Mules pulling hand plow offer glimpse of past at farm museum

Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER, Md. (May 20, 2014) — “Here, at the Carroll County Farm Museum, we try to educate people about our past and show them what it’s like to do things the old fashioned way,” said museum volunteer and retired Carroll County 4-H agent Bob Shirley.
Shirley emceed a mule plowing event on May 8 as he spoke to a crowd gathered on a small plot of land adjacent to the Hoff Barn, which was donated by the Marlin Hoff family, and moved to the museum grounds a few years ago.
The mules, Maggie and Me2, owned by Rex and Terri Penick of Westminster, Md., pulled a hand plow, guided by Rex, while Shirley spoke to the onlookers.
“We want to show people where we came from,” Shirley said, “and what it’s like to do things the old fashioned way and we are finding more and more people interested in our history, so we’re excited to be able to do these demonstrations.”
Terri Penick, who with her husband and their two mules performed the 1790s plowing demonstration, said that working with mules is not for everyone.
“It’s not the same as working with horses,” she said. “Mules have a different temperament. If you treat them badly, they don’t forget as quick as a horse does.”
The two mules pulled a hand plow, guided by Rex, while folks looked on and Shirley described what they were doing.
The mules, guided by Penick, dug ten furrows all together, where Farm Museum volunteers planted corn and tobacco to be harvested manually this fall, while a member of the Carroll Media Center made a film of the plowing to be used in educational exhibits at the museum.
Shirley noted that mules were used to pull the plows because they required less food and worked better in hot weather than horses do.
“In the 1790s, mules did the vast majority of farm work in Carroll County, while horses mainly stuck to pulling carts and wagons along the roads,” Shirley said. “Our purpose today is to till a small area near the Hoff Log Barn and plant 10 rows of corn in hills, and several tobacco plants, and we are doing our best to be authentic to the age of the barn. We will cut and shuck the corn in the fall and hang the tobacco in the barn.”
In order to plow, one mule is trained to walk in the furrow, Terri Penick said, while the other mule walks outside, ensuring each line remains straight along with the rest of the crops.
“In addition to carving a niche for the seeds to be planted,” Shirley said. “The plow turns over the vegetation above ground so it can decompose.
“With this natural fertilizer, the 18th century farmers had perfected organic farming long before it was popular.
“We sowed wheat last fall which we will harvest with a cradle this summer, and, hopefully, thresh with a flail.
“The project is being sponsored by the Hoff Barn Committee to educate citizens on 1790s agriculture,” Shirley said. “All of these crops were very important and valuable in history. Wheat and corn remain valuable crops today although our methods of planting and harvesting them have certainly changed.”