First and lasts: Rock County 4-H'ers share thoughts on trips earned to Minnesota State Fair

LUVERNE -- For a pair of Rock County 4-H'ers who have already earned grand champion ribbons, this year is about making memories of firsts and lasts. For 12-year-old Cassie Flanagan, this marks her first year of eligibility to exhibit at the Minne...

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Shane Mueller, a member of the Springdell 4-H Club, earned grand champion tractor at the Rock County Fair for the restoration of this 1954 Farmall Super M-TA, which once belonged to his grandfather. Mueller is in his last year of 4-H. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

LUVERNE - For a pair of Rock County 4-H’ers who have already earned grand champion ribbons, this year is about making memories of firsts and lasts.
For 12-year-old Cassie Flanagan, this marks her first year of eligibility to exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair. She earned a trip in poultry - yes, even though all live-bird exhibitions were cancelled this year. For Shane Mueller, an 11-year member of the Springdell 4-H Club, it’s the last time he’ll get to experience the Great Minnesota Get-Together as a 4-H’er. He earned a trip with the 1954 Farmall Super M-TA - a tractor once owned by his grandfather - that he restored this summer.
Mueller could most likely find his way around the state fairgrounds with his eyes closed, but for Flanagan, it will be an eye-opening experience. She’s never been to the State Fair before - although she’s heard the chocolate chip cookies there are pretty good.
While both 4-H’ers may be looking forward to all there is to see and do at the State Fair, it’s hard to beat the friendships forged and the fun created at a small-town county fair.
Just ask Mueller, whose family chose to exhibit in Rock County even though they live across the state line, near Garretson, S.D. Rather than exhibit at the Sioux Empire Fair, where Mueller said the focus is more on entertainment than 4-H, his family opted for the 4-H-focused, family-friendly fair.
“It’s so much nicer to come here,” he said of the Rock County Fair, which continues through Saturday in Luverne.
After 11 years in 4-H - the past five as a Rock County 4-H Ambassador - along with being a southwest region 4-H Camp Counselor for three years and fulfilling a series of officer roles at the club level, Mueller will graduate from the program after the State Fair and begin his sophomore year at South Dakota State University this fall. He’s majoring in animal science/pre-vet.
For his last year in 4-H, Mueller is exhibiting sheep, shop, tractor, veterinary science, exploring animals and photography at the Rock County Fair.
“I used to do more,” he said, adding that with being elected Sentinel of the South Dakota FFA this year, he just didn’t have the time to commit to 4-H projects.
Even restoring the Farmall tractor had to wait until after college classes ended this spring. Then, after FFA commitments filled up a span of three weeks, he went back to work on the tractor. It was completed just a week before the county fair.
The Farmall Super M-TA he restored is a relic. The company only made the tractor for one year - in 1954 - with about 26,000 sold.
“My grandpa (Earl Mueller) purchased it from a neighbor in 1956 or 1957,” said Mueller. When Earl died, his son Ed (Shane’s father) was just 14 years old. Earl’s wife, Barb, kept the tractor.
“My dad got it about 20 years ago from Grandma,” Mueller said. “Dad had originally reworked it when he got it. We used it for anything and everything - baling hay, cleaning the barn.”
By the time Mueller decided to restore it for a 4-H project, the tractor’s paint was “pretty bad,” he said. It was scratched up and there were some mechanical issues that needed fixing.
“Right after college got out, I started taking it apart and fixing the smaller mechanical issues,” he said. Then it was sanded and prepped for painting. Once the painting was done, Mueller added decals he purchased on eBay.
This wasn’t Mueller’s first tractor restoration project. Two years ago, he exhibited a John Deere 3010 he restored. Mueller learned tractor restoration during a tractor maintenance class he took as a sophomore at Garretson High School. His dad is the agriculture instructor there.
During this restoration project, Mueller said his dad’s only involvement was to do the final checks to make sure the repairs were done correctly.
Mueller hopes to exhibit the tractor at the State Fair, and he will know by Saturday if it’s feasible. He’s supposed to be at the South Dakota State Fair at the same time for his State FFA duties.
As for the tractor, when it does return to the farm, it will be used for parades and maybe some light work, like raking hay.
“It will kind of go back to being a collector tractor,” said Mueller, who hopes to restore his Farmall 706 next summer if he doesn’t have an internship.
He won’t have the pressure of getting the tractor restored before the county fair, and the fair is one of the big things he’ll miss about graduating from 4-H.
“When you’re over here for that many years, it’s kind of like family,” he said. “I’ll miss doing day camps and Cloverbud Day and getting the younger members excited for all the growing and learning they do in 4-H.”

The chicken champion

A stroll through the rabbit and poultry barn at the Rock County Fair will likely have visitors taking a second look at the cages where one would usually find chickens chirping and ducks quacking. In their place are cute and cuddly, fur-bearing fake birds of the stuffed animal variety.
The critters, supplied by the Rock County Fair, were used by 4-H’ers in the poultry project to demonstrate their showmanship skills by pretending the toys were their actual birds. They also had to explain to a judge how they cared for their birds.
Cassie Flanagan, a member of the Denver Go-Getters 4-H Club, relied on the skills she learned during her first two years in the poultry project to exhibit the proper bird handling technique.
In addition, she created a poster, “How to keep a happy chicken,” in place of the laying hens she was supposed to show at the fair this year.
The Flanagans already had their chickens when Minnesota - and then other states - decided to cancel all live poultry exhibitions this year due to the outbreak of Avian Influenza.
“I was a little bit sad,” Flanagan said. “I was looking forward to showing them because it’s a very fun project, but I decided to keep going forward.”
She had the option of selecting a different project in place of poultry and opted to lease a dairy calf this year. The laying hens she’d planned to exhibit were ultimately sold.
“Hopefully next year, if this happens again, we’ll be able to keep our chickens,” she said.
In addition to her poultry exhibit and dairy calf, Flanagan also exhibited in the goat, horse, crafts and needle arts project areas.

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Cassie Flanagan, 12, of the Denver Go-Getters 4-H Club earned grand champion poultry for her display on how to have a happy chicken, as well as her poultry showmanship abilities. 4-H’ers in the poultry project demonstrated showmanship with the stuffed chickens seen in the cages because they weren’t allowed to bring birds to the fair this year due to concerns over avian influenza. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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