For Powels, State Fair is family tradition

September 05, 1992|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

When the Powels of Union Bridge gather at the State Fair this weekend, it will be like a family vacation -- meeting old friends, learning new tricks of the dairy-farming trade and trying to capture some blue ribbons with their prize Holstein cows.

One way or another, the Powels have been involved in dairy farming for several generations, and during most of that time they have been mainstays of the fair, which will end its 111th year Monday evening.

The current patriarch is William R. Powel III, 56, who five years ago turned day-to-day management of the family's 300-head Holstein herd, including 120 milking cows, over to his twins, Tom and Anne, who celebrate their 30th birthdays tomorrow. Anne's husband, Cameron Davis, who formerly showed cattle professionally, helps operate the farm.

Mr. Powel, whose father showed cattle at the fair, entered his first show at the fair in 1947, at age 11. He has been involved with the annual celebration of farm life ever since.

"Dairy farming has been my life," he said.

He won top Maryland 4-H honors as a youngster showing Guernsey cows and made the last trip on which cattle were shipped by boxcar to the National Guernsey Show in Waterloo, Iowa.

"I don't know why they did it; they were already shipping cattle by truck then. I missed three weeks of school in my senior year because of that, and I damn near flunked chemistry," he said.

Maryland has produced some of the country's best 4-H cattle judges since the 1920s, Mr. Powel said. In 1954, the Maryland judging team won the state and national championships, and Mr. Powel was chosen the best individual judge. The Maryland team's showing that year earned it a trip to England to compete internationally.

"We didn't win a championship, but we won that trip to Europe, and that was great," said Mr. Powel, who judged at local Guernsey shows for many years.

David Brauning, now superintendent of livestock at Timonium, was one of Mr. Powel's judging teammates. With much laughter, he and George Wills, the fair's public relations director, threatened "to tell the true story" about Mr. Powel "after he talks to you."

What Mr. Wills said, however, was, "It's people like Bill who are what this fair is all about."

Not only has the State Fair figured in Mr. Powel's farming career, it has played a major role in his family life. In 1959, he courted his future wife, Rebecca, at the fair. And, but for a fast ambulance, their twins, Anne and Tom, might have been born in the cow barn instead of at Union Memorial Hospital.

"We didn't even know we were having twins until they were born," he said.

Rebecca Gale was not a farm girl, Mr. Powel recalled. "She lived in Lutherville, and she thought farming was all like at the fair and that I owned Doughregan Manor," he said. "But she learned and became a good farm wife."

The twins and their sisters, Virginia, a physician, and Nancy, who works in a cooperative that breeds cattle artificially, grew up in 4-H at the Powel's Crookabout Farm, caring for their animals and showing them at the State Fair.

"Their youth activity was getting ready and going to the fair," Mr. pTC Powel said, as the current generation of Powels put its cows through their paces in a nearby ring.

"Going to the fair was really our vacation," he said, "where dairy farmers come to learn and do business and keep up their contacts."

Besides a get-together for farmers, Mr. Powel said, the fair is a place where "you are showing your livestock to promote your herd, like advertising. When you have purebred cattle, you are not only selling milk, you are selling breeding stock."

After turning over operation of the farm to his son and daughter, Mr. Powel became administrator of Carroll County's program for preserving agricultural land.

"We have 20,000 acres under permanent preservation easement and another 20,000 acres under five-year district easement, but limited funding prevents making that permanent, too," he said.

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