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Memories of “The International Plowing Match”

There was nothing like going to the plowing match as a young boy.  Seeing all the latest and newest farm equipment available for the farm. And most of all the match plowing where some of the best plowmen compete.

My first recollection of the International Plowing Match was in 1957 or 1958 at the Heber Down farm, Brookline Ont. right here in Ontario County, not much to remember , but I do recall the big steam engines. My mother and dad, uncle and grandfather and grandmother plus my younger sister were loaded in Dad’s 54 Ford car and off we went. My mother remembers only one thing and that was when I had wandered off and got lost from the  others. My Grandpa said, I know where he might be and I was found staring at those big steam engines. Even to this day I can still watch the big smooth silent power that a steam engine can deliver.

When I was 9 or 10 in the mid-sixties, my granddad Tom said I could blow the whistle on one of the steam engines at the match. He asked the engineer and told me climb on up and grab the chain, Grandpa told me what to do, grab the chain on the big whistle, pull hard and hang on!  I did what he said……..and I thought I was blown right to the moon with the noise. That was the loudest noise I’ve ever experienced as I looked down at Grandpa laughing as he lifted me down off that steam engine that day.

The plowing match also meant a day off school which was a highlight for me.  Dad would say the night before, “we are going to the plowing match tomorrow and if you want to go you better help do some chores in the morning, the earlier we get them done the earlier we get away”. The drive was always 1 to 2 hours away so we hustled around and got things done. My Sister and I would ride our bicycles to our new farm and would feed a pen of pigs in the old barn, something we have never done before on our own but Dad had the confidence in us that it would be done right.

We would tune in a local am radio station as we drove to the match. The match was at Caledon that year, not knowing where that was, it took about 1&1/2 hours to get there. As we arrived in the parking field, it was high noon and we all know what happens at noon at a plowing match. With the radio on we heard the steam whistles all blowing at once with a delayed sound on the radio by a few seconds, my first taste of modern electronics.

What do we look at first, so many things to see and do in such a short time. Dad was interested in the labor saving devices for the barn, so off to the Patz display where we met our local dealer Harvey Blackburn (Uxbridge, Ont.) to show us the stable cleaner that was operating on a small trailer using saw dust as material to elevate up the shute and drop it back into the chain below. In 1963 that was quite an improvement over the wheel barrow and a plank up on the manure pile. There was nothing worse than wheeling manure up an icy board in the middle of February with the wind blowing.

Dad and I were invited into the small office trailer where a deal was made to install  a 40 ft shute, 425 ft of chain and paddles double loaded reverse curves and a whopping 5 hp motor to take the manure out of the barn for many years to come. 45 years later after reliable service, the patz stable cleaner has been moved  3 times to its now present location and cleaning manure from our newly renovated heifer free stall barn with the original  5HP motor just like it did back in 1963 when it first installed

On that day I felt proud to be part of that business dealing that my Dad had done to modernize our farm.

At that same display they had a few rows of silo slabs set up with a Patz silo unloader operating . Mr. Blackburn showed me how it worked, a year later we had one installed in our 12 X 35 block silo.

As my sister and I got older we were allowed to go off on our own, on one occasion we watched entertainment at the BP petroleum booth . It wasn’t long before we were invited up on stage and asked us where we lived, our names and what kind of farm we lived on. For answering the right questions we both received and small can of BP lubricating oil.  We still use one of those cans to lubricate the cattle clippers today.

In the early Sixties there was nothing like an old fashion parade, but at the plowing match it was of new farm equipment as dealers would show off their equipment as it made its route through tented city. One tractor that really caught my eye was a brand new John Deere 4010 Diesel with its big smooth 6 cylinder engine. Nothing like the old John Deere D that ran my Grandpa’s saw mill. Little did anyone know that the 4010 would be upgraded to the 4020 which would become one of  Deere’s most popular tractor ever made.  Also in that same parade was a large Cockshutt tractor pulling a monstrous 6 furrow plow , WOW, what an outfit! On the humorous side along came a brand new Massey Ferguson tractor with a new 3 point hitch Sedore snow blower. The blower was operating at an idle and as the driver would pass someone with hats on, he would speed the tractor up and blow the hats right off their heads.

Then it was off to the plowing fields to see the plowing, watching our neighbors and fellow competitors from Ontario County. Some of the old die hard plowmen were our neighbors , the Smith’s along with the Degeers, Dunkelds, Gorrills and  the 3rd generation of Timbers with the grandfathers keeping a watchful eye on all of the furrows. Wouldn’t that be neat to plow at the International Plowing match? I got my wish to come true as I became a young man.

