Heritage Celebration: Making Hay in New Hampshire

Bradley family builds old iron tradition with annual hay days.

| March 2007

Making hay in the hot summer sun isn't everyone's idea of fun, but for the Bradley family of Thornton Gore, N.H., it's a tradition that's become an important part of an annual gathering. "We've been getting together like this for several years now," Lester Bradley explains, while helping hitch an old McCormick hay loader to a wagon. "It's a fun way to celebrate our heritage." Part tractor show, part family reunion, the Bradley family's event is all about making connections and having a good time.

Lester and his youngest brother, Ralph, first got folks together on their ancestral land because they were looking for an excuse to play with some of their old tractors and commemorate their deceased father's birthday. "Dad was more comfortable tending horses and mending harness than he was with tinkering on a tractor," Lester recalls. "But he would have really enjoyed this." That first get-together included Lester's siblings, most of his cousins and a few close friends. Last year's gathering, held Saturday, July 15, drew four generations to a country-style family reunion that was graciously shared with a passel of friends.

Figuring out the family

The Bradley hay day is held on what was once a piece of farmland purchased by Lester's father, Richard L. Bradley, from his cousin, Fred Gilman, in the 1940s. "Until that time all of dad's farming had been the steep side-hill variety," Lester says. "He wanted to see what it was like to have some bottomland." That piece of land, located on the outskirts of Woodstock, N.H., is now home to several of Lester's relatives, along with the campground that his dad first opened in 1955.

"The old Gilman farmhouse was split into two pieces and moved from across the road when the interstate (I-93) came through," Lester explains. "My uncle Bob and Virginia Mellett lived in the main part of the house and my cousin Bill Mellett still lives in the other part." Bob and Virginia have since passed away, but Doris (Mellett) and Dean Roth, members of the next generation, now call the farmhouse home.

Ironically, neither Lester nor any of his immediate family has ever lived on the Woodstock property. "My home is in Thornton Gore, which is where we Bradleys have lived since 1867, when my great-grandfather, Josiah Timothy Bradley, first arrived from Derby Line, Vt.," Lester says. "Mom still lives in the original house there." The original Bradley home is located just a couple miles up the road, though. Lester has vivid memories of the hard work and rewards that he and his siblings (Dave, Jack, Ralph and Louise) experienced at that lovely Woodstock bottomland location.

Farming with horses

"We did all of our haying in the early days with horses and an old homemade tractor," Lester recalls. "We never used the term 'doodlebug' to describe the tractor, although that is common around here." In those days, Bradley family members cut and raked hay, loaded it by hand onto racks and hoisted it loose into the mows of several local barns. In the winter, that provender came tumbling back to earth to feed the family's fine beef cattle herd. Eventually, they found another way. "Dad contracted with neighbors to rake and bale for us after we got tired of putting the hay up loose," Lester says. "That was a big relief to me since I was the kid who was always perched up beneath the barn's peak on the hottest of summer days.