Fifty-nine years after they brought him world fame, the tractor and plow local resident Duane Mootz used to win the 1957 National Contour Plowing event were on display last Thursday when the Highland County Historical Society hosted its second event focusing on local agriculture.
An overflow crowd that included several members of the Mootz family made for an overflow at the society’s Highland House Museum.
“We set up every chair we had in the museum and there were at least 20 people standing in doorways and the museum shop to enjoy the program, said Vicki Knauff,” director of the museum. “I was afraid that we might exceed the capacity of our room, and we probably did. When asked, the audience agreed that we should consider asking John back later this fall or next spring to reprise the presentation. The comment was made that the Mootz family could have filled the room by themselves if they chose to do so. The crowd of about 90 brought memorabilia and talked from the minute they started arriving at 6 p.m. until they left the Highland House at around 10 p.m.”
The Mootz family brought the renovated tractor and plow that their father, Duane, used to win the National Contour Plowing event that year in Peebles. More than one person brought framed copies of a panoramic picture of the ’57 event, including Naomi (Mootz) Barnett, who was identifying faces in the picture with John Wickerham of the Adams County Historical Society after the meeting until 10 p.m. Several other Mootz brothers brought signs and trophies that Duane won and pictures of the event.
“It’s hard to believe I was 12 when I attended it with my dad and grandfather,” remembered John Levo. “Tonight it brought back memories like the model house, the big steer, the Air Force Band, the wagon tour and all the farm equipment that I couldn’t understand why we didn’t have any of it on our farm.”
The year after he won in Peebles, Duane competed at the next world event in Ireland.
That was the kind of night it was, everyone sharing their memories and accounts of those four days in September of 1957 in a small town in northern Adams County that hosted the world and left a “Cairn of Peace” monument commemorating the event.
“Cairn” is a manmade pile of stones, used to lead people on their journey as documented in the Bible and used in the mountains and plains through history. The plow atop the monument of stones was to signify the coming together in peace of those who turned the earth to grow food and fiber around the world. One of those monuments stands today in Peebles, having been moved there from the roadside to insure its maintenance.
Wickerham took the audience through a journey of how the event came to be and the people that banded together to make it possible. He encouraged the audience to share their memories and the group was very willing to do just that. The society worked to collect pictures and clippings into a PowerPoint presentation that Wickerham used to show pictures of the 33,000 parking places that were needed. He also documented the conditions that faced the organizers like the fact there was no water system in rural Adams County at the time. Traffic was backed up for miles and miles in all directions on the narrow two-lane roads of the time. One comment was that there were cars and buses backed up 10 miles north of Sinking Springs on SR 41. Special trains were traveling to and from Cincinnati for the event, and International Harvester built and expanded an airstrip along SR 73 near Locust Grove because its corporate DC-3 had no place to land. It shuttled its dignitaries to and from Cincinnati so they could stay in the fancy hotels there. The Ohio State Highway Patrol halted traffic on SR 73 when aircraft were landing, and it was said at the height of the event there were landings at the rate of one per minute.
The area residents dedicated 2,500 acres to the event on 16 farms. Everyone welcomed people to their homes so thousands could stay at the site before and after the actual four days. New water lines were run from Peebles to service the event, and the entire community helped feed the visitors.
Displays at the event included: daily concerts by the U.S. Army bands, fashion shows for the ladies by JC Penny, trick trapshooting events, the North American Sheep Herding competition, agriculture machinery displays showing combines that were probably in use at the time in Adams County. The Ohio governor and secretary of agriculture were at the event. They helped the local conservation agencies show off the new conservation technology being adopted so soon after the “Dust Bowl.” Two 2.5-mile wagon tours showed off pond construction, tree and wildlife plantings, pasture management practices, crop variety trials, and new tractors and combines.
Wickerham discussed the “queen of the furrow,” Anne Lane, and the fact that counties all around the state held pageants to choose girls to compete for the title, including Highland County’s entrant, Virginia Purdy, who was in the audience Thursday.
The presentation moved to the plowing event and Hillsboro’s own Duane Mootz who was a well-known plowman of the time. His family shared many elements of their dad’s plowing expertise, even described how contour plowing differed from straight line level land plowing. They said contour plowing was not a part of the European events, so Duane was invited to compete the next year as one of the two plowmen invited to Germany along with Lawrence Goettemoeller, winner of the level-land contest in Peebles.
“Most of the people I talked to said they had always wanted to stop in to tour the Highland House, and all of those people commented how they enjoyed the presentation as well as the opportunity to go through the museum,” said Tim Mootz.
Tim and his brothers shared stories on the museum lawn beside the log cabin and the tractor and plow they brought for the event.
The crowd was invited to look around and enjoy refreshments after the presentation. A Barns of Highland County exhibit was still in the museum until Sunday and Jim Gorman’s farm toy and barn exhibit was also there.
This was the second in a series of ag-related subjects following a Century Farms article and presentation by the historical society. The next couple Focus on Agriculture subjects will be about the history of the Highland County Fair and a the history of the stockyards of Hillsboro and Highland County.
The society’s ag committee said it would entertain ideas to keep the conversation on agriculture going. Feel free to contact John Kellis, John Levo, Jim Faust or Avery Applegate if you have ideas.
John Kellis is a trustee with the Highland County Historical Society.