Behind the Scenes

By Willa Wick in Community, Places, Events, & History

In three weeks it all comes together.  The hard work of dozens of committees, the hours put in by volunteers (most of whom have also been involved in local fall fairs), the planning, the scheduling, the landscaping, hydro, running water….each is a spoke in the wheel that will turn September 20th – 24th.


It’s been said that a good plan is when you take a bunch of people who have never worked together, give them an idea, throw them in a cage, and let them work things out.  Then sit back and watch as they make something grand out of it.


During the five days of the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo we will see the results of three years of planning, and it will seemingly go without a hitch.  With or without good weather it will be a success.  But how did it get there?  How did the 50+ committees each do their part?  It’s the behind the scenes efforts that grease the wheel.  In some of those scenes there is humor.  In some disappointment, but for the most part there are little heartwarming stories that go unannounced by the media.  Take for instance the June IPM Wreath Workshop sponsored by the Carry-On Women’s Institute.  An extra wreath was made and offered for sale on Yoga Night in Palmerston when the Institute served smoothies to the participants.  The wreath was purchased by the County Warden’s daughter and given to her mother on her birthday a few weeks later.

At the Palmerston Farmer’s Market in July the Institute was serving breakfast.  Another of the lime green netting wreaths had been constructed and a draw was held.  The winner was from the city and just passing through.  He was more interested in supporting the Women’s Institute than the prize so he suggested that the wreath go elsewhere.  Following the second drawing the green IPM wreath went to Palmerston’s Nancy Knapp.


The goal for the Volunteer Committee was approximately 900 volunteers.  By mid-August they only had 665 logged onto the computer spread sheets but that number didn’t include those who are directly connected to one of the 15 to 20 service clubs on the volunteer roster.  The committee is amazed at where some of enquiries are coming from. Applications have been received from as far away as B.C. and Alberta.  One young gal called to say she was coming a distance but will be staying with her grandma.  She will be going to the Match so she wanted to help out in any way she could.


Each IPM Executive Chair has a number of committees under his/her direction.  Some topics that fall to a committee are questionable – i.e. food handling.  The Food Handling Workshop and its requirements fell under the auspices of the Volunteer group.  That was a bit of a shock for them at first, but made sense when you realize all food made available (except for registered food vendors) is provided by volunteers.  All persons, whether they are making, wrapping, transporting, or handling food or food containers in any way must take the Food Handling Course.  Several workshops have been presented by the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit and the final class will be held on Wednesday, September 7th from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Public Health Inspectors will be on-site at the match to ensure the public’s safety.


A Volunteer Safety Orientation Morning will be held at the Match site on Saturday, September 10th from 9 to 11 a.m.  Prior to the 9:00 start approximately 900 volunteers will receive a light breakfast, which is being supplied by Harriston/Palmerston’s Tim Horton’s plus the Mount Forest Foodland. Suggested arrival time is from 8:15 a.m. It is important for each helper to attend the session if possible.  This is the one big chance for all volunteers to meet and greet, as well as learn some regulations for the week that hadn’t surfaced before.  The main emphasis is on safety.  Spokespeople for the session will be personnel from the Ontario Plowmen’s Association, Fire, EMS and Radio Communication who will relay information critical to the safe and smooth operation of the 2016 International Plowing Match.  For example, a frequent theme for autumn decorating is the use of straw bales; however, no straw bales are allowed inside a tented area!  The morning will be quite interesting and should raise a few eyebrows.


All volunteers attending will receive a personalized lime green and black identification holder with lanyard. The handy zippered pouch has room for tickets, passes, money, emergency information etc.


Anyone who would like to volunteer is welcome to come out to the orientation on September 10th and sign up!


Although the Landscape Committee has been plagued with many challenges, the final sign is now prominently displayed at the corner of Hwy 109 and Gillespie Road.  This one is huge, arrow shaped, and uniquely embraced with armor stone, blue spruce, mulch, and flowers draping from two massive planters.  Rumor has it that these large wooden boxes will later be transferred to the municipally owned Mill Street Park in Harriston where the local Horticultural Society maintains the plant beds.


Nearly every vendor on site has attractive outside decorating.  This is the responsibility of the Landscape Committee – to determine the needs of each exhibitor – then order, distribute, and plant and mulch in some areas.  For starters 1000 pots of colored mums are on order plus 1000 straw bales, 500 pumpkins and 800 bags of mulch.  During the Match the 50 volunteers have to make sure that all plant material is watered every night.  Woodchips, whether as mulch, in tents, or on pathways, have to be wetted down each evening.


The Sponsorship Committee reached one of their goals in mid July and celebrated with cake and ice cream at a meeting.   Something as simple as that shows appreciation from the leader and keeps a group united.


Garnering sponsorships, either in kind or cash donations, literally means door to door soliciting.  Some volunteers have reported visiting parts of the county they had never been to before.  They learned the aspects of a business previously only known by name. Sometimes a day on the road ended up being much longer than anticipated because a visit would result in deep conversation.  Sometimes doors were slammed in faces while other times cheques would be written out in quick order (sometimes to be “upped” a few days later.)  As one chap reported, “it’s the fun of it, the people you meet, the places you go, and what you learn – and then there’s the sponsorship money to be handed over to the overall IPM Operating Fund”.


