10/6/2012 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
State Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Glen Rock, can often be spotted walking down the corridors of the Pennsylvania state Capitol sporting a Western-style suit and cowboy boots.
It’s something that is a bit of an oddity in the statehouse, but he views it as a part of who he is — a farm boy who has a passion for horses whose time behind a team of horses or in a tractor seat is valuable “think time” to ponder legislative issues.
Waugh was honored Thursday with induction into the Pennsylvania Livestock Association’s Hall of Fame during opening ceremonies for the Keystone International Livestock Exposition (KILE) in Harrisburg.
When he found out he was the 2012 recipient for this award, he was surprised.
“Never in a million years would I have expected it,” he said. “All you have to do is look at the individuals that have been selected for the Hall of Fame over the years.”
The award is presented annually to livestock farmers and industry leaders who have made a positive impact on Pennsylvania’s livestock industry. The photo gallery is in the main hallway just outside the Large Arena of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.
Waugh is modest about being this year’s honoree, but there is not a question of his love for agriculture.
He and his wife, Wanda, started their horse farm after purchasing property in York County. The decision to raise horses is credited to Waugh’s grandparents.
“They both were teamsters and farmed with mules and horses,” he said. “That history inspired me.”
Waugh recounts stories about their work with horses. His grandfather Waugh rented teams to construction crews and others who needed horses for work.
Waugh also said that from a young age, he could be found wandering through the horse barns at such places as the Farm Show.
The Waughs started out with just a team of workhorses, but then the show bug struck and they made the move into draft horses. Today, they show both halter and hitch classes of Percherons. Competing as an individual farm, they have gone up to a four-horse hitch. As a partner with another farm, they’ve been able to enter six-horse hitches.
Waugh credits his wife for her work on the farm.
“Wanda is just as instrumental doing the day-to-day chores,” which is something the Waughs do themselves, he said. “This is a fun thing that Wanda and I can do together. It’s a good family thing for the two of us.”
Waugh said the farm helps keep him grounded. Mornings, he helps to do the feeding and then in the evening, the chores. Weekends and evenings he can be found handling the bigger projects around the farm.
“It has really helped me through the last 20 years, to leave this place (the Legislature) and go up on a tractor and go mow hay. That’s good thinking time — on the seat of a tractor and driving a team of horses,” he said. “I hope it’s been a positive influence in my policymaking abilities.”
The Waughs show their horses faithfully at the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show. For KILE, it depends on whether the state Senate is in session.
He recalls his early years of showing at KILE while trying to balance the work of the horses with his responsibilities downtown.
The schedule of prepping for show, harnessing and showing against the session schedule was hard to manage.
Back downtown, Waugh realized he smelled like his horses, something a person wouldn’t notice as much when at the Farm Show Complex.
Despite those kinds of difficulties, Waugh said he appreciates being able to farm on the side as he serves in the Senate leadership.
First, he said, his farming and showing have kept him in touch with issues that might be brewing in the countryside. Running into people at the hardware store, feed mill, equipment dealerships and other places is important, he said. It has had a direct effect on his policymaking and knowledge.
This year, Waugh is the chairman for the draft horse show at KILE.
Proclaiming himself an organizational wonk, he said, “I enjoy organizing the pieces (and having it) come together properly.”
Last weekend, Waugh went to the Eastern States Exposition to visit its draft horse show. He talked with many of the exhibitors who will be showing this weekend at KILE, spent time with the department heads and observed how they run their shows.
He said he believes there is always something to take away and apply to the shows he works on.
Besides KILE, Waugh helped organize the York Fair draft horse show, and six years later, is still co-chairman for the event.
An indicator of a successful draft horse show is the number of six-horse-hitch teams that are entered. He said the other hitch and cart classes follow suit, usually combinations of those six-horse teams and other farms.
Fourteen six-horse hitches have been entered for KILE, an increase from last year.
Waugh has risen through the leadership in the Republican caucus during his 20 years in the Legislature. He’s been a member of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, as well as the Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.
Both are a reflection of his district, the urban centers of York city and Hanover Township, and the rural countryside of the townships he represents. He is now the majority caucus chairman.
The issues he discusses on the two committees are diverse, but no matter where he is at — a banquet at a rural fire hall or an event in York city — people know he’s a “country boy.”
Waugh said it’s important to be “straight up with people and represent them the best you can and don’t take sides. It’s not rural versus urban.”
In Harrisburg, Waugh is a member of a shrinking club — elected officials with a direct connection to farming and agriculture.
He said many of his peers have a “Norman Rockwellian” viewpoint of agriculture. The challenge is helping them understand that like other businesses, farms have undergone dramatic changes in the past 20 years.
Waugh said there has been a surge in smaller farms following the sustainable, local or organic farm model, while there also are farms that have evolved to market to national and international markets.
“Lots of people don’t recognize that part of agriculture today,” he said.