A California Classic

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Hay press

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On a sunny day last year, just north of Pleasanton, Calif., a Junior Monarch five-wire vertical box press baled hay just as it had done when it last ran in 1959. The machine had been restored to a 'mid-life' condition and was powered for the day by an International T35 diesel tractor through a 9' X 90' flat belt. A crew of seven perated the press and an eighth person pushed shocks of volunteer hay to them with an AC model M crawler tractor. The hay was  cut with a sickle mower six weeks earlier, raked with a dump rake, and bucked into shocks to cure. Hay making in California is quite different than in most of the country because late spring and summer rain is uncommon.

As with all demonstrations of old machinery, the idea was to show the younger generation 'the way it was' and to have a little fun ourselves. We succeeded in our goal and were really surprised that people came from Oregon,  Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and southern California just for this event. Over 408 guests signed our register; 75 of them had worked on one of these rigs years ago. Quite a few of them stepped up to take a turn at their old job. Another purpose of the day was to teach a few young men how to run the hay press, and the Old Timers did that. The enthusiasm of the crowd indicated that the show should be repeated someday, so the young crew will probably be needed.

I was given the machine if I promised to restore and demonstrate it. The restoration was accomplished over a period of six years, delayed mostly by my disappointment at the inability to get insurance coverage for the volunteer crew members.

The Junior Monarch Hay Press Company was established in 1862 and by 1920 claimed 'over 2,000 satisfied customers.' Their original model was a 5-wire box press known as the 'Petaluma Press.' It sat on the ground to work, was made mostly of wood, top-fed, and powered by a two-horse team. It probably made two or three bales an hour. They also built presses for commodities such as hops and hides, and made many much more productive horse-powered 'dump off' rigs of wood in the years before the steel machines were built.

The hay press in the demonstration was the last five-wire rig made. It was assembled in San Leandro, Calif., at the Toffelmier Blacksmith Shop in 1939. The company continued to make stationary three-wire extruder type balers into the 1940s.

Old-timers say that these five-wire rigs baled 80 percent of all hay that was baled in Central California during the first half of the last century. Much of the hay was handled loose and stationary, three-wire extruder type presses did the rest. The five-wire rigs continued to bale grass hay in the counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay area well into the 1950s. Most were owned and operated by a farmer who hired a crew and put in a three or four-month season, which ended in autumn, bailing straw. The boss fed the crew five meals a day; they worked from dawn to dark and camped within a mile or two of their jobs. One sea son, this particular machine baled 4,000 tons on a single job where Foster City stands today. The 'gas rigs' often baled 100 tons a day and averaged 85 or 90 tons a full day; horse rigs perhaps 50.

The earliest of the steel rigs appeared about 1905; they were horse powered and mounted on four large steel wheels. The horse-power unit itself was carried on two more wheels and was a trailer behind the press. A team of two-horses trotted in a 28-foot-diameter circle to turn the winch that pulled the follower up. Typically, 16 horses were on the crew - a new team rotated in every 20 bales. By 1915, Junior Monarch was advertising balers that could be belt driven by a traction engine or were available with a 'mounted, premium grade, 30 horsepower gasoline engine.' The last hay press made was of the same basic design as the first one. Horse-powered versions were still advertised in the 1920s, and some of them operated through the end of World War II.

The bale chamber is 22 feet x 42 inches and the width of the bale could vary between about 28 inches to 34 inches, depending on the thickness of the blocks under the cap and on the follower, the length of the wire, and other adjustments. The basic operating principle is the same for all of the vertical presses. Hay is hand-fed by two men from the hay table into a chamber on the lower right side of the machine, and then, it is mechanically pushed into the bale chamber when the follower is in its lowest position by a door that closes automatically just before the follower starts moving up. Before the follower reaches the top of its stroke, the feed door opens to receive another charge. Hay pushed to the top is held in place by hay dogs. The process is repeated five times with about 50 pounds being added with each stroke. On the fifth stroke, the follower goes higher, compressing the bale sufficiently to allow the wires to be tied. Wires with pre-made eyes are placed over the bale  after the first charge and poked with a needle underneath, between the blocks on the follower, after the fifth charge is compressed. The machine is stopped while the wires are poked and hand tied by the two feeders. To remove the completed bale, a door on the left side (opposite the feeding table) is opened, releasing both side and end pressure. When the follower is allowed to fall, the bale is easily pulled out sideways and rolled end-over-end to the scale for weighing. The bale chamber door must be closed and latched, ready for more hay, within a few seconds. The process takes about a minute per bale.

A lever tender controls the machine; he can start and stop everything with an  over-center internal expanding clutch on the input shaft and a band brake on the first pinion shaft. A bull chain (1.25-inch chain) connects the follower arm to a winch sprocket. When wound onto the sprocket, the follower goes up with decreasing speed and increasing mechanical advantage due to the geometry of the arms that support it. The winch sprocket is attached to the bull gear in a fashion that allows it to catch on every revolution and to be released automatically or manually after about 3/4 of a turn. On the fifth charge, the automatic release is disconnected and the operator stops the follower in a higher position using the clutch and brake. The follower's return to the bottom is a 'free fall' and must be slowed using a band brake on the winch sprocket drum to avoid breaking the bull chain.

Another man stacked the bales, and a sixth manned the Jackson Fork to put hay onto the feeders' table. The seventh crewman, usually a boy, operated the cable winch (spool) for the Jackson Fork. Perhaps the most unnoticed member of the crew was the cook, who put in more hours than the field crew. Breakfast by five, lunch in the field at 9 a.m., dinner at the cookhouse, lunch again at 4, and supper just at dark - and it better be good or the crew would go work for somebody else. All workers were paid by the ton (the wire poker was paid the most, 50 cents a ton in 1957 and the spool tender the least, 15 cents).

These machines were not serially numbered and no one knows how many were made; old-timers guess 'a hundred or more.' As far as we know, their use was limited to central California. However, several rigs did go to Nevada in the winter, to bale alfalfa out of stacks when growers there had a sale for their hay.

There are at least three other five-wire rigs in running condition; one ran in Petaluma last year also. All are outside, causing deterioration to the wooden parts. These machines, like all other large farm equipment, present special problems for future preservation. For now we have space in our barn for this baler.

You can write Don Wood at 2900 Camino Tassajara, Danville, Calif., 94506; or phone (925) 736-8216.