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   Chapter 15 No.15

Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 14072

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The State Fair of 1880-?Salem-?The ladies' pavilion-?Knock-'em-downs à l'Américaine-?Self-binders-?Thrashing-machines-?Rates of speed-?Cost-?Workmanship-?Prize sheep-?Fleeces-?Pure versus graded sheep-?California short-horns-?Horses-?American breed or Percheron-?Comparative measurements-?The races-?Runners-?Trotters-? Cricket in public-?Unruly spectators.

About two miles from the city of Salem, the capital of the State, are the fair-grounds. Round a large inclosure of some fifteen acres of grass-land there runs a belt of oak-wood. Here, inside the boundary-fence, are camping-places without end. Until 1880 the State Fair has been held in October, but it was then changed to July, in the interval between the hay- and the grain-harvest, and so as to take in the great national festival on the 4th of July. Every one goes to the fair, which lasts a week, for every one's tastes are consulted. The ladies have a pavilion with displays of fruit and flowers; of needle-work and pictures; of sewing-machines and musical instruments of all kinds; of household implements and "notions" various. The children delight in an avenue of booths and caravans, where the juggler swallows swords, and a genius in academic costume and mortar-board hat teaches arithmetical puzzles and the art of memory in a stentorian voice. Here is the wild-beast show, and there the American substitute for the Old World knock-'em-downs. A canvas-sided court, five-and-twenty feet across, contains the game. At the farther side, on a continuous ledge, stands a row of hideous life-size heads and shoulders labeled with the names and painted in the supposed likeness of the prominent political characters of the time. A great soft-leather ball supplies the place of the throwing-sticks; and for a quarter (of a dollar) you can have a couple of dozen throws at the pet object of your aversion. As fast as the doll is knocked over his proprietor sticks him up again; while an admiring crowd applaud the hits, or groan, according to their political colors.

Here is a great opening for skill, and also (say it in a whisper) for trifling bets. A man I know was "dead broke" when he went to the knock-'em-down, but by straight throws and cunning he gained a couple of dollars in a quarter of an hour, and so got another day in the fair.

The real business of the fair appeals straight to the farmer and mechanic.

The long rows of lumber-built sheds are filled with choice sheep, cattle, horses, pigs, poultry. The race-track on the farther side of the grounds is crowded also every afternoon, while many a rivalry between the running or trotting horses of the various counties is decided.

SELF-BINDERS.The implements, too, are a fine show. The "self-binders" display their powers by catching up and tying over and over again the same sheaf of grain before a curious crowd, far better instructed than you would suppose in the intricacies of construction and neatness and rapidity of performance of the various machines. Last year the great attraction was the Osborne twine-binder, for every one was interested in getting rid of the wire that has been injuring the thrashers and hurting the digestion of the stock. It was voted a good worker, but complicated, as far as we could judge; and the general verdict seemed to be that greater simplicity of make and fewer parts to get out of order would soon be brought to bear either by these or other makers.

There were two or three thrashing-machines displayed-the Buffalo Pitts, the Minnesota Chief, and one or two others. The great distinctions between these and the machines of English makers, such as Clayton and Shuttleworth, lie in the American drum and cylinder being armed with teeth and driven at a rate of speed from twice to three times that used in the English machine. The straw is, of course, beaten here into shreds between the revolving teeth, and its length and consistency far more completely destroyed than in the Clayton and Shuttleworth, and so loses much of its value for storing and feeding purposes. On the other hand, the grain is better cleaned, and the product per hour in clean grain is double that of the English machine. The American makers authorize as much as fifteen hundred bushels per day with horsepower, and up to three thousand with steam. There were several horse-powers shown, for use with the thrashing-machines; these left nothing to be desired for simplicity and economy of power. The thrashing-machines are of various sizes and prices, ranging from $750 to $1,500 in value.

An idea prevails in some parts that the mowers and reapers of American make are slighter and more fragile than those of English construction. Such is not the result of our observation and experience here. On the contrary, our "Champion" mower and reaper combined did work over rough ground, baked hard with the summer's sun, which demonstrated both strength and excellence of work beyond what we should have expected from any English machine we know of.

There was a very poor show of chaff-cutters and root-pulpers, because our farming friends here have not yet required these indispensable aids to mixed farming and succession of crops. After spending a couple of profitable hours among the machines, now come and inspect the stock.

PRIZE SHEEP.We turn first into the long alley of sheep-pens. The first attraction is the prize lot of Spanish merinos. Huge, heavy sheep clothed with wool almost to their ankles; ungainly to an English eye, from their thick necks, and large heads, and deep folds of skin. The shearer was at work, and fleeces weighing from seventeen to twenty pounds were displayed. We examine eight or ten pens of these merinos, including Spanish, French, and German, mostly in use in Eastern and Southern Oregon, where the dry climate and wide range suit these sheep exactly. There were one or two pens of graded sheep, merinos crossed with Cotswold or Vermont bucks. The crosses maintained the weight in wool and decidedly showed improved mutton, but the quality of the wool, of course, betrayed the admixture of the coarser fiber. There were two or three pens of improved Oxfordshires, the breed of which has been kept pure by a well-known fancier in Marion County, on the uplands east of Salem. The sheep were in many points very pretty, but seemed to us now to require fresh blood, as the wool-bearing surfaces were evidently reduced. Several pens of pure Cotswolds were exceedingly good, both in shape, size, and wool. The Vermont crosses which had been tried in a few instances did not seem to us to have been profitable. One thing pleased us, namely, that the best sheep, as a rule, came from those farmers who bred sheep in inclosed lands and fed them well, as part of a general system of farming, rather than from the huge flocks of the sheep-men who range the wilds.

