THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR Bulletin of The Sebewa Center Association,
October 1980, Volume 16, Number 2. Submitted with written permission of current Editor Grayden D. Slowins: HAYING WITH HORSES In the Heat of Summer
As Remembered by Zack L. York
When driving through the countryside almost any time of the year, I never fail to make note of the huge rolls of hay scattered over fields or lined up in a farmyard or along a fencerow. Methods of putting up hay have changed over the years.
I can remember haying time at Grandpa Grieves’ when cocks of hay were pitched by hand onto the wagon and pitched off again onto a stack or into the bay (or mow) of the barn. But “Haying it” in my childhood on our farm in Sebewa was done with the help of machine, horse-drawn to be sure; but by the time I left for college, teams of horses were giving way to tractors and hay was being baled, chopped, and now, even rolled into huge rolls to be left stored under the sky until fed to the livestock.
The haying season was usually well under way or even finished by late June. Sometimes it overlapped the Fourth of July and put a crimp in our long and eagerly anticipated celebration of that patriotic holiday. I am glad that my boyhood memories of life on the farm included experiences when horses provided the power for running the machines. We had a tractor but when we hayed with horses I drove the team and Dad drove the tractor. I resented it then but now I am glad I had the opportunity to work with the horses. Our team was a pair of matched sorrels---Old Fred and Maude. They were the first team I ever drove. I followed them many days behind the walking plow, the drag and various drills, planters and cultivators. We drove them on the grain binder, the manure spreader and the haying machines, which included the mower, the rakes, the hay loader and, of course, the wagon.
The wagon was a versatile implement. Without the flat rack it was only a mobile box we called the lumber wagon. With removable sides and 2 x4 dump board bottoms, shaped for easy grabbing, we hauled gravel when Dad worked out his “road tax”. The path master told us where to go. The flat rack went on at haying time and remained on until the end of silo filling, which followed the grain harvest and threshing seasons. The rack had upright standards at each end that helped hold the grain and hay in place.
An early chore in getting ready for the haying season was sharpening the scythe and the knives on the mower cutting bar. Turning the crank on the grindstone and keeping water in the wooden trough through which it turned was a job for a young one. Sometimes it took two of us, one to crank and one to help hold the cutting bar, which Dad handled, holding the edge of each knife to the grindstone. It seemed an endless process, sharpening one side of each knife the full length of the cutting bar, and then reversing the bar and grinding our way to the other and again. It was a tricky business, holding the cutting bar at just the right angle so as to avoid the sharp reprimand of Dad’s displeasure when the angle was not right. It took, so it seemed, countless tests with the thumb on the freshly honed edge before we could move to the next blade.
I enjoyed the actual mowing except when a tragic accident occurred to nesting birds or baby rabbits. It was fascinating to watch the cutting bar shear the tall standing grass, which fall with hypnotic predictability in neat swaths to be dried in the sun and raked into windrows. Dad took great pride in having a cleanly mowed field with no ragged clumps or strips of grass left standing unclipped. He always used a scythe to trim the corners of the field and around the stone piles. The dried mowed hay was raked into windrows by either a dump rake or a side delivery rake, the latter being an improvement. Although one could ride on the dump rake, a lever which dumped the hay in rows was hand operated. Usually hay raked with a dump rake was forked into cocks (small piles) to cure, then loaded by hand onto the flat rack with a three tined pitchfork. If the hay were properly cocked and the pitcher was skilled, he could lift the entire pile onto the wagon in one operation. We cocked hay only in the orchard, small lots or around the farmyard where it was unhandy to use the hay loader.
It took two men on the rack and a driver to load hay in the field. The driver of the team was my sister or I when we were children. Father usually made us walk beside the load although we preferred to ride, high on the front standard, guiding the horses astraddle the long windrow. We became experts at judging just how wide the horses should swing at the corners so that the hay loader would pick up the endless snake of hay without leaving some of the ground. The man tailing the load had the harder job but if the hay crop was good, it kept both men hopping to load the wagon properly without stopping the horses for the men to catch up. The men who tailed the load built a layer of hay on his half of the rack first, then forked the hay pouring off the loader down to the man waiting to build the load if it were properly built. A layer placed along the edges of the rack with a binding layer holding it was followed by the middle piled and tramped so the whole mass was nearly bound in place.