The Wellington County Plowmen’s Association is a binding force to this year’s IPM.  Their local match was held in Puslinch on August 18th.  A plaque has been designed consisting of 16 plow shears suitably engraved as a memoriam to former presidents and diligent workers of the WCPA.  This large plaque will be in the exhibit of the county plowmen’s tent area.


Another challenge was “the bell”.  After scouting for mementos and in particular meeting with the Mennonite craftsman who has for several years been making the aluminum tractor seats for IPM souvenirs, the executive directors were referred “to his brother down the road who worked in brass”.  A large bell with the inscription “In Youth We Learn” greeted them outside this casting shop. That was a little big for an IPM souvenir but the gentlemen had a very informative visit with the brass artisan.


Not long afterwards the wheels in a couple of WCPA director heads began to spin.  They wanted something unique – not necessarily a souvenir, but something completely different.  Another visit was paid to the Holyrood area Mennonite’s shop.  He explained how he makes his own models and casts the steaming liquid brass molds in sand. This is very hot work and he only does it from November to April (which helps to heat his shop!) In the other months he has a large market garden.  Arrangements were made for a bell to be cast bearing the inscription “Wellington County Plowmen’s Association” and “IPM 2016”.


This 40 pound brass school bell, mounted on a stand, made its first public appearance in May for Plow Day in Elora.  Since then it has traveled around the county to various events, and was showcased at the Wellington County Plowing Match at Puslinch in August. When not on the road, home base for the bell is the Museum in Elora where it gets good exposure.  The big brass bell will be gifted from the county association to the IPM.    The intent is for the chain to be pulled and the bell to ‘ring in’ the Opening Ceremonies following the parade on the first day.  It will be on display for most of the week and then auctioned off on Friday.


Another “travelling promotion” is the Food Grains Wagon.  This bright red wagon has been making rounds throughout the area with large Food Grains signs on both sides, and smaller ones fore and aft advertising the International Plowing Match.  On the floor of the wagon is an antique plow recently painted in the bright green and yellow John Deere colors.  Like the IPM brass bell, the red wagon has appeared at many events and Fall Fairs, and when at ease can be found prominently resting in a farmer’s field beside a major roadway.  It too will find an exhibit spot at the Match.


The wheat was harvested from the farm directly across the road from IPM site.  This was done by tractor and binder with the sheaves being pitched onto a wagon.  It was a very hot day and exhausting for the 20 willing workers, most of whom were of the white-haired jet set.  Five wagon loads were hauled off to storage until September when they will be used for the threshing demonstrations.  The cleared land will be used for the actual plowing competitions during the IPM.   There was a bit of irony during the afternoon – on one side of the highway a group of seniors were taking the harvest the old fashioned way, while directly across the road, some younger less-conservative Mennonites were square baling the IPM hay lands with ultra modern equipment.


The actual plowing part of an international match has been losing momentum with visitors because it’s been overshadowed by the growing elements of the tented city. The plowing is removed from normal traffic flow for obvious safety reasons but this competition is still an integral part of the show and should be watched.  The 2016 match will offer a ‘first’ in the history of the IPM when, on the recommendation of the OPA President Don Priest, demonstration plowing (horse and tractor) will be held right in the tented city.  Two special sponsorships have enabled professional plowmen to be hired for explanation and demonstrations on Saturday.


The Sunday worship service is a formal prelude to any IPM.  The mass choir has already had four practices and only two left in September before the Worship Service will be conducted in the gymnasium of Norwell District Secondary School, Palmerston at 3:00 on September 18th.  Many of the already active volunteers are among the singers in the 100-voice mass choir.


By the time you’re reading this the “Fresh Taste of Quilting” show will be over.  The winners of the various classes will have been notified and prizes awarded.  It’s hard to imagine the daunting task the judges would face with 140 quilts laid out before them.


A rural novelty, and always a fun time, is to attend an auction sale.  What’s even livelier is an Auctioneer’s Challenge.  Auctioneers travel from parts unknown, even across the border, to voice their chants and jargon as they try to outdo one another.  Each auctioneer will sell individual articles as the competition progresses on Friday, Sept 23rd.  The Champion will auction off the big brass bell.


That’s just a smattering of the numerous committees required to ensure the success of any IPM.  The RV Park is almost filled, and entertainment has been booked. Once the electricity was installed in early August, the tented and exhibitor areas were all staked out.  Parking areas have to be marked and transporting tractor drivers know their routes. There are still about 40 more committees working diligently in the background.


Give them a hand

 Give them a shout,  

A week’s “Fresh Taste” excitement

Is what it’s about.


The Big Red Wagon

The Big Red Wagon

Brass Bell auctioned at the IPM

Brass Bell auctioned at the IPM

IPM Wheat harvest being done the old-fashioned way

IPM Wheat harvest being done the old-fashioned way

Seniors' IPM Wheat Harvest

Seniors’ IPM Wheat Harvest