The only cattle worth looking at were some Durhams brought up by one of the successful California breeders for exhibition and sale. The prices he got must have been very satisfactor

y to him, and proved that some Oregon farmers at any rate have the pluck and foresight to give full value for good stock.

Next came the horses. The stamp varied from nearly thoroughbred to Clydesdale and Percheron stud-horses, with a fair number of mares and foals. The parade of the horses each day, as they were led round the ring each by its own attendant, was a very pretty sight. Nothing special need be said of the well-bred stock-that is much the same the world over; only the size proved how well adapted Oregon is for the home of horses of a high class. What interested us most were very fine specimens of what are called here heavy horses for farm-work. Standing fully sixteen hands high, with long but compact bodies, good heads, with large, full eyes, and hard, clean legs, fit to draw a light wagon six or seven miles an hour over muddy roads, and to drag a sixteen-inch plow through valley soil, they seemed to us the very models of the horse the valley farmers should breed in any number. We regretted to notice the large number of Clydesdales and Percherons; the latter type of horse especially we deprecate-tall grays, with thick necks, heavy heads, upright shoulders, slim, round bodies, hairy, clumsy legs, huge flat feet covered with the mass of hair depending from the fetlock. Just such you may see any day in the farm-carts in the north of France-a team of four in a string, the shaft-horse overshadowed by the huge cart with wheels six feet high; the carter plodding by the side, in his blue blouse with his long whip. Just to settle a controversy with some Percheron-mad Oregonian friends, we had several horses of the two different types measured then and there. We found the Oregon mare girthed nearly a foot more round the body behind the shoulders than the Percheron horse. The girth of the forearm below the shoulder was greater. The Percheron was the taller at the shoulder, the thicker round the fetlock, and, I should think, carried two extra pounds of horse-hair in mane, tail, and fetlock-tufts. The Oregon mare showed just those points which every horse-lover seeks, to testify to activity, strength, endurance, and intelligence; the Percheron was lacking in such respects, but instead had a certain cart-horse comeliness, looking more suitable for a brewer's van in a big city than for our farms and roads.

THE RACES.Like the rest of the world, we answered to the call of the bell, and crowded through into the grand stand to see the races. A circular track of half a mile, the surface of which was already churned into black mud, did not look promising for the comfort of either drivers or riders. The benches of the grand stand were crowded with eager spectators, ladies predominating-the men were lining the track below, while the judges looked down from a high box opposite. The din of the men selling pools on the impending race was deafening, and each of the little auctioneers' boxes where the sales went on was surrounded by a throng of bidders. The first race was for runners, that is gallopers, ridden by boys thirteen or fourteen years old. It was not a grand display to see three or four horses galloping away, dragging their little riders almost on to their necks, and their finishes showed no great art. Then came the trotting races, and these were worth seeing. Three sulkies came on the track, the driver sitting on a little tray just over his horse's tail, and between two tall, slender wheels. Catching tight hold of his horse's head, and sticking his feet well in front of him, each driver sent his horse at a sharp trot round the track to open his lungs. Then the bell rang again, the course was cleared, and the drivers turned their horses' heads the same way, and tried to come up to the judges' box in line. Once, twice, they tried; but the bell was silent, and back they had to come, the horses fretting at the bit, and getting flecked with foam in anxiety to be off. The third time the three sulkies were abreast as they passed the line, the bell sounded once, and off they tore. The drivers sat still farther back, and the horses laid themselves down to their grand, far-reaching trot. Before two hundred yards was covered one broke into a gallop, and had to be pulled back at once, his adversaries gaining a yard or two before he could be steadied to a trot again. Here they come in the straight run-in, the little black horse slightly in front, the big bay next, but hardly a head between them; the crowd shouts wildly, and the bay breaks trot just at the critical moment, and the black wins the heat, his legs going with the regularity and drive of a steam-engine.

The horses are surrounded by admirers as they are taken out of the sulkies, and led off to be rubbed down and comforted before the next heat comes on. Then follows a running race, and then another heat of the trotting race. This time the bay wins, hard held, and forbidden by a grasp of iron to break into the longed-for gallop. Soon comes the deciding heat, and the excitement grows intense; the pools are selling actively, and speculation is very brisk.

Our sympathies are with the little black; half a hand shorter than his antagonist, and more like a trotting-horse than the tall, thoroughbred bay. But the fates are against him-size and breeding tell, and the bay wins.

Then the band strikes up, and the crowd disperses. Most get back to the city by one of the miscellaneous wagons, or hacks, or omnibuses pressed into the service of the fair; the rest betake themselves to their camping-places among the oak-grubs, after supplying themselves with meat and bread from one or other of the temporary stores set up at one side of the grounds.

CRICKET IN PUBLIC.This year the visitors had a new sensation in seeing cricket played on the fair-ground, to most of them a new sight. Portland is blessed with a cricket club, mostly supported by the emigrants from the old country. Corvallis has a similar advantage. The Portlanders, in the pride of their strength, and heralded by a paragraph in the "Oregonian" newspaper, that the "team selected to beat the Corvallis athletes" had gone up to Corvallis, had come for wool and gone home shorn. So, as a return-match was under discussion, it was determined to accept the invitation of the fair committee and play the return on the fair-grounds for the amusement of the visitors. Accordingly, the game was duly played out, and ended again in a one-innings defeat of proud Portland, to the delight of the spectators from the valley, who are generally a little jealous of the airs and graces of the hustling town which calls herself the metropolis of the Northwest. There was some difficulty in keeping the ground clear; the ladies particularly could not comprehend the terrible solecism they were committing in tripping bravely across, to speak, to "point," and chat with the wicket-keeper. If you could but have seen the horror-stricken faces of one or two of our eleven, accustomed to the rigor of the game at Cambridge, Rugby, or Cheltenham!

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