The Godfather” won the Oscar for best picture; Billy Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match; Richard Nixon accepted the responsibility but not the blame for Watergate, and I was the first female to enter the tractor pull at the Ashtabula County Fair.
It was 1973 and I was 16 years old.
Most days, it seems like a long, long time ago, but come fair week, it seems like yesterday and makes my heart a little lighter.
I remember it was a really, really hot and dusty day at the fairgrounds and I wiped the perspiration off of my hands on to my jeans as I maneuvered our Massey-Ferguson 135 tractor in line for the pull.
My eyes spotted my cheering section up in the grandstand. Family, several classmates from Jefferson Area High School, a few 4-H friends and even my maternal grandmother, Agnes Sullivan, took time off work at Lehnert Funeral Home in Jefferson to watch the tractor pull. Bob Lehnert was kind enough to bring her and he stayed to cheer me on.
One woman who I never met shouted at me from the fence, “Right on, honey! Way to go for Women’s Lib!”
Then the announcer, Jim Case of Jefferson, welcomed everyone to the annual tractor pull. The crowd applauded.
At that moment, all the tractors in the first class started up. The crowd clapped as the first tractor chugged up to the sled.
In those days, a long sled was used for the pull and people would volunteer to hop on the sled as it inched its way past the grandstand.
While the first tractor, a Minneapolis Moline driven by a classmate, Tom Addair of Dorset, didn’t go very far, Case announced, “Miss Keeler is on deck.”
That was me! I was next. The crowd cheered extra loud. It was great to have fans.
“Now our next puller is Miss Shelley Keeler, R.D. 2, Jefferson ...” began Case as I backed the Massey up to the sled. A heavyset man jumped on the drawbar as I shifted into third gear and gently let off the clutch.
The engine strained at first but then it thundered, the tires gripped the earth and I began to move faster and faster.
The grandstand vibrated with applause. I felt as though I was performing in my best movie.
I then felt the tractor tires rotate slower and slower and I knew the fun was soon to end.
“Stop!” instructed the man on the drawbar as he tapped my shoulder. My foot hit the brake.
I don’t remember exactly how far the Massey pulled the sled that day, all I know is it was farther than the other contestants.
A blue ribbon and a few hours later, I was celebrating with my friends on the midway.
It is MY favorite fair memory.
Staff writer Shelley
Terry reminds faithful readers that a special fair tab, filled with fair history and memories, comes out Thursday.