Countdown to IPM '17: Dodds family active in years of plowing matches
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Dodds family of Winthrop has been living and breathing plowing matches for decades. As a result, the majority of the family has received recognition both at home and abroad for their efforts in competitions, but also in bringing events to life.
With an Ontario Queen of the Furrow and a Canadian plowing champion in the family, along with a judge who has graded generations of plowers, the family definitely knows what it takes to bring together a successful International Plowing Match (IPM).
Patriarch and matriarch Don and Maja Dodds live outside of Winthrop and their involvement started more than 50 years ago when Don was encouraged to participate in plowing by a teacher at school and local plowing champion Gordon McGavin.
He first attended the International Plowing Match in 1954 and Don said that things were a bit different then than they are now.
“Now, you load up and drive to where the IPM is, but then you drove the tractor to the site,” he said. “At the time, I was driving a Case tractor that could go 14 miles per hour. I drove to Carlow and Cranbrook for competitions.”
Don was also invovled in 4-H from a young age, having recently being recognized as a leader of the organization for 50 years.
When Don went to school, he hung up his little book of measurements and didn’t come back to competitive plowing until it was time for his children to get involved.
Don and Maja have three children: Lynne Godkin, Paul Dodds and Joan Prewitt. Paul is a well-known plower in the area, having travelled to France to compete in the world competition several years ago and Lynne is one of five women from Huron County who have claimed the title, crown and sash of Ontario Queen of the Furrow.
When Paul starting plowing, Don started judging and the two of them have travelled around the world as a result of it.
While Maja jokes that she got involved in plowing because of Don, she has been significantly involved in the Queen of the Furrow program since Lynne first competed in the early 1980s.
She first attended the International Plowing Match in 1966, and jokes that was Paul’s first trip, as she was pregnant at the time.
“Lynne stayed home, so, I guess, Paul got to go to one before she did,” she said with a laugh. “I worked in a church booth there.”
Beyond attending the events, Maja said she wasn’t really involved in plowing matches until 1999 when she and Don managed land use for the 1999 IPM, called “The Dust Match, near Dashwood.
“We were there the whole week,” Don said. “We signed the leases and worked with the people to make sure the land was available for the event.”
The couple say that experience was a real eye-opener for them. Having originally planned to talk to potential landowners for less than an hour, they soon found that three hours was a more likely timetable and, aside from collecting the necessary leases to use the land for the event, they also made new friends.
“We had a good time with them,” Maja said. “The IPM is a good thing because of that. You make a lot of friends and you get to see them whenever you go.”
It wasn’t long after the Dashwood IPM that Maja signed on as secretary for the Huron County Plowman’s Association, a position she has held ever since.
As for this year’s International Plowing Match in Walton, just a short drive from the Dodds family farm, Don will be judging, but beyond that he, as a senator with several other experienced plowmen and organizers, and Maja will be offering their expertise wherever needed.
Maja said she would help Don with judging by being in the field with him, but also said she plans to help put together the Huron County Plowmen’s Association historical display in the Ontario Plowing Association tent in tented city.
“We’ve got two hands and two feet, so we can help out,” she said.
When it comes to judging, Don said there is only one thing he doesn’t want to do and that is judge Paul.
“We never know what we’re going to judge,” he said. “Monday is judging school at the IPM, then we have dinner then we get the assignments.”
He said he wants to avoid judging Paul, but it’s been difficult since Paul has been plowing in the senior competition for many years.
Up to now, Don has been helping out by selling benches. The benches, which are made by local high school students, are both a fundraiser for the IPM and a keepsake for those who want to mark the year the IPM came back to Huron County.
Paul will be working with Jeff McGavin to prepare plowing land, something he knows a thing or two about.
In 1986 and 1987, Paul competed at the Canadian Junior Championship in Olds, Alberta and Coaticook, Quebec. He had been named reserve champion at the IPM in 1985 and placed first in 1986.
Don believes that Paul was the first person to ever win back-to-back years like that.
In 2000, Paul plowed at the Canadian championships, finishing fifth at the competition.
