FARMINGTON — The tears came easily as Mason Norton, 97, watched the pair of large white oxen pull cement blocks the length of the ring at Farmington Fair Monday.

“Pulling is different now. That’s just harrowing. They need some wood logs,” he said, remembering his own years of pulling at fairs around the area. Something he did all his life, he added.

Fair officials stopped the sweepstakes pull to introduce and acknowledge Norton’s attendance.

Now a resident of Sandy River Nursing Center and under Beacon Hospice care, Norton was surrounded by caregivers, who organized the special treat.

“He wanted to come,” Aimee Brown of Beacon Hospice said. “There were tears in his eyes when he talked about it. It was such a huge part of his life.”

Norton, a farmer from Livermore, did well during his own years of pulling. He’s still a very lively man, announcer Trisha Mosher said while introducing him to the crowd.

“He was one of the first to use a Canadian-style yoke,” she said.

Unlike the bow-style yokes usually used in pulling, the Canadian style rest on the back of the animal’s head and the straps are tied to the horns, Trish’s father, Herb Mosher Jr., explained as he helped with the pulling events.

Sweepstakes pulls, Norton’s favorite, are open to oxen pair of any weight. This contest went quickly, as a father and son from Parsonfield were the only ones pulling.

“Usually there are nearly 10 entries for this contest. Today there are only two. It must be the economy,” he said.

Mosher, 62, said he couldn’t remember many fairs when a younger Norton wasn’t there.

“He was a self-employed farmer who made oxen yokes and shoes. He was a genius in what he did,” he said.

The shoes are like those for horses only oxen have cloven feet which mean they need one for each side, Mosher explained.

The secret to pulling, Norton shared, was in the swearing.

“I can’t pull oxen without swearing,” he said, adding a few choice words for emphasis. “I’d start and then swear and they would pay attention.”

“He’s such a character,” said Evelyn Crosson, who tends the gardens at the local nursing home with her husband, John.

“He’s like a grandfather to me. He’s always outside and loves to watch us work,” she said while repeating the questions and answers as Norton struggled to hear.

“He just kept saying, ‘I’d like to go to the sweepstakes pull, but who’ll take me,’” she added. They started the process for Monday’s fair visit, she said.

Norton watched as Danny Jordan competed with his son Gerald and won with his oxen pulling 468 feet compared to the son’s showing of 415 feet.

Pulling is an agricultural event that stays within many families, Trisha Mosher said. It started with two farmers betting on whose oxen team was stronger and developed into a fair competition for horses and oxen.

She points to her own grandfather, Herb Sr., watching the event, her father and her uncle, Terry Mosher, walking beside the teams and running the competition. She makes the announcements with her mother, Diane, sorts ribbons, while her own sons drive up in a small vehicle to play their part.

“There are so many families. It’s a tradition,” she said of the annual event that draws a crowd to watch the strength of the huge animals.

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