On the Job Training: Boys and Bale Hooks

Four-man hay baler and manual stacking with hay hooks kept farm boys hopping.

| April 2007

Bill Boblenz was one lucky farmer during World War II. He had a whole barnyard full of boys to help on the farm, while most farmers struggled for help. All the young, healthy men and boys had been called to service. Bill's five sons were too young to serve, and some were too young to help much on the farm. But he had a labor force.

During the spring of 1943, Bill brought home a new McCormick-Deering Model 15 four-man baler. Essentially, this was a stationary baler powered by a small 1-cylinder International Harvester engine belted to the plunger and compression ram. The baler's pick-up was chain-driven from the inside rear wheel.

The two-wire unit made a bale 15 inches wide by 19 inches high by 38 to 40 inches long, and weighing between 70 and 100 pounds, depending on moisture content and type of hay. The baler was so wide that it had to be "trucked" when it was moved from field to field or over the road. That meant disconnecting the pick-up unit, hitching it to the rear of the baler and towing it along behind.

How did the Boblenzes get such a machine during wartime, when most farmers could not get new machinery or even rubber tires for farm equipment? By default. No one else wanted it, especially at a time when help was hard to find. It took four people to run the thing: a tractor driver, a feeder, a wire tyer (a word coined by International Harvester) and a wire poker. Bill had five sons, so he figured he had adequate manpower to use the baler for years to come. In fact, the family used that baler from 1943 until about 1954, and did a lot of custom baling for neighbors as well.

A job for everyone

Bill was the owner, baler-master and feeder. Billie, his oldest son, was the tyer. Second son Bob drove the tractor. Younger son Jim started by poking wires. When Billie graduated from high school and moved on, younger son John was promoted to the tractor-driving position and Bob became the tyer. When Bob graduated from high school and married, the tyer's position was vacant. Bill's youngest son, Jerry, then got that job. Those four - Bill, Jim, John and Jerry - comprised the crew from 1948 until the baler was finally put out to pasture in 1954.

Storing the baled hay was another task performed by the Boblenz boys, who were all young and small when the baler came to the farm. The baler did not have a loading chute, so bales were dropped on the ground. At the end of the day, after the hay became too tough to bale, the crew started gathering bales onto a wagon. They used three or four flatbed wagons during hay-making season. Usually one person would drive the tractor while one person walked along each side of the wagon and bucked the bale onto the wagon. Meanwhile another person on the wagon stacked the bales as high as possible so as to get a full load, but not so high as to lose the load on the way to the barn. At night, they covered the loaded wagons with tarpaulins. Then, the next morning after chores were done, the boys unloaded the wagons and mowed the hay.