Pressed Back Into Action

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Don Wood and Paul Marciel

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I knew it would be a challenge to restore a wooden farm machine since they are often badly riddled by termites and rot, but I was determined to restore an old hay press. My friend Paul Marciel of Livermore, Calif., has a large collection of old farm machinery, including the remnants of three mostly wooden Jacob Price-designed Junior Monarch Hay Press Co. 'dump-off' hay presses that we used to restore just one to working condition. The horse power unit from one was reasonably intact, but far from useable. One had no power unit, and the third had no wooden parts at all - just iron, some of which had been buried.

We had looked for a steel-framed, horse-powered Junior Monarch rig on its own wheels (vintage circa 1918) to rebuild and run, but failing to find one we could afford, we decided a dump-off press could be rebuilt. The oldest press in Paul's collection (circa 1890) still had some semblance of the press box and its power-unit, so that one seemed the best choice to restore. 

Work before restoration

These presses were all hand-made and usually sold without the plat forms and accessories necessary to make a complete baling rig. In old photos, they all appear slightly different because the owners had modified each press. That fact gave me some license when rebuilding the dump-off press. When there was nothing there to measure and rebuild exactly, I had to build it like it would've been if I were the owner back then. Major effort was spent trying to keep it as original as it was when put in service, not when it was manufactured.

Paul and I made a deal. He would pay for the restoration materials, and I would do the restoration work. When it was rebuilt, I'd own just under half of the press, but Paul and his family would keep it stored under cover. We both wanted it preserved, hopefully forever.

Reconstruction measurements were often interpolated from what wood remained, photographs and common sense. We were forced to use a few steel parts from Paul's other two Junior Monarchs and made new sheet metal lining for the box.

During its working life, several modifications (read: improvements) were made. For example, a 1909 Gomez feeding system replaced the original. It appeared this machine had baled a lot of hay, as a consider able amount of wear was present on the hinges, pivots and winch bearings. There were no grease cups on the bearings, but some did have 'oil holes' that probably plugged up fairly quick with dust and chaff, and maybe never got oiled. 

Rebuilding from the ground up

The search for heavy lumber to build it first led to a hardwood supplier. Clear maple and oak - like the original wood - would've cost more than $10,000, which was way too much! We found a lumber recycler who could've filled our lumber needs with clear, old-growth Douglas fir, but that was still too expensive at about $3,400.

Eventually, a lumberyard in Tracy, Calif., gave us heavy Douglas fir timbers that we could rip to size. They had been used for a highway project 15 years earlier and were mostly close-grained without any nails. A local sawmill cut them to the sizes we needed for $650. We were also given extra timber so that it was possible to have clear lumber for every critical wooden part.

Mortise and tenon joints, bolted and strapped together, were used on the base frames of both the press box and the power unit. The combined mechanical advantage of the horse power winch and the final leverage of the press arms calculates to pro duce 72,000 pounds of pressure on the follower from a pull of 500 pounds at the end of the 16-foot sweep, so we obviously had to build every component to withstand the force.

We removed and reused many of the original bolts by heating the nuts red-hot so they could be unscrewed. However, 200 more new square-head and carriage bolts were needed to completely rebuild both the press box and power unit.

Nut and head sizes hadn't yet been standardized in the 1890s. Wrenches for nuts on 1/2-inch bolts varied from 13/16-inch to 1 1/4-inch. Other sizes varied as well. Lucky for us, 40 years ago a friend purchased the entire bolt supply (all square-head and solid-shank carriage bolts) from a blacksmith shop in Danville, Calif., and still had 450 pounds of them when he died, which I bought from his estate. Long bolts were made from rods by using square nuts to make heads.

Some 500 man hours - including 60 or so from friends - were spread over almost 2 years to restore the hay press. We spent about $1,500 for milling, blasting sand, bolts, sheet metal and paint to restore the hay press to working condition and a nearly new appearance. We painted it our own best guess of red to match the original 'red lead.'

Celebration time

In 2000, 74 former hay press crew men came from as far as Montana to work at our demonstration. It surprised me so many were still around. Like threshing bees on the Great Plains, baling crews were part of the social fabric of farming in central California. I consider my restoration work a gift to history and - in a real way - it's a tribute to those who worked so hard many years ago to do the work so easily done today.

On Aug. 16, 2003, we baled hay with the newly rebuilt Junior Monarch dump-off press, a restored Jacob Price 'Petaluma' hay press owned by Ken McCrary and my 1939 belt-powered Junior Monarch press at an EDGE&TA Branch 6-sanctioned public demonstration near Pleasanton, Calif.

George Cabral and Stan Amaral brought horses and mules from Ceres, Calif., in the Central Valley to power the two older presses. Leonard Silva's International TD-35 tractor powered the 1939 baler. The volunteer crews and more than 450 spectators had a great day baling hay. Everyone seemed to appreciate all of our restoration work and admired the beautiful hay press back in action. FC

- For more information and addition al pictures of the Junior Monarch dump-off hay press in action, visit www. oldhaypress.com

Contact Don Wood at 2900 Camino Tassajara, Danville, CA 94506; or call (925) 736-8216; or e-mail:  dcwblksmth@aol. com