A California Classic


| June 2001



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Hay press

On a sunny day last year, just north of Pleasanton, Calif., a Junior Monarch five-wire vertical box press baled hay just as it had done when it last ran in 1959. The machine had been restored to a 'mid-life' condition and was powered for the day by an International T35 diesel tractor through a 9' X 90' flat belt. A crew of seven perated the press and an eighth person pushed shocks of volunteer hay to them with an AC model M crawler tractor. The hay was  cut with a sickle mower six weeks earlier, raked with a dump rake, and bucked into shocks to cure. Hay making in California is quite different than in most of the country because late spring and summer rain is uncommon.

As with all demonstrations of old machinery, the idea was to show the younger generation 'the way it was' and to have a little fun ourselves. We succeeded in our goal and were really surprised that people came from Oregon,  Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and southern California just for this event. Over 408 guests signed our register; 75 of them had worked on one of these rigs years ago. Quite a few of them stepped up to take a turn at their old job. Another purpose of the day was to teach a few young men how to run the hay press, and the Old Timers did that. The enthusiasm of the crowd indicated that the show should be repeated someday, so the young crew will probably be needed.

I was given the machine if I promised to restore and demonstrate it. The restoration was accomplished over a period of six years, delayed mostly by my disappointment at the inability to get insurance coverage for the volunteer crew members.

The Junior Monarch Hay Press Company was established in 1862 and by 1920 claimed 'over 2,000 satisfied customers.' Their original model was a 5-wire box press known as the 'Petaluma Press.' It sat on the ground to work, was made mostly of wood, top-fed, and powered by a two-horse team. It probably made two or three bales an hour. They also built presses for commodities such as hops and hides, and made many much more productive horse-powered 'dump off' rigs of wood in the years before the steel machines were built.

The hay press in the demonstration was the last five-wire rig made. It was assembled in San Leandro, Calif., at the Toffelmier Blacksmith Shop in 1939. The company continued to make stationary three-wire extruder type balers into the 1940s.

Old-timers say that these five-wire rigs baled 80 percent of all hay that was baled in Central California during the first half of the last century. Much of the hay was handled loose and stationary, three-wire extruder type presses did the rest. The five-wire rigs continued to bale grass hay in the counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay area well into the 1950s. Most were owned and operated by a farmer who hired a crew and put in a three or four-month season, which ended in autumn, bailing straw. The boss fed the crew five meals a day; they worked from dawn to dark and camped within a mile or two of their jobs. One sea son, this particular machine baled 4,000 tons on a single job where Foster City stands today. The 'gas rigs' often baled 100 tons a day and averaged 85 or 90 tons a full day; horse rigs perhaps 50.