The year was 1950 and there was excitement in the air on Powhaton Farm in Champaign County. The farm was one of the host farms for the National Plowing Match, sponsored by the National and Ohio Plowing Matches and the National Association of Soil Conservation Districts. It was the first “National” held outside of Iowa.
Nearly 75,000 people visited the farms for the three-day, standing-room-only event that garnered headlines in newspapers around the state and nation for weeks prior to and after the event was held. The show even featured a test plot with the astounding goal of 300-bushel corn in 1950. The National Plowing Match was so noteworthy for the farm and community in Champaign County just south of Urbana that a historic marker stands to commemorate the event.
That was a big day for Richard Evans in the same year he took over the family farm founded by his great-great-grandfather, Isaac Evans Jr., who had come from Virginia in 1812. Isaac’s father, at the same time, purchased land that is now home to the city of Urbana.
President James Madison signed an original land grant deed to Isaac Jr. for one-quarter section for the 160-acre farm in Urbana Township of Champaign County. In 1830, Isaac received another patent deed for 161 acres adjoining the original portion of the farm.
“Isaac purchased the land for $2 an acre. He had three years to pay it at 6% interest,” said Sue Evans, Isaac’s great-great-great-granddaughter and the daughter of Richard. “It was unsettled land and they probably had a single-bottom plow pulled by a horse. They had to clear trees and build a house. I am amazed at how they could do what they did. They raised corn and wheat and had cattle. A colonial farm was very self-sustaining. They raised their own food and had their own orchard. That was what they did for survival.”
Land next to the original farmstead was home to a wool carpet mill and cider mill, general store, blacksmith, shoe shop, and doctor’s office in a small village named Powhaton, founded in 1847.
“The next generation was William Strode Evans and he had one son, John Will who was my great-grandfather. John Will Evans married Melissa Jane Roberts who grew up just down the road in Clark County. John served in the Civil War. He farmed with his father and taught in a nearby one-room school. They had two sons, my grandfather, William Edgar, and Charles. Charles went east and opened a restaurant in New Jersey. William Edgar stayed on the farm. He was known as Ed,” Evans said. “My grandfather was known for being hard working and kind. He had one child, my father, Richard.”
Richard’s life that followed was the familiar tapestry of farm life with threads of joy, tragedy and hard work woven together with a few unique things as well. The Plowing Match on his farm was undoubtedly a highlight in his farming career, but certainly not the only one.
Richard’s mother (Ed’s wife) died when Richard was seven.
“His mother kept him at home from school an extra year. She went to Grandview Hospital in Columbus to have surgery. My father sat on the front porch steps and watched his mother leave, looking happy and smiling. She had not been ill, but she did not survive the surgery,” Evans said. “So from then on, he grew up with just his father who never re-married. As you can imagine, they were very close.”
At that time the farm was a Jersey dairy and they grew corn, wheat, oats and hay. They added a corn picker and a three-bottom plow — great advancements during this time. Richard grew up involved with every aspect of farming during that era. Richard graduated from Urbana Local High School and went on to the Ohio State University College of Agriculture to fulfill his boyhood dreams.
“From the time he was a small boy, he told everyone he wanted to be a scientific farmer when he grew up, but he couldn’t pronounce ‘scientific’ and it always came out ‘scienticky,’” Evans said. “In 1930 he started college and came home every weekend to help his father on the farm. He was at OSU with Jessie Owens. Grandpa was injured, though, during dad’s senior year and he dropped out of college to come back to the farm and help. He really believed in education and always finishing what you start, but he put his goal aside and came back home and farmed.”
Side-by-side the father and son farmed, growing closer all the while. Richard married and started a family. Then tragedy struck again.
“My dad was plowing and my grandfather was behind him working ground with a disk and a spike-toothed harrow when a storm came out of nowhere and they started to bring the equipment in. My grandfather was driving the tractor over freshly-plowed ground standing up and he was hit by lightning and fell off the tractor,” Evans said. “My father looked back and saw the equipment circling. It had run over my grandfather three times before my father could stop it. He was 75 when he was killed. My dad was 38. I was 6.”
After that, Richard continued the tradition of his forefathers farming the land. The dairy transitioned into a registered Hereford beef operation.
“My father spent his life dedicated to soil conservation. He was an original board member of the watershed conservancy district and he was involved in all of the ag organizations,” Evans said. “My brothers left home after high school. One went into the Navy and was reported missing in 1961 during the Cuban Bay of Pigs Invasion, which was an unimaginable tragedy for our family. And my other brother has owned and operated a hunting and fishing resort in Ontario, Canada during his career. He now owns the farm adjacent to the bicentennial farmland. My mother passed away when my father was 80 and he continued to do all of the farming of nearly 500 acres by himself until he was 89, at which time he went into a crop-share program with a neighbor.”
It was then he decided to attend to some unfinished business — his college degree.
“In 2001 he visited the dean’s office at Ohio State where he was presented with a file folder containing his transcripts from 1930 to 1934. They discussed where his credits from nearly 70 years earlier would fit into today’s curriculum and he enrolled in classes at OSU to finish his degree work. Everyone else was using a laptop, and he had a yellow legal tablet,” Evans said. “He took classes one at a time, earning straight As, but then he was injured in a car accident and was unable to finish the remaining courses to complete his degree.”
The accident finished his college career, but it was not the end to his interest in agriculture.
“After the accident when he was in the hospital trauma center I visited him and the first thing he said when the ventilator was removed was, ‘How are the grain markets doing?’ I told him corn was at $7.42,” she said. “He immediately wanted to sell a Dec contract and asked for my help to accomplish the sale.”
Evans had married a broadcaster and, for many years living out of the area, had come back regularly to help on the farm as she could from her home in Virginia.
“When I retired it was my intention to come back here and be with my dad. He died three weeks before that happened at the age of almost 97. Dad and I were really close,” Evans said. “He always kept me updated on everything that was happening on the farm.”
Upon returning to the farm in 2009, Evans beautifully remodeled the farmhouse — the third structure on the same foundation since the farm was founded in 1812. She is also in the process of refurbishing an old train boxcar brought to the farm in 1901 to store grain.
At 72, Evans meticulously cares for the property on her own and farms the 300 acres of land on shares, marketing the grain herself and jointly making input decisions with the neighbor who farms it. She hosts a monthly “Grain Girls” meeting with a group of women farm owners and managers who meet to learn and improve their grain marketing skills. She sits on the foundation board for Clark State College that has been dramatically expanding its precision ag program in recent years. She also manages a scholarship her father started for agricultural students from Champaign County attending the Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
She feels very privileged to live and work on her family’s bicentennial Powhaton Farm.
“I have a son and daughter, and they will take this over when I pass on through a generation skipping trust. Neither farms. My daughter is an architect and my son is in law enforcement, but I feel very confident that they will keep the farm and continue the legacy. I have six grandchildren. I keep encouraging them to not ever let it go,” Evans said. “Every day when I wake up and look out this window, as far as I can see is land that has only ever been farmed by my family. I am grateful for my ancestors. They were upstanding, hard-working people who loved the land and cared for it. This is a rare situation, and I realize how fortunate I am. It is humbling. There is no better life, but it is not an easy life. My father instilled his work ethic in me and the desire to keep this going. I stand on very broad shoulders.”