Rocky Mount, North Carolina – The horses – blacks and grays, reds and pintos – lean into their harnesses, and the earth opens beneath the plows. Metal sparkles in the early morning sun, and sweat glistens on the strong backs of gentle giants as their human partners direct them with gees and haws. Once in a while the bray of a mule sounds across the fields, but for the most part the only sounds are the jingle of equipment and the low murmur of spectators’ voices as visitors watch in awe while a dozen or more teams worked the land.
It’s Plow Day in Rocky Mount, an event that started out with a few friends coming over to help Jimmy Dozier plow a cornfield. Three years after that small gathering, Dozier had a major community event on his hands. The event attracted friends and neighbors from all over the state to watch the plowing and reminisce about the days when they farmed with horses and mules.
First held in March 2008, the inaugural Plow Day drew about 800 people who came to watch farming done the old-fashioned way – with real horsepower. Not only were several teams of draft horses and mules plowing the 20-acre field, other items from the “good old days” were on display.
An antique car show inspired one spectator to recall how, as children, he and his siblings rode in the rumble seat of the family’s car, a Model A Ford.
“Look in there. You can see it’s not a lot of room, and the one we had wasn’t that nice,” the spectator said as other visitors peered into the tiny back seat of the car on display. The car had been restored beautifully, its rumble seat padded and covered in fine, smooth leather.
“And if it rained, then that was just too bad,” the man said with a chuckle, as fond memories danced in his eyes.
Other exhibits included demonstrations on making grits and cornmeal with a restored burr mill, and a display of old horse-powered farming equipment spread out over Dozier’s front yard. Hundreds of people wandered through the displays. Rocky the Trick Mule provided entertainment, and plenty of food was on hand to feed the crowd.
Dozier doesn’t charge anything for folks to come watch. It’s his gift to the community, and a way to hand down traditions to younger generations. Young people who want to try their hand guiding the horses down the furrows get a lesson from Dozier or one of the other team owners. Great value is placed on giving the older generations a place to show their skills, share their stories and reminisce with each other.
“I want to practice and share North Carolina’s heritage, and let people know what our forefathers did to make a living off the land,” Dozier says.
The local Cowboys for Christ group volunteered to help with parking and serving food. Food sales made it a break-even event for Dozier.
Dozier has a pair of Belgian and a pair of Spotted Draft horses. He uses the horses to break ground and disk but prefers modern equipment to plant and harvest. “I tried to plant with the horses but I couldn’t get the rows straight,” Dozier says with a chuckle. “You don’t realize how the horses are wavering until you turn and look behind you.” He also uses the horses in part of his hay-making process and helps others with their plowing.
Dozier also uses a wagon he built to give rides at various events. “I even sawed the logs myself,” he says. His busiest time is around Christmas with about 15 events scheduled for December. He travels to surrounding cities, hauling horses and equipment with his truck and trailer, to give wagon rides at holiday celebrations and heritage days. The wagon will hold about 12 adults. Dozier says he hasn’t been daunted by the rising cost of gas. “I do it for fun; it’s a hobby,” he says.
Plans are being made for the 2010 Plow Day, with a date forthcoming. Dozier expects an even larger crowd as the word has spread all over the state. The event is only one of many springing up across the country as more people become concerned about the environment and the cost of fuel. While owners believe their draft horses do a better job of earning their keep than a gasoline-powered tractor, mostly the owners keep horses because they enjoy the hobby.