Another item of interest was the demonstrations; one in particular was the introduction of the IH semi mount plow with automatic reset. At the time my Dad had a 10 year old International 300 utility tractor with a 3 furrow fast hitch plow which was up to date as far as I was concerned, as my uncle and grandpa was still plowing with the old Farmall H and a 3 furrow drag plow on steel wheels. At the demonstration was a large new Farmall 806 tractor and this new 5 furrow semi mount plow. They had put heavy railroad ties in the ground and let the 806 and the auto reset plow drive through them. I was sure something was going to break but the furrow tripped up and came right back down again after it had cleared the obstruction. What an improvement over the old fast hitch plow that Dad had at home.

Also at the IH booth was good ole Gordie Tapp with his slapstick comedy and same old jokes year after year, but he filled the bleachers and that was what helped sell IH farm equipment.

How many spectators brought home literature in bags boosting there favourite  colors and yet to throw most of it out in a week or two, some of that literature had been saved and is valuable to the serious collector today. And the yardsticks, everyone brought home yard sticks to fill up the closets. I have collected some yardsticks, one being a DeLaval promoting milking machines and my favourite, a 1948 International Plowing match Oct 12 to 15, International Harvester Company of Canada Limited. In my shop I have a used abused yardstick that has measured many welding projects. It has been stomped on, weld spatters on it, been on fire from being too close to welding and broken, now instead of being 36” long, I shorten it to 26”. Too bad I didn’t take better care of it because it promotes the 1957 International Plowing Match which is the first match that I can remember.

As the years past, the International Plowing Match returns to the former Ontario County now the new Municipality of Durham Region and was the first region ever to host the Match. The match was located just north of the city of Oshawa on the Robson Ramson farms. The year 1975 in the month of September, also at the match was the world plowing contest where champions from each country compete .

As a Durham West Junior Farmer member many volunteers are needed to make the match run smoothly. My job was the wagon tour chairman, as it was customary for the local Junior Farmers in the match area to transport the spectators from the parking field to the tented city and the plowing fields. Planning for the wagon tours started 2 years in advance as all committees were appointed at that time. Plowing match meetings were monthly and held at the Durham Region council chambers in Oshawa, the Junior Farmers wagon tours meeting were held at the OMAF board room in Uxbridge. Our Job was to secure approximately 100 tractors and wagons and drivers for the match event. The tractors came from farms across the New Durham Region and many farm equipment dealers were gracious to give us brand new tractors right off the lot, a good promotional advantage for the dealer and possibly the company that supplied the new tractors.

Sounds easy, not so! We were concerned if we were going to have enough tractors but the calls came in, sometimes with a farmer willing to give his tractor or a dealer would call and send a trailer load.   On one phone call that I had receive was from the John Deere dealer in Orillia some 70 miles away “I have 5 brand new 2120’s if you can use them, we will float them down for you”. We accepted his offer with thanks. This was what made the job of wagon tour chairman so enjoyable, every one working together as a team. We had farm tractors ranging from Ford ,Dexta, International 560, Allis 190 to new International 684’s, countless 165 Massey’s and of course the fleet of new Deere’s from Orillia, to  a pair of new Belarus tractors from Heron farm equipment at Brookline . Norm James sent two brand new Allis Chalmers from his dealership in Uxbridge.  The vice-chairman and I secured these two for our own use; they were a new AC 7045 and a AC 210.

The tours ran smoothly with all units bringing people in from the parking field and then by 10:00 AM transferred some of the wagons to the plowing fields and by 3:00 back to parking to ensure everyone got back to their cars safely. Some of the problems we encountered were tractors running out of fuel, drivers not knowing how to start some of the odd and unique tractors (glow plugs, hard start settings or clutch safety switches, keys left on overnight with flat batteries). All drivers wore orange vests and hard hats. One of the biggest problems we had was flat tires on wagons on route to the fields. It cost time and did not sit well with the spectators. Most of the wagons were used for hauling hay not people which was considerably lighter. Some of the tires were just plain rotten.  By the second day we had to go to the plowing match committee as our budget was exhausted due to tire repair.  At an emergency meeting at the tractor park, we were granted more funds to replace weathered, checked car tires to new flotation type tires to carry the heavy loads of people to and from the fields. When the wagons were returned to the farmers, they were most grateful to see a new set of tires on their wagons. All wagons returned got the safety chain; the tractors got the new draw bolt. We still had a flat each day but were kept to a minimum. Before the tractor and wagon went out in the morning, the oil, fuel and water was checked, tractor started and charging system was operating properly (nothing worse than a dead battery half way through the day), and of course all tires were checked for proper air pressure. There were at least 3 units a day that didn’t start with the rest for some reason or other. We were told to keep the units in good repair no matter what the cost or park that unit permanently.  Some of the major problems we encountered other than tires were when a Belarus ran out of fuel, we to engage a mechanic from Herons to get it started, a rear tractor tire on a Massey 165 had its tire slashed by vandals through the night. This was a major repair and had to be reported to the match committee.  It was a local farmer’s tractor and was agreed to put two new rear tires on and reload with calcium. I thought this was more than extremely fair for the farmer and insured that we were looking after the equipment. Another major problem was with one of the new 2120’s from the Orillia Deere dealership, I was using one to pull trucks into tented city as it had rain and created a mud problem before the match started. I had noticed that it wasn’t idling properly but being a new tractor with no hours on it wasn’t too concerned. By the second day on wagon tours the motor seized solid with about 8 hours on it. We felt bad and I wasn’t looking forward to the fateful call to the dealership with the bad news. The call was made that afternoon and the owner of the dealership said “not to worry we will send down an new 2120 and pick up the seized tractor in the morning” The next morning there was the truck waiting at the park when I got there at 7:00 a.m. and told John Deere would cover the repairs under a warrantee claim.

