Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I read an article in this morning's paper referencing an article from 1940 about haymaking. The author wrote about using a scythe to cut grass, and the art of tossing the loose hay into the wagon correctly so that it would be easier to offload to the haymow. He mentioned the different rakes used, and the progression to the balers and mechanical ramps used later, and it all brought back memories of summers helping my grandfather with haying.

It was in the '60s, not the '40's and he had a tractor, but no baler- just the tedder to spread and toss the grass to dry, and the infamous hay rake with which he terrorized his 'help'. His help being the five of us grandkids and his youngest son, Chuck, who is just 3 years older than me.  As far as I remember, #2 and I started helping at the same time, and the younger ones took our places as they grew- and we escaped.

My grandfather was a big, no-nonsense farmer/school bus driver who could laugh as loudly as he yelled- but he seemed to yell a lot more often.  I don't know how often I heard "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing right" and "There's two ways to do this, the wrong way and the right way" with the right way being his way, of course. He was Mr. 'my way or the highway'.

So it was pretty scary when you got tall enough to ride the hay rake.
The type he used was a dump rake. Those big jangly teeth were lowered to catch the hay and sweep it together, then a foot lever was used to raise the prongs, leaving the hay in a line. They would be lowered again and sweep the next batch of hay back to the be dumped next to the first, making one long line of hay to be picked up later. Ideally, that is how it worked. 

Now take another look at that rake. Ten feet wide, rattling, bouncing teeth, a little metal seat with nothing to hang onto as you bump across the field, stretching out your foot poised to push the trip pedal that you barely reached when it was was up, never mind depressed. There was always a delay between the stomp and the rise of the rake, and timing that was the tricky part. Anticipating Papa O's bellow of "now!" and getting the muscle twitch reaction right made for a stressful ride. And, looking back, how the hell much difference did it make if the lines wobbled a bit? A lot apparently. (see paragraph above describing my grandfather)

After that came the gathering of the hay, with 3 tine forks and more directions. If I remember correctly, he had a stake body truck to carry the hay to the barn and my brother and I weren't too much help after the hay got to a certain height in the truck. I think we used hand rakes to help gather the loose hay. 
I think he had a lift in the barn to get the hay from the truck up to the haymow, sort of like the claw used in those machines to grab a stuffed toy? except using ropes, not machinery. I don't remember clearly,  but we weren't allowed in the barn while they unloaded, so we stayed out of the way.

As far as I know, there are no photos of our 'haydays', it was not a time when recording daily activities was as easy and usual as it is now. (Hence the "I think"s and "I don't remember"s I used a lot.) The part of me that loves looking at old photos and marveling at the moments captured wishes there were pictures, but another part enjoys the mental snapshots that are mine alone.  My siblings and I shared the same events, in the same places but not all the same times. Although the angles of our memories are all different, I'm pretty sure Papa O figures prominently for us all in those conjured up by the smell of fresh hay.


In Real Life said...

Neat! I sure sounds like hard work! I've only helped with haying once, and it was as an adult, I had to try to hurl the square bales into the truck as it passed by, it was a long day!

Captain Dumbass said...

Farm work, no thanks.

Grampa B said...

I remember, way before your time, getting hay at Uncle George's farm in Norridgewock; filled a horse drawn wagon, hauled to the barn, where a horse drawn clam shell like grapple would raise it to the loft. Had to make sure the horse stopped promptly!

#2 said...

I think that we actually forked it up into the loft above the stall too. I too remember those days fondly although I don't think I thought that much of them then. It did a lot in forming my work ethic which has lapsed on occasion but has always been there.