Jim McQuen is a man torn between centuries, the one he lives in and the one he thinks about all the time.
Jim: They kind of know what I'm going to do. Get over here! An oxen is a three year old neutered male of any breed. These are shorthorns it could be a guernsey it could be a jersey could be a Hereford. They got to have horns or that yoke will fall off their heads. That's all the harness you need.
Jim McQuen grew up farming the old fashioned way with horses right up to 1954 so he knows animals. And he has a special affection for these brutes.
Jim: They say dumb as an ox but they're smart. 'You like these guys?' Oh, yea. Oh, they're my buddies. See you got to have the good disposition if you don't have the good disposition in any livestock on the farm you know you're just in trouble. And this is a lash we don't beat them with it but it just makes my arm about four feet longer and I can tell them what to do. See I can tap him back there and he comes up. Back step..back, back.
Jim's prize team of oxen Chub and Jerry are his connection with an earlier time, not just the days of farming before tractors but even earlier. Throughout our history the ox has been the true American workhorse..the early colonists cleared the land with oxen, pulled stumps, plowed fields and hauled wood. Oxen are stronger than horses and most colonists couldn't afford the harness needed for workhorses. Oxen harness, though, grows on trees.
Jim: You could go to the woods and chop down a tree and make this instrument right here which is the yoke. You could bend the saplings and you could make the bows and you could harness the power.
And when pioneers crossed the Plains in the 1800's oxen pulled their covered wagons, not horses...horses couldn't digest the prairie grass that grew on the Plains. Jim covers all that history when he shows off his team at schools, fairs and 4-H meetings, shows kids how the West was really won to the ponderous, steady hoof beat of gentle horned giants on whose ample shoulders which borne much of the work of building our nation. Eric Olson reporting out in Your Country.