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Plow Days cultivates farm history

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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BALMAT — Stepping onto a normally empty field this weekend transported visitors to a turn-of-the-century farm.

Men, and the occasional woman or child, pressed sorghum, planed wood, plowed and chopped corn husks with century-old steam-powered equipment and thousand-pound draft horses at the annual Plow Days, sponsored by the St. Lawrence Valley Draft Horse Club.

"When I was a kid my family were farmers and we're still farmers," said Gene L. Mealus, a member of the club. "I guess it's in your blood. Horses are in your blood."

Mr. Mealus, like many of the other club members, still runs a dairy farm, though he does not use the types of equipment that were in the field off County Route 22 in Fowler. The old pieces of equipment are really just "toys" to him and the rest of the club, he said. The group simply loves the old ways and wants to prevent them from dying out completely, members said.

North country residents came out by the dozen to watch club members work the machines and their horses, many drawn out by the warm, sunny weather. They walked around the fields, watching sorghum being pressed to get the sap, 50 gallons of which will make one gallon of molasses. The press was operated by a single draft horse, walking almost endlessly in a circle to turn the wheels inside the small wooden machine. Teams of massive draft horses were plowing a field behind the barn, and a team of miniature horses was pulling a cart around as well.

"If I had a bigger place, I'd probably have a bigger team," said Don W. Norton, another club member, of his miniature crew. "I would still have these because they're so easy to get along with."

He worked the harnesses of his three-horse team — Nipper, Molly and Rusty — and hooked them up to a cart to pull around corn husks and hay bales. The three horses barely came up to his waist, but they can pull a few people in a surrey, or several 8-foot logs, Mr. Norton said.

Pony and wagon rides, as well as a concession stand and a silent auction, also kept visitors entertained.

"We'd seen the posters and thought we'd come out," said Ella Countryman, Cato, who came out both days with her husband from their camp in the area. "My father was a farmer his whole life and did all this stuff. I guess he had a team of horses before I was born and he always talked about it."

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