Young people can compete at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in dozens of ways. They can fit a calf, or raise a lamb or groom a chicken or build a saddle rack.
Or, if they are like a group of high school students from Vega in West Texas, they can build a 38-foot, “live bottom” silage trailer. The complex piece of machinery, used to haul green cattle feed made from corn or other crops, has a conveyor belt built into the bottom and would cost around $80,000 from a commercial supplier.
It was named overall grand champion at the Ag Mechanics competition Sunday.
“Our entire high school is involved in the ag program,” said Jordon Schulte, one of six members of the Vega High School team that built the massive semi-trailer. “That is just the thing to do where we live. So we all start out in freshman ag class and learn to weld.”
Ag Mechanics has grown steadily since it was added to the Stock Show in 2013. This year’s competition had 466 competitors from 135 schools. The prize money and scholarships combined with the value of the tools and equipment donated as prizes total about $250,000, said Ted Ford, a professor at Tarleton State University who is a superintendent of the Ag Mechanics show.
The diverse and many entries in the Equestrian Multi-Purpose Building ranged from the trailer to cattle guards to things that are unrecognizable unless you live on a ranch.
“We have been building ag projects for about 23 years. It has kind of been our tradition,” said the Vega group’s ag mechanics teacher, Jay Newton. “These kids had a special desire. They spent almost 2,400 hours on this project, but the thing that is really impressive to me is that 1,400 of those hours were after school. They were there because they want to be.”
He said the project began with a commission from an area farmer who needed a silage trailer. A contract was worked up, and the team of four boys and two girls set to work in September.
The result weighs more than 18,000 pounds and can haul 40,000 pounds, or about 60 cubic yards of silage.
Nearby, dwarfed by the big trailer and a world away in form, the 8-year-old builder of an award-winning saddle rack talked about her work.
“I laminated white pine and used a compass around my arch, and then I used adjustable clamps to hold the end pieces together,” Brighton Muller of East Bernard, daughter of Jake and Amanda Muller, said proudly.
“I made a hole here for a dowel because I did not want it to wiggle too much,” she said. “I cut this part out with a jigsaw. For the rest of it, I used a radial arm saw and a compound miter saw.”
She finished, “But I enjoyed staining it the most because I got to get all dirty.”
“I built [the rack] for my great-great grandpa’s saddle,” said the little woodworker, whose saddle rack is almost as tall as she is. “We just have it in the attic now, and I wanted something to put it on.”
The third-grader at East Bernard Elementary School earned a ribbon Sunday. And somewhere, a great-great grandpa is smiling.