It's always tough deciding what to do and see at the Iowa State Fair.
So many options. Take Wednesday night. Do you check out the Pampered Chef
Do you bypass the balloon masters and wander over to the Administration
Building to catch the speed chess tournament?
Or do you simply grab a turkey leg and a refreshing beverage and settle in
for some intense mullet watching? Sightings, for the record, appear to be
down this year.
While every day in Iowa could be "Older Iowans Day," that really was the
official designation Wednesday at the fair. That and "Protect Iowa Health
Put them together and it was the perfect time to watch 92-year-old Toledo
resident Don McKale compete in the horse pull contest.
McKale is an older Iowan, no question. He's also in good health. He has no
blood pressure problems, no diabetes or arthritis. No heart or pulmonary
issues. No chronic back pain.
He's so healthy and active for his age, you're tempted to ask, "What's
wrong with this guy?"
His children take more meds than he does. He deserves some kind of award
for that alone.
Yet McKale was honored for another reason Wednesday night. Halfway through
the competition, about the time he and his horses, Pete and Charlie, were
breaking a sweat at the Livestock Pavilion, McKale was inducted into the
Iowa Draft Horse Hall of Fame.
Yes, city dwellers, there is such a thing. It isn't the Baseball Hall of
Fame maybe, but Pete Rose would jump at the chance.
I asked McKale how he happened to attain such a high honor at such an
"It wasn't because I was a big winner," he said. "Maybe it's because I've
been at it a long time. It's recreation for me — or a fever. I don't know
McKale does win the longevity award hands down. He started competing in
the '40s when the family was living in Clay Center, Kan.
His cousin was president of the county fair. McKale was working in the
cornfield when the cousin told him he ought to enter the coming horse
Had you spent your entire life in, say, Beaverdale, you might have asked,
"Horse pull? Why would anyone want to pull a horse? Isn't the horse the
one who's supposed to do the pulling?"
McKale, a country boy, had a different question. He'd always used those
big draft horses for mowing, raking, hauling and other farm work.
His question was when? Where? The rest wasn't exactly history, but it did
lead to the hall of fame.
When McKale was in his prime, the family traveled with him to horse pulls
all over Kansas. It was their entertainment.
Then came the drought, which meant no wheat crop for five years. The
family moved to Iowa and farmed a few more years before buying the L-Ranko
Motel in Toledo.
After decades on the sidelines, McKale made his big comeback.
Wednesday night, he hitched up the team and went at it again. He didn't
win. But that didn't matter.
Being out there with the horses, driving them, coaxing them, testing them
— that's what it was all about.
"Come on, Pete. Come on, Charlie. Come on, boys."
The horses start out pulling a sled weighed down with 1,000 pounds of
concrete blocks. When a team passes that test, it's 1,000 additional
pounds a round until they can pull no more.
Early this summer at a competition in Tipton, McKale stunned the crowd by
advancing through four rounds.
"I didn't pull them a fifth time," he said, "because I knew they were
about finished. You can ruin them that way."
You can destroy their confidence. McKale felt they'd given maximum effort.
He didn't want them to fail in round five and start doubting themselves.
So he bowed out.
"You have to be an athlete to do what he does," said Wes Seuferer, head of
the Iowa Draft Horse Association. "Somebody has to hook the horses for
him. When they hear the clicks, those horses are trained to start going.
If they miss a hook, he's going to get drug on his face. Obviously, that
hasn't happened a lot because he's still doing it."
He is still up around sunrise every day, getting the horses out, mowing,
raking, thriving in the summer heat.
Motorists passing through on U.S. Highway 30, more accustomed to farmers
on tractors, stop to take pictures.
"We just marvel at the way he goes and goes and goes," said his daughter,
Ellie Dolezal. "Dad has the endurance of one of his horses."
He's much lower maintenance, too.
Article courtesy of DesMoinesRegister.com