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Friday, August 19, 2005

Teamster sidelined at 80 after a year of calamities




Staff photo by Jeff Pouland
Staff photo by Jeff Pouland

Earl Padham, 80, of Solon is unable to compete in the horse pulling events at this year's Skowhegan State Fair because he is recovering from a broken sternum and cracked ribs suffered earlier this summer. This is the first time since the 1950s that Padham has not hitched his draft horses on the fair circuit.



SKOWHEGAN -- Limping through what his wife Gloria calls an "accident-prone summer," Earl Padham isn't competing in horse-pulling events at Maine fairs.

It's the first time since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president that the lifelong Solon resident, now 80, hasn't hitched up his team of Belgians on the fair circuit. But that doesn't mean Padham doesn't watch. He was right there at the Skowhegan State Fair coliseum on Thursday afternoon, enjoying every bit of the action.

Munching on an Italian sandwich and sipping a Diet Pepsi, Padham was in the coliseum grandstand, watching the pulling with people he's known for decades.

"I'll tell everyone I'm done, but if I feel better in the spring I'll probably get right back into it," the affable Padham said. "I've pulled for over 50 years."

Padham's string of calamities began early this summer, when he tried to hook a tailgate onto a pickup truck without help. The tailgate slipped and hit him in the chest.

He made it through that accident as an outpatient. But it was just the beginning.

"He was healing up from that pretty good, then he sneezed and broke a rib," Gloria Padham said. "Then he was taking corn husks to cattle. He went into the pasture and gave the bull some corn, and the bull butted him, right in the ribs. Then he went into the barn and the horse landed on his foot."

Padham gets around just fine, though, and his senses are keen. He named every one of the teams that made their way into the coliseum Thursday.

Teams haul more than 3,000 pounds of blocks in brief intervals, for a total of five minutes. The team that hauls the longest distance wins the $160 first prize for the day.

Maurice Miller of Bingham did fine until his horses turned sideways, Padham explained, because one of them decided not to haul.

Padham thought Steve Smith of Phillips would do well, but his horses went in a circle. Then they turned their yokes and got tangled. Smith called it a day.

"They were kind of anxious to go," Padham said. "He did the right thing to take them off. He knew he wasn't going to do anything."

Travis Gould, a third-generation puller from Ripley, fared much better. He made it nearly all the way down the third leg, and was measured at 415 feet, 9 inches.

"I've pulled against all three generations," Padham said.

Back in the days when the big animals actually served as work horses on the farm and in the woods, Padham took his teams to country fairs in Athens and Harmony. Today, owners spend as much as $25,000 or $30,000 for a team of horses that serves no other purpose but pulling.

Now as then, Padham enjoys pacing the challenge of regulating and pacing his horses. And he appreciates the cooperation horse owners show.

"It gives you satisfaction to take a pair of horses and train them how to pull," he said. "And they all help each other out hooking on, or with breakdowns. Winning helps out a little, but it doesn't come close to paying the bills."

Teamsters use only a light touch with a switch when trying to straighten out their horses.

"They took away whipping, and I think that's a good thing," Padham said.

When he does call it quits, the Skowhegan Fair will not have seen its last Padham at the coliseum. Donald Padham is ready to step into his grandfather's boots, and competed earlier in the week.

"His horses weren't self-motivated, and they didn't do too good," Padham said.

Those Padham horses will learn, though

Article courtesy of Morning Sentinel Online

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