|Wesley Daniel. English photo.|
By Betsy Garrold
Wesley Daniel started coming to the Common Ground Country Fair 30 years ago when his then 10-year-old son, Jonathan, became interested in the oxen team events there. The first year he remembers was the 1985 Fair in Litchfield. By the time the Daniels were bringing their own teams, the Fair had moved to Windsor.
After the move to Unity, the livestock area grew and became a lot for one person to manage, so Cathy Reynolds remained as the overall livestock area coordinator and Daniel became a large livestock coordinator in the oxen barn. He has been doing that for 16 years and now, at age 72, even after having had one knee replaced three times, he is still enthusiastic about the Fair, especially the livestock area.
The Unity site required new infrastructure, including livestock barns, and Daniel helped construct three of those. He also brought his oxen to participate in the November Low-Impact Forestry course for about 10 years.
As coordinator for the oxen barn, he reads applications and picks 13 teams and their drivers for the Fair. He looks for teams that are calm around milling people and will be the best ambassadors for the area. He is proud that the team owners are so dedicated to the educational aspect of the Fair. Most owners, he notices, spend the entire Fair around the barn with their team, talking to fairgoers and acting as emissaries to the non-farming public.
The teams are also expected to participate in Fair demonstrations, whether twitching logs in the woodlot, cultivating the journeyperson’s plot with a spring-tooth harrow or dragging potato baskets during harvesting in the display gardens. And then there are the daily log scooting contests and obstacle courses coordinated by Steve Norton. Daniel was especially pleased this year that young people handled six of the teams.
“It’s real important to keep the young people interested,” said Daniel, “because if they’re not, then we are going to lose the skills and the ability to teach and show people what happened in the past.”
Daniel also enjoys meeting people who come to the Fair from all over the world and have farmed with oxen. He is fascinated to hear about the different harnessing and other equipment they use.
Each year all the teamsters vote for the outstanding oxen team for that year’s Fair, and on Sunday afternoon that team receives the Newt Cochran Teamster Award. Winners’ names are inscribed on a plaque that hangs in MOFGA’s main building along with a framed article from 1998 about Cochran by Shawn McCole.
Daniel also coordinates the large livestock camping area during Fair weekend. On Thursday he makes sure the barns are ready, and some teams arrive that day. He also ensures that teams and handlers are as comfortable as can be through the long, hectic weekend.
At his own Medomak Valley Farm in Washington, Maine, Daniel has three pair of oxen: the 5-year-old team, Ben and Scott; a pair of yearlings, Mossy and Oak (which he is quick to point out he did not name); and a pair of 2-year-olds, Pat and Mike. He has lived on the same farm for 62 years and is retired now but still has 16 head of beef cattle and sells hay. He tries to work his young oxen pair every day but said he had not put a yoke on his older pair for more than a year when he took them to a weekend event last October – with no problem. Ben and Scott got right back into the work – the sign of a well trained team.
The Fair could not run without a dedicated team of area coordinators. Fair director April Boucher said of Daniel, “Wes has been our lead oxen exhibit coordinator for over 10 years. His knowledge and dedication to working oxen is evident in the conduct of the exhibitors selected and the area’s emphasis on education. In addition, his work laying out and organizing the large livestock camping area helps ensure the comfort of fellow exhibitors and extends hospitality that is greatly appreciated. Each year Wes volunteers and completes these much needed tasks. It is wonderful to know that these important tasks are being taken care of and done well in the spirit of the Common Ground Country Fair.”
Daniel says the teamsters, and he as area coordinator, don’t get a lot of time to see the Fair, but, like a well trained team, they fall easily into the rhythm of the Fair and provide a much needed glimpse into what working the land with a team of oxen was and still is like in Maine.