It was an exciting 2 years in preparation for me and the fastest 4 weeks ever, setting up, the match itself and clean up after.  It was a juggling match for me, milking cows in the morning only and getting to the site for 7:00 to insure the wagon tours rolled out on time, not to mention finding time for my last and final new girlfriend which later became my wife.

Would I do this job again, in a heartbeat!

As time wears on instead of being a spectator or volunteer, now is the time to be a competitor. I had match plowed with the aid of a good friend Ted Smith and have purchased a plow from Bob Tran (a family of dedicated plowers from way back). Now it’s time to head off to the “International” at Kingston in Frontenac County. Now one problem, it rained and rained all fall, our cows were knee deep in mud and had to be stabled early which met extra chores, also corn silage was not complete, too many wrongs to make it right. I cancelled out last minute. The next year with more experience under my belt it was off to Wingham in Huron County, now I’m in the big league. With a Massey 135 which was given by a neighbor and my used Kenvereland 2 furrow match plow I finished near the bottom of the heap but was able to place about midway by the end of the match. Practice makes perfect. My new found bride and myself now toting a brand new 78 Ford truck and used 5th wheel trailer and still a rented Massey and my match plow went to many International Matches through most of the Eighties.

As our children were born and, operating a  2nd generation dairy farm  and  now my 1st love of  tractor pulling, match plowing was taking a back seat. Not enough time to do everything. I was competing at more tractor pulls and less plowing matches and eventually retired from match plowing.

My last International Plowing Match that I competed at was at Lindsay in Victoria County, just 20 minutes away in 1992.  It was a busy week. Our children were growing up with dairy calves to be shown at our local fair at Sunderland , match plowing every day at Lindsay, and yes another wet fall still trying to bale straw in late September. This was the first time that I had recalled combining barley in September. Not to mention our new pulling tractor that was competing at Lindsay Central Exhibition on Sat. night.

Same old thing “practice makes perfect” For this match I practiced quite a bit before the match and was more confident. I had finished middle of the heap as usual as I was up against some of the best plowers in Ontario.

On the last day of competitions the lands were drawn and my land wasn’t particularly suited for match plowing. It was on a hill, beautiful flat loam at the bottom but stony gravelly clay at the top of the hill. This was not good so I decided to make the best of it. The competitor next to me was a lady from North Gower in the Ottawa Valley. She had been placing very well with some wins that week. I could do no wrong and she encountered many problems with her land. On that Friday I beat her and just about everyone else, I had placed 2nd and she had dropped to 6th. She went on to be reserve grand champion for the week but on that Friday I was 2nd, what a thrill it was to beat the reserve grand champion on that day.

It is now time to retire from match plowing.  I was still using a neighbor’s tractor and most of my competitors were using hydraulics to adjust their plowing settings. Now we were doing exceptionally well on the Central Ontario Tractor Pulling circuit with our current International 1066 puller. Now a secondary hobby of collecting Antique International tractors and equipment has occupied a good portion of my spare time.

We do attend International Matches from time to time and one  year in particular was extra special as we traveled to Ireland to cheer on a neighboring competitor, Barry Timbers who competed in the world and against the top plowmen in the world.

In the years to come I may plow again, who knows, it may not take much coaxing. Being a volunteer, count me in. Attending another world match in another country? What a nice way to travel  and enjoy some well-deserved time off from the busy agricultural  career of farming,  tractor pulling, collecting and of course match plowing.

~ Paul Harder, Sunderland, Ontario