Richard Bishop   

© Copyright 2012 by Richard Bishop 

Harvesting Trilogy:

Part One - Threshing: Wheat 
Part Two - Siloing: Corn 
Part Three - Haying: Alfalfa

Hay-making in the Engadin, an area in Switzerland in

This is the last in my Trilogy about harvesting that I experienced while living on a Farm in Southern Michigan during the early 1940s. Threshing and Silo-Filling were community activities involving many people on a "Ring." Haying, our "other" harvesting was more personal and usually only involved the members of our immediate family. But the amount of work involved and the "pressure" to finish the task was as earnest and exacting as any -- regardless of the number of persons involved.

Alfalfa (Lucerne) was the preferred source of our Hay. There are three or four other kinds of plants, i. e., grasses (Timothy) and forbs (The Clovers) that would do as well, but we liked the leafy, full body of this Legume that delivered plenty of bulk and much more than just stalks & stems when fully dried. Besides, it was good for the soil because of the nodules on the roots containing Nitrogen captured from the atmosphere.

In our Michigan climate, influenced by the Great Lakes, one crop a year was all that we expected but we always wanted to be sure it was a big one. The fact that during July/August there was a "window" of about two weeks where the plant was mature enough to make good Hay, added to the intenseness we all felt during these harvest days.

of intense activity on the Hay farm while harvest proceeds until
weather conditions become unfavourable."

We had a smaller Model B John Deere Tractor that we used to pull a cutter-bar mower which once had been a horse-drawn implement. A shorter wooden tongue sufficed to adapt it to being pulled by a gasoline-powered Tractor. And, yes, it still had seat on it -- although it was unused unless we children begged to be allowed to ride a round or two on it (after 1939, we had a big John Deere Model D with a bolt-on mower attachment driven by the splined "power take-off" shaft).

The size of the cutting swath (and thereby the length of the cutter-bar) varied between manufacturers, but eight feet (or 96 inches) was about right. The cutter-bar required lots of maintenance in the form of keeping the individual blades sharpened. Each triangular blade was about 3 inches wide and was riveted onto the bar. There were more than 30 of them; each with a saw-tooth serration on the beveled edge. A powered emery wheel was usually the preferred method of sharpening although a hand-emery bar would do as well. A file was useless because the blades were so hard that the metal file would be ruined if you tried to use it. Once in a while, hitting a stone would knock a blade off and that required a re-riveting job.

When the Alfalfa was deemed ready, then the mowing started. This was the one kind of work with a Tractor that was at an almost exhilarating, fast pace. Ordinarily, things like plowing, etc., placed the Tractor under such a load, that the lowest gears had to be used -- and that was "dulls-ville," a real "drag" when it came to moving right along. Not so with mowing; you could go at a good clip. But, there was a problem with this; if you didn’t have a thick sponge rubber seat-cushion, the faster you went over most fields, the rougher the ride and the more your insides (especially your Kidneys) were “rattled.”

Also, more seriously, wild animals or young game birds such as Pheasants had little chance to escape injury when they naturally crouched down in the high Alfalfa. It was their defense response to hide from the rapidly oncoming iron-clad behemoth snorting the exhaust roar of the Tractor or broadcasting the loud clack-clack of the Mower. Loss of a leg was a common injury for those poor unfortunates.

Then a time of waiting while the new-mown Hay was drying on the ground. Ah, the smell of new-mown Hay was like perfume to the nose. We hoped for less night dew during this time and rain was unthinkable. After a good while, a Hay-Rake was brought in and towed behind the Tractor. It was a side-winder and turned the swaths of cut Hay into "windrows" now somewhat more compact but bunched higher than before and perhaps two feet wide. This new forming of the original swath facilitated air passing through and allowed further and more complete drying.

The optimum processing was just one turn-over of the Hay after cutting -- that way, very few leaves fell off and there was very little other “shattering” of the Alfalfa. Rain and dew were the “Enemy” and those events complicated things enormously. A continued period of wetness could cause mold to start; repeated raking of the Alfalfa in attempts to dry it could leave nothing but the stalks. Many Farms animals are susceptible to illness from mold and reduced food value from feeding only the remaining stems is no help in any serious weight-gaining plan for the livestock.

