barbecued chicken, and Howell Farm roasted corn-on-the-cob and baked potatoes, the various plowing awards were announced by Howell Farm Administrator Pete Watson and presented by Mercer County Executive Robert Prunetti.
Beginning at about 2:30 p.m., most of the visiting teamsters competed in a wagon driving obstacle course to show the versatility of their teams. They were judged on how well they drove a 14 ft. wagon through turns, a water hazard, and a back-in area. Time penalties were added for knocking over or touching marker cones, going outside the marked path, or if the team broke into a canter. The winner, with a time of 5 minutes 12 seconds and no penalties, was Dan Ruth who received a trophy, a ribbon, and cash prize.
Second through sixth places, which were awarded ribbons and cash prizes, were Jack Hineline, John Allen of Newburg, PA, Link Longstaff of Lancaster, PA, Wilbur Hartranft, and Robert Brown, respectively. It’s interesting to note that four of the top six in the plowing match were also prize winners in the obstacle course.
The 41 assorted draft animals who made Howell Farm’s premier event possible included two Haflingers, five draft mules, two mini mules, 13 Belgians, five Percherons, two Belgian crosses, two Belgian-Percheron crosses, two Belgian-Suffolk crosses, and two Milking Devons, as well as the aforementioned Belgians and Creams. We thank them.