My Uncle Bob was a champion plowman, back when that kind of thing was a big deal here in the Midwest. I don’t want his story to be forgotten. How many young men of his generation ended up meeting four presidents, and competing in Europe (twice!) solely because of a remarkable ability to plow a straight furrow?
Robert Charles Erickson (1924-2005) was my mother’s younger brother. He grew up in a farm family in northern Illinois, and learned young how to drive a tractor and work a plow. By the time he was a teen, he was competing in—and winning—level land plowing matches at the local level and beyond.
He first competed nationally in 1947 at age 23, where he lost by only .05 point. But made a number of appearances at the nationals, and in 1954 at Olney, Illinois, he achieved his dream of being national champion. So in 1955 he competed in the world championships in Uppsala, Sweden, coming in 8th out of 36. 1960 saw him winning the nationals again, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, qualifying him to compete the next summer in Grignon, France, where he placed 12th out of 48.
The photograph below shows him in 1956 with President Eisenhower. I also have pictures of him with Truman and Nixon. He told me once that he ate lunch with President Kennedy around the time he competed in France, but there was no photographer there.
Uncle Bob retired from national-level competition after France, due to a rule that forbade the same person from representing the U.S.A. more than twice, so my mother told me… She said the rule later changed, but he chose not to return to competition. He went back to Minooka, Illinois and farmed there the rest of his life with his father, my Grandpa Erickson, who had taught him everything he knew about plowing.
Sadly, Uncle Bob died a lonely man. He and his wife Shirley had no children, and his wife died many years before he did. Quarrels about money and inheritances had broken his ties with most of his family by the time he died. But he always loved his farm and his tractors and his stories.
I drove out to Minooka, Illinois one day a few summers ago and looked up his tombstone. I was pleased to see that it was well cared for by his best friend Tom, and that it was a fitting tribute to a Champion Plowman.