At last, the order was given to bring in the Hay. Usually there was a Tractor-drawn wagon driven out to the field of dried Hay.

In the field, there was positioned a Hay-Loader that was temporarily hooked on behind each empty wagon. It functioned by picking up the dried Hay from the 24" wide windrow using a roller-drum with thin, spiked fingers sticking out of it. This rolled in the same direction as the wheels and caught the stream of Hay and brought it up on the backside of the roller where it was deposited onto a conveyor consisting of horizontal 6 ' long wooden slats bolted onto a chain on each side. The entire apparatus was over six feet wide; this width allowed the Tractor driver to "wander" a bit as he or she drove along over the windrow. These continuously moving slats carried the Hay on up to a leveling off of the elevator and now the Hay moved forward instead of upward. (On some Models, the angle of this elevator/conveyor could be adjusted easily upwards to fit the height of the growing load of Hay).
Usually, two persons on the wagon with pitchforks positioned the Hay now dropping down to their disposal; although one person could do it "in a pinch" with the wagon moving slower. My Father and my older Brother (6 years older than I) traditionally were the loaders. My Mother drove the Tractor until one hour before Lunch or Supper times. Then my Mother passed off the driving to my older Sister (3 years older than I) so that she could to go back to the House and have time to prepare our meal.

I, being the youngest, was usually left out of the field work because my job was running cold water jugs out to them (my Sister and I both did this for the thirsty Field-Hands also during Threshing and Silo-Filling) in an old 1929 Buick 4-door Sedan (I learned to drive a car, this way, at a very young age). I had to put pillows on the front seat to be able to see out and to bring the seat full-forward to reach the pedals. All this had important alternate utilities because I also drove the vehicle pulling the Hay-rope, as well as running my Sister from the House out to the field to relieve my Mother so that I could drive her back to the House before meal times.

When the wagon was stacked full and now carried a very high load of Hay, my Father would climb down the front rack and drive the Tractor from the field back to the vicinity of the House. My Brother ususally got a scary ride over pot-holes in the field or with the wagon leaning heavily (tipping) from the curves of the public road or the private lane. But with a rubber-tired wagon and the new, soft Hay, the ride was a little bouncy but super-smooth ! If my Sister had been driving the Tractor (or my Mother, for that matter) when a load was completed, she sat on the Tractor fender while traveling back to the House.

The wagon was pulled up to one of our three barns; each with a large Haymow. The barns were equipped with a 4 " square beam sticking out about 5 feet at the apex of the roof. On the bottom of this beam was the beginning of a track together with a little "dolly" with wheels. There was a heavy rope strung from the outside of the barn through pullies up to the back of the Haymow and then along this track out to the end where the "dolly" was locked in place (on the "stop") and on down to the Hayfork hanging there.

This is where the 1929 Buick really earned its keep. It had double-duty compared to just hauling water because we also used it on the Hay-rope, i.e., running it back and forth lifting big forkfuls of Hay up into the Haymow from the wagon.

It worked as follows: With the heavy rope now tied to the bumper of the car, I drove the Auto forward to let the heavy Hayfork drop down to the top of the wagon load of Hay. My Father would grab the big heavy Hayfork and "set it" by pushing it down into the soft Hay in the appropriate area of the load. There was a latch on it that was "set" by my Father so that little cross-bars would stick out into the load of Hay and prevent it from falling off the fork. The latch had a long, thin 3/8 " rope tied to it so that the person on the Hay load could "trip" the latch at exactly the right spot where the Hay was to fall off inside the Haymow.

Then, a wave from my Father at the top of the Hay load and I released the clutch while in reverse gear -- slowly backing up and taking the slack out of the heavy Hay rope. When the slack was gone, the Hayfork started lifting the large "bite" of Hay up, up until the Hayfork hit the "dolly" on the beam and was grasped and locked onto it. The "dolly" then unlocked itself from the end of the beam (the "stop") and moved suddenly inwards towards the Haymow. At this very moment, I threw in the clutch and ceased powered movement because the momentum (of both the car and the loaded Hayfork on the track) was quite strong.When the coasting Hayfork arrived at the place where there was empty space for the Hay, the thin 3/8 " rope was pulled by my Father and the load plopped down. My Father waved and hollered "Stop" to me in the Car. By this time I had already shifted into neutral gear and was free-wheeling, so I merely braked to a quick stop.