In 2012, Paul was named IPM Reserve senior champion and travelled to British Columbia in the following year to compete in the Canadian Championships. That year he won the senior event and, in an historical showing according to Don, Kevin Haney of Seaforth won the junior competition.
“They made history there,” Paul said. “That was the first time the senior and junior champions came out of the same plowing organization and those two came out of the same county and the same address as we’re from Seaforth.”
Paul had his own cheering section at the event including his family, and Don has fond memories of the competition.
“The trip to B.C. was a pleasure,” he said. “We’ve been to the [nationals championship] before and made friends.”
He said he and Maja have made friends from New Brunswick to British Columbia through the competition, and going to the Canadian competition with Paul let them see them all again.
Paul travelled to France in 2014 with his parents and other supporters and he said the trip was enjoyable, but busy.
“The trip was a great experience,” he said. “Everything was fun… it was just all enjoyable.”
For nearly the first week, Paul said the trip consisted of receiving equipment, rebuilding it and practising. Then there was time forsome tourism experiences, but the competition came quick and it proved to be a challenge.
“The soil was really sandy,” he said. “A lot of the guys described it like plowing a beach. It was different than what I’m used to and [it] didn’t hold together the same as something that has more clay or body to it. It definitely made for a challenge.”
Paul did say, however, that most competitors did seem to be similarly challenged. He placed 20th in the competition.
Don said accompanying Paul was a real honour and privilege for him.
While he missed Paul plowing on the first day of the competition as he was a steward of Paul’s class, on the second day Don made sure he had the opportunity to be there.
“I had the privilege of pulling the stakes for him,” Don said. “I did that for him when he was a teenager, but I didn’t think I’d ever get to do that again.”
Paul’s second day of plowing was tense as a mechanical issue caused him to finish with only 15 seconds to spare. The building drama as time came to a close made it so his mother Maja couldn’t watch.
“It gave me heart failure,” she said. “When he came off the field, Paul said, ‘Well they give you two hours and 40 minutes, you might as well use it all,’.”
For Lynne, being the Ontario Queen of the Furrow was a matter of dedication. She was named Huron County Queen of the Furrow in 1982, but didn’t place in Ottawa at the International Plowing Match. She ran again in 1983, becoming Queen of the Furrow for Huron again, then going to Wellington County where she earned the provincial title.
Lynne was the 25th Ontario queen and presided over the competition in Elgin County in 1985.
As for how Lynne originally got involved, her story is similar to a lot of competitors in Huron County.
“It was Ruth Townsend that called and asked me to be in it,” she said. “I didn’t know such a thing existed. I was in Grade 13 at the time and Ruth called and asked if I was interested.”
She said she learned to plow alongside her younger brother Paul and then became Queen of the Furrow, which she said was a great experience.
Lynne said it was a memorable experience because of the great relationships the plowing match builds. She pointed to a woman named Lois Carroll from Wellington County.
“The entire county was so kind to me,” she said. “They adopted me... I felt so at home and was there a lot when I was Queen. Lois always had tarts for me.”
Lynne explained that Lois’ tarts even made an appearance at her wedding, as several dozen of them were delivered prior to the ceremony.
“The plowing match gives you the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new friends,” she said.
The former queen has a lot of history with the IPM and the OPA. She worked for the latter while she was in university, took care of the queens and eventually became chairperson for the Queen of the Furrow competition at the 1999 IPM competition. She then went on to judge the competition for several years.
“I was queen, queen co-ordinator, queen judge and queen organizer,” she said with a laugh. “This year I decided to do something different and be a secretary. I was looking for a challenge, and something different.”
Lynne said she was also excited to be working with her brother Paul, saying the last time she remembers them working closely together was when he coached her at the competition.
“Like siblings, we fought,” she said. “I distinctly remember the two of us arguing. He said my stakes weren’t lined up, and I didn’t agree. He was hollering at me and a reporter looked at us, then looked at everyone being polite to their coaches, then back at us. It was just a sibling relationship.”
She said this time around, she expects less hollering.
“I’m really enjoying reconnecting with him and working with him,” she said. “That’s been a big positive for being involved.”