Baling Hay in the 1940s: Hay Baler Earned Its Vicious Reputation

Dale Geise recalls the days when his family baled hay – and the inherent danger

| April 2010

My father owned a hay baler that was a marvelous machine ahead of its time.

However, as a boy watching it in action, I always felt a tingle of potential danger.

We baled our own hay and helped the neighbors as well. When the alfalfa had been cut and cured in the sun and raked into rows or individual piles with a dump rake, the hay crew went to work.

Stacking with a sweep

Some farmers drove sweeps that resembled huge forks with long, wooden tines that slid along the ground and gathered the hay. Instead of two horses side-by-side in a team, one horse was harnessed at either side of the wide fork.

When hay was being stacked, the driver pulled his sweep full of hay up to the stacking machine and meshed the teeth of his sweep with the long, wooden teeth of the stacking rig. Those polished poles had blunt metal barbs on the ends so the sweep man, backing his team away, left the hay caught on the stacker teeth.

That rig was like a huge, framed catapult. A team of horses pulled a heavy rope through a series of pulleys, lifting the hay pile from the ground. As the load rose in the air, the thick, wooden beams of the stacker telescoped upward, extending and pushing high beyond vertical, until the pile of hay slid and fell with a swoosh of air and dust onto the stack. At full extension, the whole frame shuddered and wavered, rocking as if it might come down with a crash. No wonder farmers were serious as they used sledgehammers to drive long, heavy metal pins into the ground to hold the frame in place.

A dangerous job

At the stationary baler, the sweeps came sliding along the ground carrying mounds of hay. The sweep man simply backed away, leaving the baler. Men with pitchforks threw the hay up on a platform around the plunger. From a young boy’s perspective, that plunger looked like an instrument of danger.