A Farm Boy's Memories

Helping with the harvest


| April 2005



ShellingCorn.jpg

Above: Shelling corn at L.M. Best’s.

My introduction to farm labor came when Dad decided it was time for me to learn to drive the team of mares, Lady and Queen. My first job was to drive the sulky rake. Dad cut the alfalfa with a 5-foot sickle mower. A few days later, I took the mares and the sulky rake and put the hay in windrows. Because there was always a little hay left after I tripped the rake, I got disgusted at the mares. It seems the rake didn't get back down in time to prevent a skip. What I didn't realize was that when the rake was in the air, the load was off the team and they'd speed up.

Once the windrows were complete, then I'd go down the rows to put the hay in little piles. After that, we used pitchforks to make a decent shock, which helped shed water off the hay when it rained.

To get the hay from the field to the barn, we used a hayrack with three-foot sides. It was like a bundle rack. Two men with four-tined pitchforks pitched the shocks. If they got on each side, they could, by putting their forks in, lift an entire shock up into the rack at one time. It was a good idea to look down immediately to see what had been hiding under the shock … it might be a mouse, looking to crawl up your pant leg, or it might be a prairie rattler. Pitching hay over your head ensured that the leaves would fall down your shirt collar, and with seasonal temperatures in July, the leaves stayed there all day.

It wasn't long until it was my turn to move hay from the rack to the barn. Our barn, which was built in 1927, was a big one, about 30 feet to the peak. The bottom 8 feet was tile, with lumber above. It had a Louden track and carrier mounted on the ceiling, and we used a grapple fork to take up the hay. My job with the team was to pull the rope that was fastened through the Louden equipment and the grapple fork. When the fork, with its load of hay, reached a predetermined spot, Dad pulled the trip rope, dropping the hay, and then he'd pull the fork back down for the next load. I knew that when he tripped the rope I should turn the team around and come back next to the barn.

The hay piled up in the middle of the barn, so we had to spread it out to make room for more. Sometimes we had as many as five cuttings, so we'd load the barn about every month. It was essential to ensure the hay was dry, or you might have a barn fire - alfalfa can get very hot if stacked while too moist.

First tractor

Dad's first tractor was a Fordson; I believe he bought it in about 1925. Before long, he sold it to my grandfather who lived about a half-mile away. In the winter, it seems the grease was too heavy to let the gears slow down, and we could often hear Granddad trying to get it in gear so he could move it. Sometimes it took a while.