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Stalwart still horse-pulling
By Jared Page
Deseret Morning News
      SOUTH JORDAN "Uncle Jack" will be sporting a cowboy hat and a figurative target tonight at South Jordan Park Arena.
Jack McKee and his grandson Porter Olsen work out McKee's Belgian horses in preparation for today's competition at the South Jordan Country Fest. (Photo By Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News)
Photo By Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Jack McKee and his grandson Porter Olsen work out McKee's Belgian horses in preparation for today's competition at the South Jordan Country Fest.

      Jack McKee has been competing at horse pulls across the nation for 61 years now, and he's the sport's regional stalwart. His rivals know him as "Uncle Jack," an affectionate nickname they've borrowed from McKee's real-life nephews, who also have been hooked by the sport.
      At 88, the South Jordan man is Utah's elder statesman of horse pullers and the last of a generation of competitors in a sport that began in the early 1900s as a friendly contest among farmers.
      "Except for me, they're all dead," McKee said. "There are a lot of pullers around here now, but they're all young guys. And I'm the one they're after all the time."
      Tonight, McKee will be driving his two-horse team in the heavyweight division of the draft-horse pull at South Jordan's Country Fest. Then on Saturday, he'll be the grand marshal of the festival's parade, an honor that city officials say he received for being a longtime upstanding member of the community.
      McKee, who moved to South Jordan with his family at age 14, over the years has donated his time and farming equipment to neighbors and members of the community. He owns a farm in South Jordan, and for the past 50-plus years, he has slaughtered cattle at Christmas time and provided cuts of meat to widows and single mothers in the area.
      Bryce Jasperson, of Thayne, Wyo., said McKee also has been generous in the horse-pulling arena, sharing advice and lending support to younger pullers over the years.
      "Jack has always been a good competitor," Jasperson said, "but he's also willing to help you. He'll tell you things if he thinks he can help you."
      Jasperson, 70, has been pulling since the 1970s and said McKee and the other "old-timers" who aren't around now have been the benchmarks for success in the sport

      "Jack has outpulled me a good number of times," he said, "but I've beat him a few times, too. That's why it's fun."
      In a horse pull, teams of two horses are hooked up to a sled carrying thousands of pounds of weight, with the winning team pulling the greatest amount of weight the longest distance.
      McKee has been pulling at 10 to 15 events per year since 1946 and doesn't plan on slowing down.
      "Everybody says this is what keeps me going," he said, "so as long as I'm around, I'll keep doing it."
      And he keeps winning. McKee's current heavyweight team of Belgian draft horses 2,500-pound Rambo and 2,400-pound Renegade had been undefeated for the past five years and more than 50 matches before suffering its first loss earlier this year in Herriman.
      It's the victories, McKee said, that keep him coming back match after match, year after year.
      "It's the thrill of it," he said.
      These days, McKee relies on help from friends and family with training his horses and hooking them up to the sleds. His son, Joe, drives one of his teams, and two of his nephews attend every pull to prepare the horses and hook them up to the weight.
      Jasperson said that's reflective of the family-friendly nature of the sport.
      "You can take your wife, kids and grandkids to a pull, and you don't have to worry about what they say or hear," he said. "Show me another professional sport where you can do that, and I'll treat. We don't allow any fighting or bad language."
      Jasperson said he fears that the sport will go the way of farmland and ultimately disappear.
      "It's a sport that's dying out," he said. "There are only a few families that are pulling anymore."
 

Jack McKee, 88, has been competing in horse pulling for most of his life -- and he's preparing for the South Jordan Country Fest . (Photo By Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News)
Photo By Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Jack McKee, 88, has been competing in horse pulling for most of his life and he's preparing for the South Jordan Country Fest .

Article courtesy of deseretnews.com
 

      McKee said he doesn't want to see that happen, and he's doing his best to pass on his love for the sport to the younger members of his family. Counting McKee's father, Bill, who used to compete in horse pulls in Vernal, four generations of McKees have felt the draw of the sport.
      "I've made a lot of friends pulling," he said. "It's a good sport."



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