Sometimes a wriggling snake was brought up with the hay and work came to a halt. In the excitement a mixture of fancy footwork, subtle threats and wisecracks the squirming snake was tossed to the ground and the loading routine went on.
The unloading was simply and easily accomplished if the wagon had been properly loaded. I recall Robert Frost’s description of loading hay in his poem: THE DEATH OF THE HIRED MAN
He bundles every forkful in its place And tags and numbers it for future reference So he can find it and easily dislodge it In the unloading* * * * *You never see him standing on the hay He’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself.
In our neighborhood there were two kinds of devices used to unload the hay: the sling method and the fork method. We used the hay fork method and our barn was equipped with a system of pulleys and ropes attached high in the barn and running back to the U shaped hayfork, which was plunged deep in the hay and locked. We kids then “drove the horses on the forks” which meant unhitching the team from the wagon (unless you were lucky enough to have a second team for the purpose) and hitching them to the whiffletrees attached to the hay rope running through the pulleys to the top of the barn and back to the locked fork on the load of hay. As we drove the horses away from the wagon on the barn floor, the hay was lifted from the load by a jerk of the trip rope. If slings were used it took three trips to hoist the load of hay. Slings were lifted vertically to the top of the barn where they locked into a track which carried horizontally to the mow where it was tripped and dropped the hay into the mow. Of course the slings had to be placed on the wagon as the load was being made in the field with about one third of the load allotted to each sling. Another job for the youngsters was to “pull back the rope” from the long loop extended from the barn after each life of hay to the mow.
The man who had tailed the load in the field customarily had the job of unloading the hay---setting the forks or attaching the slings and tripping them when they had been hauled into the bay. His job was easier than mowing away the hay after it had been dumped into the bay. The mow man had to crack his shirt-tail to keep up with the fork man. It was hard work pitching the hay over the mow, tucking it into the corners and under the eaves. Treading the hay to pack it down was hard on the legs, and the muscles of one’s arms ached and hands blistered from handling the fork. Sweat poured from every pore, blackened our blue chambray shirts and ran down our faces. We often tied our red bandana handkerchiefs around our heads to keep the sweat from our eyes. I can still taste the salty sweat and smell the hay---timothy, clover and alfalfa. I liked alfalfa best; it was less likely to have thistles. It was hot in the haymow on a summer afternoon with the sun beating down on the steel roof of the barn. I can feel the heat and the momentary welcome movement of rushing air as the hay was dumped from the top of the barn. It sometimes seemed as if one’s legs sank to a bottomless level when we tramped the hay. The air was so hot and close, couldn’t breathe. Streams of sunlight slanted across the mow from the cracks and knotholes in the siding made viable by the reflection of millions of particles of dust in the air. One’s nose became encrusted with dirt and one’s throat parched and dry. (We did not know about “farmer’s lung” then). How good it felt to get out into the air again and slake our throats with switzel.
Switzel was a summer drink we always had in haying time, sometimes in grain harvesting, too, but often in haying. Mother’s recipe varied, depending upon who made the batch. She would have it ready after the hay was unloaded and bring it out to the men or dispatch with the pail and dipper. I have seem her make it in an ordinary 5-quart pail. She would pump fresh water from the well so that it would be cold. (No ice as a rule. Once in a while we would have lice dug out of the sawdust in the icehouse, put up in the winter, cut from our pond.) She would fill the pail about two thirds full, put in a cup or so of sugar and about two or three spoonfuls of powdered ginger. Then she’d add a cup of vinegar, depending on its potency. The recipe and process required frequent tasting and adjustment, otherwise the switzel would be too sweet, too hot and spicy with ginger or too vinegary. It was heavenly! Standing on the flat rack in the shade (the breeze actually felt chilly, blowing on our sweaty clothes). One forgot the back aching labor of the past few minutes, the chaff and the blisters when the cool, delicious drizzle of switzel slid down our throats. Wetting my whistle with switzel in haying time was an experience I shall never forget.
The respite was brief. One last swig at the dipper and we were back to the field for another load, the process repeated until the last windrow had been straddled and snaked its way up the loader to meet the waiting pitchforks. As the last wad of hay was stowed away on the load and the wagon lurched out of the field with the loader this time still attached, Dad, or someone, always came up with the remark, “There, that’s the load we have been waiting for.” And it was the last load of the haying season unless we had alfalfa in which case we’d repeat the whole process because the second or even the third cutting would be soon coming up.
Last update November 16, 2013