By Matt Reese
Years ago, we were just finishing the last windrow of rich alfalfa hay. The remainder of the field only amounted to about half a wagonload. Despite the small amount of hay, we were scrambling to get done because, even though the weather forecast for the day said there was no chance of rain, black storm clouds were racing towards us from the western horizon.
As I pulled the last couple small square bales from the chute, the first fat, wet raindrops pelted me in the face. We were done with the hay, but we still had to get the half load in the barn or hay-baling timeliness would be in vain.
Most of the crew left to move the equipment to another field and I was left with an old tractor, a half load of hay, two young workers, and the task of backing that four-wheeled hay wagon in the barn before the skies really opened up. The rain was starting to pick up by the time I backed that hay wagon up a small incline to the doors of the barn that combined to open up just a fuzz wider than the hay wagon. I tried once, twice to back it in, stopping just short of crunching the barn door both times. The rains continued to pick up with the blackest of the storm clouds almost on top of us. I looked up at the grim sky and yelled, “Unhook it boys, I think we can just push it in.”
It started pouring seconds after we had pushed the half full hay wagon safely into the barn. It was a great success story for the hay, but a miserable failure of my four-wheeled wagon tractor backing skills.
It seems I should have spent more of my youth pursuing the chance to compete at the Ohio State Fair Tractor Day. 4-H members have to qualify for the competition at the county level. This year the Ohio State Fair Tractor Day was held on Aug. 3 and Ty Higgins caught up with Dewey Mann, assistant superintendent of the competition.
“We’ve got 106 participants that have qualified at the county level to participate here at the State Fair event,” said Mann, who is with the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering The Ohio State University. “There are 60,000 4-H youth in Ohio, and with 100 students here you are already in the top two tenths of a percent of those 4-Hers. Out of this elite group of 106, we give out one clock trophy in each of the three classes and we also recognize the top 20% with Outstanding of the Day. I remind the participants that if they don’t quite make it into that top 20%, 80% at State Fair is still a pretty good honor to be here.”
Unlike most State Fair 4-H events, the competition is not held at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus. Because of the space required and the challenging logistics of transporting equipment to Columbus, the event is held at JD Equipment in London.
“A lot of this is about space and convenience. We’re very thankful to JD Equipment for hosting us,” Mann said. “We have access to tractors, and nice shiny tractors at that. They are all green and these young people get a chance to drive everything. The 8-year-olds to 11-year-olds drive an X350 lawnmower all the way up to the older students driving a 5000 E with a clutch and standard transmission. It starts out pretty basic with our younger age division. There is no trailer or deck on the mower. They are going to drive through an alley forward and backwards. I tell the parents that it is driver’s ed. for 8-year-olds. It is a great opportunity for young people to get some driving experience out here.”
The older competitors in the J2 Division use a 4000 Series John Deere Hydrostat (with no clutch). They drive a two-wheeled wagon through an obstacle course of PVC barrels filled with concrete and 1-inch PVC stakes. The oldest competitors have to drive a tractor with a clutch and do an obstacle course with a four-wheeled wagon (I know first hand this is no easy task).
“A lot of it has to do with getting infractions for hitting a marker and how close you are when you are backing in and out of sheds and alleys,” Mann said. “It is about getting experience and getting them connected to things that we are passionate about in production agriculture.”
The top finishers at the event were 11-year-old Eric Macklin from Allen County, 13-year-old Austin Otte from Mercer County, and 16-year-old Thomas Gress from Wayne County. Congratulations to these outstanding young people who can undoubtedly back a four-wheeled wagon better than certain, unnamed editors.
It is a real privilege and great honor to get to work with the incredible young people who work so hard with their 4-H and FFA livestock projects. But, those young people are certainly not the only ones worthy of highlighting at the Ohio State Fair. Ohio 4-H currently offers 140 non-livestock projects that allow participants to compete at the county level and the top tier of those competitors can compete at the Ohio State Fair. Highlighting some of those deserving students is important too.
Thanks to so many volunteers for taking your time to work with and highlight these very talented young people and for helping 4-H to shine bright even outside of the livestock show ring.