Baling Hay in the 1940s: Hay Baler Earned Its Vicious Reputation
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My dad stood on the platform next to the hole, everything shivering, shaking and vibrating, the floor slick from the polishing of thousands of tons of hay. One little mistake – a slip on the shiny floor, a sleeve caught on a bolt on the plunger head – and my dad would be smashed down into that hole.
Sometimes, when everyone was gone, I climbed up and looked down to where the great driving hay-packing shaft jammed forward, pushing the hay through the bale chute and compacting green stems into rectangular bales. Even standing quietly on the polished platform beside the silent plunger gave me a chill, and I stepped back from the hole.
No margin for error
When the baler was running, two men sat on either side of the long bale chute. One, the blocker, placed grooved wooden blocks into a frame. He rammed the block and frame into the bale chute in the brief interval while the horizontal packer arm was withdrawn, waiting to be fed another clump of hay from above. The block was slammed in at the proper time to make a good size bale: too soon and a silly little bale resulted, too late and the bale was so long no wires could reach around it and the hay spilled loose onto the ground outside the tail of the chute. Up on the platform, my dad would frown and mutter.
The same man who shoved in the blocks also poked wires. A bundle of long straight wires lay on the bale beside his seat. One end of each wire was twisted into a loop. The wooden blocks were slotted so the ends of the two wires could be poked through to the tie man on the other side. He grabbed the first two ends, one coming from each of the separator blocks to his right and left. He pulled the two together and quickly ran one end through the loop and tied it off and reached for the other two. No sooner had he finished one bale than someone yelled “Block!” again, the block was slammed home and four more wire ends came shooting through to greet him.
The slots on the wooden blocks were open. As pressure relaxed on the emerging bale and it expanded inside the tied wires, the wires came free of the blocks, allowing each block to be grabbed and used again. That was good, in theory. Sometimes the block was splintered or a wire caught deep in a groove in the wood and clung to a bale as it emerged.