When I can, I like to arrive early at an event I’m covering. It is nice to get there before it gets crowded and the organizers get busy handling the hundreds of details that go into putting on a successful plow day, heritage festival or other event.
Last month I was in Campbellsville, Ky., to take photos and shoot video at the plow day at the Homeplace on Green River. When I showed up, I was one of the first to park in the spectator parking lot. I parked alongside a long trailer with a half dozen or so Haflingers tied to its side. Stout, beefy Haflingers, that appeared to be 3/4-scale models of any hardworking Belgians you might see in almost any Amish farm field.
Took only a couple of seconds to recognize them as belonging to Jim Buzzard of Beecher City, Ill. A few minutes my guess was confirmed when Jim and Dick Kinkelaar walked up. They arrived the day before having driven almost 400 miles to be there. A few other trucks and trailers were scattered about with mules and some horses being groomed and harnessed.
A few minutes later, Boyd “The Mule Man” Sandusky showed up having picked up breakfast for Jim and Dick. When he got out of his vehicle, Boyd presented me with a walking stick he had made for me, complete with a brass knob on its top and my name carved into the side. Well, I was really touched. I've known Boyd for many years, but have only been face to face with him a couple of times. Mostly we've talked on the phone over the years.
Now, while I am not exactly looking forward to the day I need help walking, there will be at least one bright spot.
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When I was at Horse Progress Days in Mount Hope, Ohio, in early July, 2014, I met a man named Boniface Okumu visiting from Uganda where he was working as Program Manager for Tillers International, helping train thousands of Ugandans to farm with draft animal power.
In 2016, Tillers closed it's operations in Uganda because it was unable to get its governmental permit renewed. The timing was especially poor since many of the local NGOs serving rural development were withdrawing, and the area was rapidly taking on hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese fleeing rebellions in South Sudan.
After Tillers left, the remaining 20 team members formed a local, independent organization called Oxen Clinic Uganda. They continue the Tillers mission of training farmers and draft animals, and also develop, fabricate, sell, repair and maintain farm tools and equipment.
Through a crowd funding campaign, they were able to purchase 7 acres of land for a training center but need additional funds to develop it. In the next issue we will have a story outlining how interested Rural Heritage readers can help.
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I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I can't imagine trying to accomplish my daily work without a computer or cell phone. They allow me to perform more tasks in a day than I would be able to accomplish without them. That is not to say, however, that they allow me, personally, to do a better job on those tasks.
My first three or four editors all used manual typewriters to bang out their copy while I was using first, an electronic typewriter, then a computer terminal. Maury Telleen at the Draft Horse Journal was one of my first editors, first when I wrote freelance for him, then when I joined his staff in Waverly for a short time. I don't know if he ever used a computer. He certainly didn't when I worked for him. Nonetheless, his prose remains some of the best I have read.
Another person I learned could accomplish a lot without modern technology is my father. When I first started working with my dad at the farm where we published calendars and books and sold a variety of titles through our mail order catalog, his operation was just about totally analog. He used a fax machine sometimes to place orders with suppliers, and even data, but most of the day-to-day operation could have gone on even during a power failure. Mail was opened, customer checks were assigned a code to indicate what they ordered, and a mailing label was typed up or written out by longhand to go on the outside of the package.
UPS shipments were entered by hand in a carbon copy log book. Postage was generated with a Pitney Bowes tape dispenser and credit card orders were written up and dropped off at the bank. Supplier information was put on a label that was stuck over the product in the catalog, or on a sheet attached to the shelf where the products were stored. If you were running out of a title, the contact information on how to order more was right there. And when you faxed an order, the fax would go on the stack to indicate the order had been made. Fast and efficient.
I was reminded of this today when I was at the post office looking for a package Eric Nordell had sent two days earlier by Express Mail and that I needed for this issue. I had a tracking number that indicated the package was, simultaneously, scheduled to be delivered the day before by 3 pm, and still at a distribution hub in Pennsylvania.
I showed the tracking number to one of the helpful clerks at the post office and while she went to retrieve the exact same information, I noticed another clerk was entering something in her scanner tablet at another station. “Is that a piece of Express Mail for Mischka?” I asked. “Why yes, it is, she said.” And she handed it to me. In the meantime, the first clerk returned to say the package was probably still enroute from Pennsylvania but she couldn't trace it at that time.
The point I am making is that not only was the electronic tracking system useless, it actually was counter-productive, providing inaccurate information. I would have just been better off waiting for the package and asking for it at the counter.
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We have another good issue here, thanks to our contributors, with several articles about how to get more done on your homestead. There’s information on how to build a pony dump cart, design a login arch, or restore a tank wagon. Anne and Eric Nordell talk about managing soil health on a horsepowered farm, Taylor Johnson continues his travelogue in Scotland where he is learning about Gypsy Vanner Horses and Travellers, and Katrina Julian relates how the entire family worked together to get through a particularly tough day. I have spent time at the Julian Farm, once to put together a TV show called “A Day Dairy Farming” and I know how hard everyone in that family works, and how well they all work together. On this day, that was especially true.
It's going to be a busy summer here, with enough traveling for stories that my gardening projects are in jeopardy already. I look forward to seeing some of you on the road.
If you have an event or activity you'd like to talk to Joe about, shoot him an email at
or give him a ring. 319-362-3027