Staff photo by Jeff Pouland
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
"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
"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
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
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,"
Those Padham horses will learn, though