Keeping our farming roots alive at Field Days
NEW HAVEN — Everywhere you look at the Addison County Fair and Field Days, you see tractors — lined up by the demo derby arena, sprinkled about behind the antique equipment building. Seven of them belong to Phyllis and Bob Bowdish, owners of Weybridge Farms in Weybridge.
On Tuesday morning, the Bowdishes recruited four friends to drive six of their tractors the 5.7 miles from their farm to the fair grounds in what Bob called a “loony parade.” The seventh tractor was left out of the parade, to be delivered via truck.
“You can walk as fast as this old tractor goes, so we trucked it,” Bob explained, lovingly patting the 1948 model Allis Chalmers. “We don’t farm with it anymore; it’s a toy now.”
Phyllis and Bob have been attending the county fair for almost as long as this tractor has been around. Back in the 1950s, when they were both children, Field Days moved from farm to farm.
“I’ve been coming pretty much all my life,” Phyllis said.
“I remember showing cattle when I was younger,” Bob recounted.
Weybridge Farms was founded in 1930, when Phyllis’s grandfather moved to Vermont and bought the land off Lemon Fair Road. The farm currently has five generations of Bowdishes living on it.
The farm began as a dairy operation, but Bob and Phyllis sold their milking cows for economic reasons, and “because we got tired of getting up at 3 a.m. every day,” Bob said with a laugh.
Today, the family raises Black Angus beef and chickens. Their eggs are available at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op.
Phyllis’s grandfather bought the now vintage Allis Chalmers back in the 1940s, but then sold it to a man in Weybridge. The new owner contacted Phyllis’s mother and told her: “If I ever want to sell it, I’ll give you a call.”
Eventually, he did, and Phyllis’ mother, Irene Denis, snatched it right up. Today, the tractor is a prized family possession.
Continuing the family farming tradition, the couple has helped their children and grandchildren show cows at the fair in recent years. Phyllis makes quilts and other handicrafts, on display in the Lucien D. Paquette Exhibit Building.
The pair, along with Bob’s brother, has also been working their friend Art Blair’s rope-making equipment for the last few years. Blair is a collector of antique equipment.
Phyllis and Bob oversee the rope-making demonstrations for fairgoers from the couple’s perch — two folding chairs set up in the center of a long tent filled with tractors next to the Antique Equipment Building at Field Days.
On one end of the rope-making machine, three long pieces of twine converge, and are held down by a big weight. On the other end, the twine is connected to a metal wheel with hooks. Under Phyllis’ careful instruction, participants spin the wheel first clockwise, then counterclockwise, twisting the three strands into one thick, hairy rope.
Phyllis enjoys the opportunity to share her knowledge with interested fairgoers. “People are curious. You just have to initiate conversations, say ‘Hi’ first,” she said.
Phyllis and Bob agreed that their favorite part of the fair is “seeing everybody (they) haven’t seen since the last year.” A friend standing nearby interrupted: “If you say so.” Phyllis and Bob laughed.
“You meet neighbors you don’t see otherwise, and reconnect with old friends,” Bob said.
The Bowdishes will be in the tractor tent, next to the Antique Equipment Building, all week, offering up not only rope-making guidance, but also tales of life on a family farm.