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October 12, 1895. The George W. Thomas farm, north of Big Rock, was host to the first Big Rock Plowing Match. The day was complete with dinner and nine plowmen, actually eight as one was ruled out because he used two instead of three horses. There were classes for gang plows, riding plows and walking plows, and the sweepstakes winner was Benjamin Thomas. And so it began and so it continues. By the turn of the 20th century there was a plowing match every weekend in September: Big Rock, Lily Lake, Troy and Wheatland. Today, only the Big Rock Plowing Match remains.
Today, as we look forward to celebrating our agricultural traditions at the Plowing Match, plowmen are preparing for the competition, getting equipment ready and planning their strategies in the hope of winning their class and being the Sweepstakes Champion. This event is the reason we gather on the third weekend in September.
Bill Brickert and Craig Thomas, Association Board members, coordinate the plowing competition from preparing the field to awarding the trophies. Bill and Craig plow the scratch furrows to define the land, one furrow at each end of the field, indicating the start and the end point of each “land” section. A numbered marker and two stakes are placed, one at each end of the land.
At 9:00 a.m. sharp the plowmen gather for the “drawing of the lands”. Each class is announced, the rules are reviewed. Each plowman entering the class draws an envelope indicating the numbered land he/she is to plow. Classes scheduled on Saturday and Sunday are outlined on the Scorecard. Craig and Bill record each plowman’s name and land number before the plowing begins.
Plowmen line up in front of their drawn land outside the scratch furrow waiting for the start time. Plowmen can set multiple stakes to guide the first round, creating one very straight line to guide the plow. Done correctly, when the plowman views the stakes, only one is seen.
Three hours to plow 7 rounds: 7 straight furrows of uniform depth and width, showing slight ridge and distinct from end to end. A low back distinct furrow, with back slightly crowning and all trash (sticks, weeds, grass) covered. Only during the first round an assistant may help in setting the plow, adjusting for depth, realigning the plow and suggesting speed. The assistant also guides the plowing, pulling stakes out ahead of the tractor.
Plowmen create devices to assist with plowing straight furrows. One such adaptation is a pole mounted on the front of the tractor. A chain hanging from this pole runs along the side of the furrow, enabling the plowman to focus on plowing with the assurance the furrow will be straight.
During the remaining rounds, the plowman is solo, carefully watching the plow to know when to stop. Within the three hours, each plowman may stop as needed to realign or adjust the plow, as well as factor in the speed of the plowing. Plowmen are attentive to the dead furrow on the left where the plow turns over the dirt. The furrow without trash is to the right.
The plowing competition scoring is posted on the field as a reference point for guests and observers to gain an understanding of the scoring. Points are received based on the quality of the plowing specific to the five elements/categories being scored.
Everyone is invited to watch the plowing, located across from Plowman’s Park, adjacent to the Historical Society on land provided by Marvel Davis.
Plowing concludes and the judges proceed into the fields to score. Plowmen head to the point board by the Junior Fair building to await their scores. Bill and Craig tally the judges’ scores and post on the point board at the end or the plowing day. The left column indicates the day, class and name of the plowman. Columns along the top indicate land and point criteria leading to the total score for each plowman.