Makin' Hay


| June 2003



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A wagon awaits the trolley

Dad's favorite team of sorrel work-horses, Molly and Dolly, patiently waited as he adjusted their tugs and neck yoke. Their fly nets swayed and their heads tossed when they occasionally raised a leg to drive off the pesky, ever-present flies. They were already sweaty from pulling a John Deere side-delivery rake earlier that day.

We had time to get a load before lunch, so Dad hooked them to the hay wagon. My sister, Shirley, the oldest of us kids and the only one with experience driving a team, came running from the house. She loved the outdoors and especially horses, so she always took the chance to drive. I was too young to drive, but I went along to learn.

Dad stuck the reins through the boards of the front standard for Shirley. Then he jumped on the wagon, took the reins and 'chirped' to Molly and Dolly. A flick of the lines and we were on our way. The front standard was about 7 foot high, composed of two oak 2-by-4-inch wooden studs for upright support, and 1-by-6-inch boards were spaced laterally about 8 inches apart. Two slings hung over the top of the 2-by-4s, extending a few inches above the top board. The back standard was only about 3 feet high, composed of just a couple boards. One sling stretched over the bed of the empty wagon, secured by a metal ring on each wagon corner where the long ropes came together. Two-by-2-inch wooden slats about 4 feet apart held the ropes in place, and at the very center of the sling, the ropes came together, locked in place by a metal trip. The trip mechanism was attached to a long, slender rope that ran to the side of the wagon and hung over the edge. The hay was pulled up into the mow by this mechanism.

Heading down the lane, I realized in retrospect why the days seemed so long. Farmers work long, hard hours, and few moments existed for silent contemplation. The horses walked quietly down the sandy, grassy tracks in the center of the lane. Dad didn't trot them since they'd already finished three or four hours of work, but the dull thud of the horses' hooves in unison, the wagon's jangled tugs and creaks gave me a sense that time stood still. Dad's bib overalls and summer straw hat, his long-sleeved shirt rolled up to the elbows, the reins held loosely in one hand burn a permanent image in my mind. Shirley and I stood on each side of the wagon, hung onto the front standard and looked at the horses as orange-and-black meadowlarks flew overhead and Lassie trotted alongside our wagon.

When we arrived in the hay field, Dad guided the team and wagon back to the hay loader. That awkward-shaped machine was a marvel of ingenuity. It towered above the wagon's front standard, and it had two large steel wheels that carried all its weight and two small wheels that swiveled and balanced the loader's weight.

The loader used a very short tongue, so it rode almost against the back of the wagon. A big, round group of bars was positioned low to the ground with a row of tines extending forward, which picked up the windrow of hay. As the hay passed up and then down a short chute onto the wagon, the chute was adjusted so the hay fell down onto the empty part of the wagon. As the load got higher, Dad raised it until the top of the hay load was pushing against the chute. The windrow of hay fascinated me because it stayed in exactly the same shape as it lay on the ground after it was picked up and carried to the top of the loader. Not until Dad's three-tined pitchfork moved it around the wagon did the windrow finally lose its shape.