The 120-year-old Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, at least since the mid-1910s, has fostered the learning side for youth as a major component of its nonprofit mission.
The junior exhibitors’ livestock events are prime examples, with most of this year’s cattle, hogs, lambs and goats forthcoming at Will Rogers Memorial Center. And while livestock and horses plus chickens and rabbits have provided the traditional work-ethic generator of learning, the contests can feature results of hard work on farm/ranch implements, trailers and tractors. And the children’s lessons can go well beyond mechanics or animal husbandry.
“They learn to think and act under pressure,” whether in the livestock judging arena or in a farm/ranch equipment contest, said Marty Vahlenkamp, Hood County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent.
That was certainly true over the Stock Show’s first weekend, as the lessons turned heavily to the technical side but also delivered communication, teamwork and time-management skills for Texas 4-H and FFA youth who produced more than 280 designed/engineered, cut, fabricated, assembled, welded, bolted and painted projects plus several restorations competing in the Junior Agricultural Mechanics Project Show/contest.
They had to present and explain their projects to judges and show visitors, alike.
“I learned responsibility,” said Richard Hernandez, one of seven Dubiski Career High School (Grand Prairie) students who teamed up to produce three steel-plated and -reinforced projects. The school is focused on graduating students ready to pursue careers in engineering, manufacturing, mechanics, building trades and other high-skill fields as well as via college.
“I had responsibility to do my work for my core classes, my responsibility in our projects working after school and on weekends, my job internship at Cummins Diesel and the responsibility at home, my chores,” said Hernandez, a senior.
He and Dubiski teammates/classmates Antonio Mendoza, Gabriel Alvarez, Christopher Gonzalez, Mark Avila, Salvador Camacho and Enoc Maldonado estimated spending a combined 660 man-hours to build a hay bale-handling “grapple” implement with hydraulic lift, a specialty trailer outfitted for full-service welding services and a heavy-duty smoker/barbecue pit.
“Teamwork is the key,” said senior Salvador Camacho. “And I learned that working hard can certainly lead to good things.”
Cannon Simmons, 18, a Jacksonville High senior, said he had to learn specialized “wire welding” to impart harder welds on steel components as he assembled his soil-aerator implement. Its hydraulically raised and lowered, rotating cylinder is loaded with blades to give pasture and cropland soils a deep loosening to boost subsurface saturation of air, water and both vegetation stubble and applied fertilizer nutrients – to boost grass or crop growth.
“I’ve got about $2,300-$2,400 tied up in it,” excluding his labor, Simmons said, adding that he also had to learn to manage his time wisely, completing his studies and homework while working on the project after school and weekends from September through December. “I had a deadline to meet.”
Noli Park, 17, a Bosqueville High senior, said she and her project partner, classmate Jay Jackson, had to meet the challenge of designing a utility trailer with precisely placed cross-member metal rails supporting a heavy wood platform bearing up to 7,000 pounds of hay, supplies or other needs for the farm, ranch or home.
Before she could show and explain their project at the Stock Show, Park had to play a basketball game Friday night and bring the trailer to Fort Worth after the game. Her father drove; Jackson was unable to attend.
“I intend to attend Stephen F. Austin (University), major in ag education and become a teacher,” the FFA member said.
Like the Park-Jackson effort, many of the exhibited mechanical projects won blue ribbons for flawless results, and prime prizes included tools and vouchers to buy steel for more projects.
But, as usual, some projects intended for the Stock Show stay home instead. They don’t turn out as planned, with occasional accidents or health setbacks for the animals, or the metal cutting, welding or other efforts fail to yield the farm implement as intended.
“They still have to learn how to deal with it,” Vahlenkamp said.
“And they learn how to talk to people,” he said.