When 92-year-old Walter Allen, Springfield, Missouri, found two unusual pieces of early farm machinery, he made sure they ended up in the Fair Grove (Missouri) Historical and Preservation Society’s collection. His inside contact was Darrell Carter, a long-time friend and fellow member of Southwest Missouri Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. No. 16.
The first of Walter’s finds was a wooden-wheeled hay rake that had belonged to someone on his mother’s side of the family. In an 1894 catalog for Chieftain hayrakes and tedders found in the Iowa State University Archives, I found an advertisement for an 8-1/2-foot Golden Farmer Self-Dump Sulky Rake. The rake had 20 teeth, 52-inch wheels and a cast iron seat like that on the one Walter donated. There is some difference in their trip assemblies, but they appear very nearly the same machine. The Chieftan line was manufactured in Akron, Ohio.
Darrell and several members of the Fair Grove group painstakingly removed it from a garage attic in Springfield. The mostly wooden rake (which dates to the late 1880s) was extremely dried from age and needed lots of tender loving care. The hub, spokes and felloes of one wheel were missing; the other wheel wasn’t in much better shape.
With intentions of getting the rake’s wheels rebuilt, Darrell took what parts and pieces still existed to an Amish wheelwright. His price seemed too high for the historical society’s budget, so the rake’s restoration was put on a back burner. It was shoved out of the way when other projects gained higher priority.
Over the next dozen years, the old rake collected dust until Mike Rookstool, a member of the historical society, decided last year to take it to his shop and bring it back to life. With Darrell’s help he reworked a pair of hubs they had cannibalized off of another old rake in worse shape. Mike made new felloes and spokes and fitted them into the rebuilt hubs before he, Darrell, and a wheelwright friend, Bob Fortner, heated and shrank the original iron tires onto them.
Not long before the hay rake was under revitalization, Walter happened onto another great find. This time it was a horse-drawn hay press sitting out in the weeds at his father’s old farm that now belonged to a nephew. Even though it was almost too bent out of shape and rusty to recognize, Walter knew it was the one he had helped his father operate during the 1930s. He didn’t have much trouble talking his nephew into donating it to the Fair Grove Historical & Preservation Society.
When Walter was 8, his father bought the used hay press — an Auto-Fedan built in Kansas City, Kansas — in Kansas. He estimates it was built in about 1915. He remembers people coming from all around to see them bale with it. “I’ve done every job around that old baler,” Walter says. “I pitched hay into it, wired the bales, stacked them and told the horses when to ‘get-up’ and ‘whoa.’”
Walter’s father was one of several farmers who had permission from a bank to harvest hay off of two sections near Greenfield in Dade County, Missouri. Every year they gathered there to mow, rake and bale prairie hay. The field was about a mile south of the Allen farm, so it didn’t take long for them to pull their hay press there with four horses.
At a level place the hay press’s axles were jacked up (Walter’s nephew still has the original jack) to remove its four wheels. It was then staked down to make it solid. Pairs of horses were hitched to the press’ sweep pole as its power source. On every revolution, the horses were required to step across the operating plunger bar. After being led a few times, Walter says, they were accustomed enough to the routine that their bridles were attached to a limber cane fishing pole in front of them. Then they would continuously self-lead themselves. When one team became tired, another one was rotated in to work for a few hours.
Everyone brought what they had — teams, mowers, rakes, hay wagons — to the site and worked together. At dinner time women brought food to the field. When the job was completed, the bales were split between the workers.
Walter remembers that his mother, Amelie, liked driving a bull rake. “Daisy and Pet, her favorite team, understood so much about their job that if they heard a rock hit the rake’s teeth, they’d stop immediately,” he says.
The routine was simple. “In the morning as soon as the dew went off, around 10 o’clock, we would start baling,” Walter says. “It took three guys just to get the loose hay from the stack, over to the baler’s feeder. There was a man on each side who did the blocking and tying. One of them also stacked bales. We’d quit about dark. Then, everyone hauled their bales home, and put them under cover so they would stay dry.”
Behind the press’ plunging chamber is a packing chute where bales are made heavier when adjusting wheels are screwed down to compact the hay more tightly. Walter remembers his dad’s anger when his pitchfork’s handle was chopped off by the plunger.
He also remembers the output. “The bales we made were around 65 pounds each,” he says. “It took 32 of them to make a ton.” Walter’s nephew still has the old steelyard scales they used to determine a bale’s weight. That way they could tell how many bales would make a ton.
One man sat beside the chute and poked two pre-lengthened wires through slots in the forward block. Walter’s first job was poking them back from the opposite side to the first man, who twisted them together. In between his wire-poking duty, he stacked bales as they came out of the chute. “A hundred and twenty-five bales was a good day’s work,” he says.
The last time Walter and his father used the hay press was in 1941 or ’42, just before Walter joined the U.S. Army. As an anti-aircraft gunner during World War II, he fought in New Guinea and the Philippine Islands.
Even though Walter wanted to go back into farming when he got out of the Army in 1946, his father had sold his work horses and cattle because he had become incapacitated and couldn’t care for them. Walter never farmed again. FC
In the early 1990s, Mike Brown bought a horse-drawn hay press at a farm auction in Rich Hill, about halfway between Joplin and Kansas City, Missouri. At that time, he was gathering old equipment to display at his Walnut Springs Farm Museum between Fair Grove and Marshfield, Missouri, and knew the machine was unique enough to become part of his large collection.
While restoring his hay press, Mike realized that a big piece was missing. Unable to locate the lost part where the press had been purchased, he and the former owner decided it must have been sold as scrap. After the hay press was restored, he continued to stay on the lookout for the hunk of missing iron to make it complete, even though he didn’t actually know what it looked like.
When the Fair Grove Historical & Preservation Society came up with an identical machine, Mike went over to see if it had his missing piece. It was there, but unavailable. He learned from Walter Allen that the hay press was called an “Auto-Fedan.” With that information, Mike located an ad for the press in the May 1915 issue of The Missouri Valley Farmer, published in Topeka, Kansas, by Arthur Capper.
Last year when Mike dispersed his large collection of antique farm machinery, he held back the old hay press and donated it to the museum in Fair Grove. “I just wanted to see it working,” he says.
With intentions of restoring Walter’s old hay press later, members of the historical society have removed a few of its parts and put them on the one Mike donated. That way, at least one hay press can get on the job immediately. When it gets tired, they’ll switch the parts over to the other one, and put it back into action.
The horse-powered 1915 Auto-Fedan hay press can be seen in operation at the 37th annual Fair Grove Heritage Reunion Sept. 27-28.
Freelance writer Dan Manning was raised in Salina, Kansas, but now resides with his wife, Betty, in the Missouri Ozarks. His autobiographical book Mule Kisses, an Equine Love Story will be published this summer, and can be pre-ordered at email@example.com. He works with photographer Ron McGinnis, whose work can be seen at Ron McGinnis Photography.