By Linda Shires
With spring beginning, folks are too used to seeing farmers plow their fields as they drive along the countryside. Imagine, driving along the countryside and witnessing draft horses pulling a #40 Oliver Walking Plow to till a garden or fields. One might ask, how time consuming, as a tractor can plow the field in less time. However, for Mark Gillenwater of Renick, the old-fashion way of plowing is the only way for him.
Mark was recently seen by several folks while plowing a garden for the Trinity United Methodist Church at Pickaway. While driving along on a Saturday afternoon, I wanted to find out what inspired him to plow using this method. While plowing by this method might be common on an Amish farm, it is not something you often see in rural West Virginia. I visited Mark at his Renick farm on a beautiful spring morning and witnessed first-hand the work involved in pulling logs from the forest.
Mark states he has been plowing the traditional way since he was a young man. He believes in keeping the tradition of old fashion plowing alive. After plowing his own fields with his horses named, Abel and Queen, he continues to cultivate his crops throughout the growing season with them. In addition to plowing, Mark uses his team of draft horses for many chores on his Renick farm, including pulling large logs out of the woods which will be used for firewood. Most of the time both horses are used for logging and plowing. Only one horse is used when cultivating crops. A lot of time is spent in preparation prior to the horses working.
Able, a Suffolk Punch Horse, has been with Mark since he was five months old. He is now 18. The Suffolk breed of draft horse is an English breed. The breed was developed in the early 16th century and was developed for farm work and gained popularity during the early 20th century. However, as agriculture became increasingly mechanized, the breed fell out of favor, and almost disappeared completely. In addition to being used for farm work, the Suffolk Punch horses pulled artillery and non-motorized commercial vans and buses. Today, they are used for draught work, forestry and advertising.
Queen, a Grade American Cream Draft horse is about 12 years old. She has been with Mark a little over one year. The American Cream Draft horse is the only such breed developed in the United States that is still in existence. It is recognized by its cream color, known as “gold champagne.” The breed was developed in Iowa in the early 20th century, beginning with a cream-colored mare named Old Granny. The Great Depression threatened the breed’s existence, but several breeders worked to improve the color and type of breed and in 1944 a breed registry was formed. The American Cream has refined heads, wide chests, sloping shoulders and short, strong backs. The breed has a calm, willing temperament, particularly suited for owners who are new to handling draft horses.
This method of plowing or logging is a rich part of history. While our children may be used to seeing farm tractors, many have never witnessed the traditional way of plowing or logging. If anyone would like to witness history, Gillenwater is willing to demonstrate by plowing a garden or field. It makes for a great community event to witness history in the making.