It was usually my Brother who was tasked to move the Hay further on to the appropriate final resting place in the Haymow. My Father had to pull this thin 3/8 " rope from out on the Hay load because my Brother, inside, needed both hands (sometimes with a pitchfork) to rock the Hayfork and yell "now" so that the "load" of Hay could also fall laterally (sideways) nearer to the right spot.

I then put the car into first gear and moved forward while my Father pulled on the 3/8" latch rope so that it brought the both the Hayfork and the "dolly" on out to the end of the track and the "stop."The weight of the Hayfork brought it down to the load again. This was repeated numerous times until the wagon was fully unloaded. As often as not, the Haymow was such a tangle after the frenzied unloading, that my Father made it a point to climb up and help-out my Brother in the strenuous positioning of the Hay.

Then a wild ride out to the Hay field (to get another load) in the Tractor's high gear with the throttle wide-open (straining against the governor) with my Brother and Mother (or Sister) hanging onto the wagon for dear life! Without a load on it, a rubber-tired wagon running on a rough path, would sometimes bounce completely clear of the ground !

One Summer season, the weather cooperated and we counted hauling 167 loads of Hay. Our three barns were "bursting at the seams" with this bumper harvest !

Baling Hay

Technology finally caught up with loose hay loading and voila ! wire-baling machines came onto the scene. Most were towedbehind a tractor and each had its own power-supply in the form of a Continental 4-cylinder flat-opposed auxilliary engine to drive the hay-packing piston. I remember while baling, a person sat on each side at the rear of the baler twisting the wires. It was dirty but easy work since the wires were manufactured with a loop on one end. From then on, the soft iron "baling wire." becamea generic term in the American language.

a teen-ager, people used to ask me me how I kept my ancient 1925 Ford Model-T running and I would reply: "With chewing-gum and baling-wire." That was no stretch of the truth. I once plugged a couple of radiator leaks with the gum and bound-up the front bumper with baling-wire where some guy had backed into me and busted the bumper clear-off on the right side!   Twine tyers and a mechanical "knotter" came quite a bit later. On both hay and straw, the wired bales were about five feet long and the later bales tied with twine were only about four feet long.

An acquaintance said: "As for sharing your memories of hand-tied bales. I missed out on that, as well as loose hay, and I'm not all that sorry. One of my high school buddies did some custom baling and I'd help him out when Dad would let me off the cultivator. He ran a wire baler, and I mostly remember that since he charged by the bale, farmers would ask him to pack each bale as tight as possible. We'd end up with 70-lb. bales that just about killed me."

Amen to that!  My Father, Elmer J. Bishop (who was wonderfully mechanically inclined) built an 18 feet long (5 inch high) sledge which we called a "stoneboat" and towed it behind a big John Deer Model "D" tractor with a chain hitch. As he passed each bale, the Driver could maneuver it cleverly so that one of the persons on the front of the "stoneboat" could snag a bale with a balehook, and then lift it only slightly while "on-the-fly", and the bale would practically load itself onto the stone boat.The other person would stack the bales to the rear.

He also built a portable 25 foot long "bale elevator" onto an old automobile rear-end (complete with rubber tires) where the end-height could be adjusted to about 13 feet -- just right for the barn second story hay mow. He had built a braced tower (like one of those on the Golden Gate Bridge) onto the cross-axle made out of 4" X 4" balks and used a chain hoist (very like a rope "block & tackle") to raise and lower the elevator. He used the sprockets and chain-links from an old Rear Hay-loader and shortened the slats (to about two feet wide). He ran it with a powerful used electric motor (from a Surplus Store) and "stepped" it down with pullies to an appropriate "production-line" speed. Without that good piece of innovation, we never could have "hoisted" those 70-80 pound bales up there into the haymow of each of our three barns. . . which were now bulging because we stored the straw bales, also.

The later "short" twine-tied bales were a "piece of cake" for handling.

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