By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Growing up as the sixth of eight children on a dairy and hog farm near Spring Hill, Gene Gruber had plenty of practice plowing. He and his siblings began to enter plowing competitions during those years, an activity started by Gene’s father, Werner, and his uncle, Bernard Nietfeld of Greenwald.
“I started about age 13 or 14 and just never quit,” Gene said. “I just took off a year now and then.”
Although he started with his father’s tractor and plow, Gene now uses a Case JX 85 tractor with a Kverneland competition plow.
“The plow is made in Norway by a world plowing sponsor,” he said. “There are maybe 12 of the plows in the United States.”
It is a two-bottom plow, 12 inches wide. Competitors are judged on their accuracy and they have a time limit.
“It is about precision and who makes the best seed bed,” said Gruber’s brother, Henry. “The judges check the appearance, looking for the best crown and the best dead furrow. The depth must be between six and eight inches.”
Gene, who now lives in Richmond, modified his plow to compete in just about any type of ground. Competitions are conducted over two days on stubbled ground and grassland, but soil type varies from state to state and country to country.
“In Canada it was very wet, sticky soil,” said Gene. “Soil in Ireland always plows well because of the grit. Croatia had really dry soil that was 60 percent humus; it was a whole different challenge.”
Gene says he has more fun preparing for competition than participating in the competition itself.
“As a welder and a perfectionist, he added hydraulics and extra pieces to tweak the plow,” Henry said.
“We can accommodate to each soil,” said Gene. “We prepare for as many conditions and obstacles as we can.”
After competing in many national competitions and world contests in New Zealand, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia and coaching at the competition in Croatia in 2012, Gene is receiving notice from people outside the plowing community.
He was recognized in October 2012 from the floor of the United States House of Representatives by Rep. Michele Bachmann.
“Mr. Gruber’s skill and ability with the plow are only matched by his generosity, as he has not hesitated to teach other plowmen across the United States the knowledge necessary to be a plowing champion,” Bachmann said.
Gene had just been awarded his fifth — and his family’s 15th — national plowing title.
The most recent world championship was in July in Alberta, Canada. Gene took fifth place overall, the highest place for the United States ever. He also placed third in the grassland completion and was awarded a medal.
In 2011, he won the Canadian International Contest in Ontario.
Gene and his wife, Eva, have two daughters. Kaitlyn is 14 and Hailey is 10. Hailey also competes in plowing contests.
“She’s been on a tractor since she was small,” Gene said. “I put a buddy seat on the tractor. Pretty soon she asked, ‘When can I start plowing?’ So I got her a small tractor and plow to play with.”
Hailey’s first competition was in summer 2012. She will be competing in the International Plowing Match in Ontario in September, a four-day contest.
Hailey, who was born in China, “wants to be the first Chinese girl to plow in the world championship,” said Gene. She will be eligible for that competition in five years.
“The biggest thing for me now is the fellowship. I like to help people coming up in the sport excel,” Gene said. “The more competitors, the more challenging and fun it is.”