Since I began working for the Oklahoma Historical Society, Tillers International has been on my bucket list of places to visit. When ALHFAM announced the first STP (Skills, Training, and Preservation) plowing workshop was going to be held at Tillers I was excited. Not only was I going to be able to check off one of my bucket list places, I was also going to be able to improve my plowing skills learning from some of the masters in the business.
It was a long drive from Park Hill, Oklahoma, to Scott, Michigan. Fighting the urge to stop at the countless antique stores along the route, I pressed on to arrive at Tillers by early afternoon on Friday to be ready for the workshop the next morning. There I met up with Jim Slining and Ed Schultz, two of the workshop instructors. I was given my room assignment and settled in. I walked around the property and spent a little time catching up with Ed, and then Jim took us to view the Tillers collections. What a treat that was: Two massive buildings full of tools and farm equipment! Tillers is a wonderful resource ready for curious minds to inquire. After the tour we met up with several more workshop participants, and it was on to the local restaurant for a supper of sea perch. The rest of the evening was spent getting to know one another and sharing stories of past ALHFAM experiences.
Saturday morning brought much excitement for us all. Up early with coffee on the run, we headed to the barns for a meet-and-greet. After brief introductions from the instructors and participants, we went to work harnessing the horses and yoking the oxen as the instructors taught us the right way to do it. An hour was spent driving the teams through an obstacle course and then off to the fields to plow.
Ed, Don and Pete Watson went through the basics of laying out the field and striking out. They also covered plowing techniques, how to adjust the plow and how to finish off a furrow. We each took turns plowing, driving and plowing solo. After lunch break we were back out into the field for more instruction and plowing. We had two teams of horses and two teams of oxen going at the same time. I have always had a slight anxiety about working with oxen, stemming from a bad experience at a previous workshop. Due to the format of this workshop, I was able to focus on working more with the oxen. As a result, I worked through some of my issues and became a little more confident with the oxen. We plowed through the afternoon and ended the day with supper and then off to bed.
Sunday started with harnessing and yoking, then off to the fields to continue plowing. We spent the day plowing, stopped briefly for lunch, and then continued into the late afternoon. Jim produced an old hillside plow with a rotating mold board for us to use. I have heard many a tale of this style of plow being used in the Ozarks, and thanks to the folks at the workshop I can now say I have used one!
This truly was one of the best workshops I have attended. It was an all-out, hands-on affair. Almost every moment was spent in the field plowing and gaining experience that only comes from doing. I am ever so happy that I decided to attend. The proof in the pudding was after I returned home. When we plowed the fields at Hunter’s Home in Park Hill, Oklahoma and at Nash Farm in Grapevine, Texas later in October, I could see how much the workshop had improved my plowing skills. I was able to share the knowledge and skills I gained with others at these events. Thank you to all who made the STP plowing workshop possible. Speed the plow!
David Fowler is a regional director for the Oklahoma Historical Society. He is currently working to redevelop Hunters Home, an antebellum home in the Cherokee Nation, into a living history farm.