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Hay-making Plan Derailed by “Bright Ideas”

Author Photo
By Matt Smith

It was a beautiful, clear blue sky, “hay-makin’” kind of a day about the middle of June in 1946.

Lightbulb

The barn was a large cattle barn, 74- by 60-feet, with the mow going to the ground in the center and the livestock on the sides and in a shed across the rear. There was a concrete feeding floor to one side where the fattening steers were fed. The barn was set rather at the center of a flat farmyard between two corn cribs, a machine shed and the large farm house to the front near the road.

It was the Shipton farms, where my father worked. The hay was ready and Jim Wilson was there with his Case baler and three racks that were to be pulled to receive the bales as they were baled. The crew was bigger than usual: They wanted to keep up with Jim’s baler so he wouldn’t drop the bales on the ground. R.E., the elder Shipton who would be hauling in loads with the Model M, and a neighbor or two were working in the field loading bales behind the baler.

Getting used to a different tractor

At the barn, Dad was in the mow. He was strong and able to about keep up by himself. Sticking the hayfork was Bill Shipton, recently home from World War II. Bill served his country as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, where he was a flight instructor. He was very athletic and a great guy who was a special friend to me and my brothers. My oldest brother, Ken, had the job of operating the tractor pulling the rope that ran through a series of pulleys through the barn and up to the track that carried the hay back into the mow.

The setup was like this: The hay rack with the load of bales, about four layers high, was parked close to the barn front under the large haymow’s open door. The hay rope came out through a door behind the rack at the front of the barn. A large loop at the end of the rope was passed under the rear axle of the tractor and placed over a bracket on the axle for the pull.

The thing that was different that day was the tractor being used on the rope. It was Harry Svendsen’s 1939 John Deere B. Harry brought the Model B because the Shiptons’ Model H was at another farm, miles away. My brother Ken was experienced at the task of “driving the fork,” but he had always used a Farmall with a foot clutch.

That day, he was getting the hang of this pop-pop John Deere with a hand-operated clutch. He was doing a good job of backing up on the hard cinder drive toward the crib while watching the hay rise from the load to the track in the peak of the barn, then down the track as the carrier rolled into the gaping mouth of the mow. Ken would intently watch and listen for Dad to yell “trip it” from inside the mow and stop.

At that point, Bill (on the load) would jerk the trip rope, the bales dropped and he pulled out the fork with the same rope. As the tractor was driven forward to the barn, the fork descended from above and Bill would untangle and set the fork again for the next pull. It would take more than several pulls to unload a load eight bales at a time.

A perfect storm of bright ideas

I was there watching. At 8 years old, I was too small to mow bales with Dad, but wanted to help with this exciting day of hay-making. When my brother drove the tractor back toward the barn after the hay was tripped, the slack rope loop would slide off the axle bracket and fall to the ground. I would run, grab the hay rope and drag it to the waiting tractor, rehooking the loop for the next pull. This happened about three times when all of a sudden, I got a “bright idea.”

At the same time, Bill also had an idea. He stuck the fork to pull up 12 bales at one time in an effort to keep up with Jim’s baler. I never knew this part of the story. Bill said that when the weight of the 12 heavy bales of tough hay went down the track, the brackets holding the track busted! He told me this many years later when we were remembering that day.

The reason I never knew about that was because something else happened at the same time to stop the bringing in of hay that day.

On this very first pull of the 12 bales on the fork, I imagine my brother Ken was especially occupied watching this bigger group of bales going up, probably wondering if they would even fit through the door opening. While the hay was still rising above the rack, I impulsively ran to the slowly backing tractor (my bright idea) to jump on the drawbar, grab the seat and ride on the tractor to hold that loop on the bracket for the return to the barn. My idea was not so good. What happened next, I will never forget.

“… watch the front wheels bounce over my leg”

It’s as vivid as if it happened yesterday. My mount on the backing tractor was not successful. My foot slipped off the narrow drawbar and I fell on the cinder driveway, under the right rear wheel. Ken saw me fall and instinctively tried to stop the John Deere. Being used to a Farmall and a foot clutch, he pushed the left pedal – which was the left brake – putting power to the right rear wheel, which was passing up my back and over the side of my head.

The wheel sort of spun on me and the embedded cinders in the tire cut a tire tread pattern in my skin, across my back and side of my face that didn’t fade for two weeks. It was strange that I felt no pressure or pain from this one-ton wheel. I remember raising my head to watch the front wheels bounce over my legs – again, with no pain.

My brother got the tractor stopped after the 12 bales went into the barn and down the track, only to break the thing down. I got up and saw Bill just step off the top of the load of hay, 10 feet to the ground. He said he had to catch me, as I was running around. Bill hollered for Dad to come down out of the hay mow. Everything stopped!

Bill had a brand new, mint green DeSoto car. He had just been able to get it because he had been in service during the war. Dad and Bill took me in the DeSoto, down the gravel road and around the corner to pick up Mom for the 10-mile trip to the hospital. I remember feeling alright and watching over the back of the front seat the speedometer as Bill drove the gravel roads to Marshalltown. At one time, the needle touched 90mph.

At the hospital, I was X-rayed from one end to the other and no broken bones were found. After I was examined, we returned home. I was never sore and had no discomfort. Only the tread pattern on my back and face served as a reminder of that unusual afternoon, when someone was watching over me.

“The worst day of my life”

My friend Bill stopped at my farm one day when he was still able to drive. He told me things about that day 53 years earlier that I had never known. He told me that he had loaded bales behind the Case baler at Jim Wilson’s farm for three days, so Jim would bring the racks and the Shipton hay could be made without picking up bales from the ground.

Well, you already know the plan went haywire. “That was the worst day of my life,” Bill said. The track hangers broke under his 12-bale idea and I got run over by the tractor due to my bright idea, and when it all stopped, Jim dropped the whole field on the ground.

Bill and I visited about it a bit. “That day really wasn’t bad,” he said, “because you didn’t get hurt.” We agreed it was a miracle … or maybe it was because Harry Svendsen said he had soft water in the rear tractor tires as ballast. I believe it was truly a miracle since I had experienced several broken bones previously from minor falls and accidents. The barn burned to the ground years ago. Bill has gone on to glory, but God remains and he’s still watching over me. Everlastingly grateful! FC


This account of the 1946 accident, which occurred about 2 miles northeast of Green Mountain, Iowa, was written by Matt Smith in 1999; he is since deceased. It was submitted to Farm Collector by Ken Smith, Marshalltown, Iowa.

Published on May 7, 2021

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment