Good Old Days of Making Hay

It was back-breaking and labor intensive, but Sam Moore still yearns for the good old days of making hay

The author's uncle, Charles Townsend II, bringing in a load of hay in the summer of '48. The tractor is a 1941 Ford-Ferguson with a Ferguson buckrake. Charles Townsend Jr. is riding on the hay.

The author's uncle, Charles Townsend II, bringing in a load of hay in the summer of '48. The tractor is a 1941 Ford-Ferguson with a Ferguson buckrake. Charles Townsend Jr. is riding on the hay.

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There's a five-acre field across the lane from my place that a neighbor farms. The field contained a nice stand of clover a year or two ago, and one Saturday evening, an Oliver diesel tractor pulling a John Deere hay conditioner pulled into the clover, mowing the five acres in one hour. Monday morning, two tractors – one a Minneapolis-Moline U from about 1950 – raked the hay, again in about one hour. That after noon, a Ford diesel pulling a New Holland round  baler turned the windrows into 12 big round bales in just over an hour. 

In my childhood, the job of making hay was much more labor intensive, as well as being much slower. We cut hay with a five-foot mower pulled by a team of horses. An early Champion ad bragged that their mower could cut one acre per hour. However, if the grass was heavy, the field rough, or the day hot, requiring frequent rest stops for the team, seven or eight acres in a 10-hour day was more realistic. Later, we pulled the horse mower with a Ford tractor, which speeded up the operation considerably. About the end of World War II, we bought a seven-foot cut Ferguson tractor mower that was capable of about three acres per hour, although it took a good half-day to mount on and remove from the tractor.

In those days, after curing in the swath, the hay was raked into long, straight windrows with a dump rake. The dump rake could be driven lengthwise down the windrows to bunch the hay into bigger piles for loading.

If there was a chance that the hay would get rained upon before being hauled in, the windrows were gathered into small handstacks, or "haycocks." These handstacks, about six feet in diameter and three or four feet high, were layered and rounded off to shed as much rain as possible. When hauling time came, the hand-stacks were hand pitched onto the wagon.

In 1943 or '44, my father and uncle, who were partners at the time, wrangled a government permit and managed to buy a new hayloader and side-delivery rake.

These machines, built by the New Idea Company, revolutionized making hay. The new rake was much faster than the old dump rake, but the hayloader was wonderful. No more backbreaking pitching of hay from the ground onto a high load.

By that time, we had an old, 1-1/2 ton Chevy flatbed truck that, with the hayloader hitched behind, one man driving and one building the load, got the hay to the barn in a hurry. At age 10 or 11, I built a box-like backrest so I could reach the clutch and brake pedals, and was permitted to drive the truck in the field, loading hay. I remember once, I was driving and Dad was building the load, when he suddenly jumped down onto the truck hood and then bounded to the ground: a black snake had come up on the hayloader.

After the war, Dad and my uncle each got a buckrake (or "sweeprake") for their Ford tractors, and retired the hayloader. Those 12-foot-wide buckrakes could swiftly run down a windrow, gather a large load of hay and, without stopping, run it onto the barn floor, drop the teeth, back out from under the hay, and be off to the field for another load. That was even faster than the truck and hayloader.

The hay was stored in my uncle's barn where the dairy operation was located. It had a central barn floor with a large haymow on either side, framed with big, hand-hewn beams that were held together by wooden pegs. At one time, hay was hand-pitched from the wagon up into the mows where it had to be distributed and packed, again by hand. Sometime in the late '30s, the partners installed a mechanical hayfork in the barn. This device, powered by a horse or a tractor, lifted the loose hay from the wagon up into the mow, where it could be dumped in different locations as needed. Someone with a pitchfork was still needed in the mow, but the man-killing job of throwing the hay up was eliminated.

The job my neighbor did on the five acres of clover in five or six hours would probably have taken at least 10 times as many man-hours using the old horse and hand method. Those were the good old days.

Writing about the handstacks reminded me of a family story. In the summer of probably 1940 or '41, Dad decided to teach my mother to drive the car. One Sunday, after church and dinner, my mother, father, sister and I all piled into the family sedan, and dad drove to a hayfield that was dotted with small handstacks. Dad put Mom behind the wheel and, after stalling the engine several times, got her started across the field. Mom had no idea of what to do and started running over haystacks. My sister and I got frightened and began crying. Dad was yelling instructions and Mother, after tearing up several more handstacks, decided she'd had enough. Mom never did learn to drive a car. FC 

Ever since his days as a buy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.