Growing up with Tractors, part two. Putting up Hay
In my first story, Growing up with Tractors, I recalled spending time as a teenager, working on my uncle’s farm in east central Iowa. Many summers were spent helping out with the duties, especially putting up the hay.
My uncle, at that time, shared a “rectangular bale” baler with his neighbor, and though I most often rode behind the baler on the rack loading and stacking bales, one summer I needed to help out in the barn, stacking the bales.
I should, at this time, remind everyone of the intensive labor necessary 40 to 50 years ago when harvesting hay. Prior to the introduction of the “bale thrower” baler by John Deere in the early 60’s, there were not many options to putting up hay in rectangular twine tied bales. Allis Chalmers had a round bale baler similar to those in widespread use today, but where we lived few farmers used them because the round bales couldn’t be stacked in a hay barn like regular bales. Besides, they were too large to handle, and really designed to be left in the field to feed the range cattle throughout the winter months.
The generally accepted method of putting up baled hay in our area was with a rectangular baler(commonly called a square baler). After the hay was mowed, allowed to dry, then raked by tractor into a wind-row, it would be ready to bale.
On my uncle's farm, we baled with his J. I. Case SC row crop tractor with about 22 hp. Even though this tractor had a PTO drive, the baler was operated by its own gas engine, mounted on the front. Also there were no guards on any of the pulleys, belts or exposed moving parts.
The usual setup was for the field crew to consist of the baler tractor operator, and one or two men loading and stacking bales on the hay rack. One person would drive a tractor shuttling full racks to the barn, and empties back to the field. (A minimum of three hay racks would be used, but having 4 or 5 racks was better. ) At the hay barn, one man would unload the rack using the “hay fork”, one man (or boy or who ever was available) would operate a tractor pulling the loaded hay forks up and into the barn, and one or two men would stack the bales in the barn after they fell from the forks, going along the overhead trolley track.
The most skillful of these jobs was loading bales at he barn with the hayfork. This was a device with four large curved hooks that hung from a trolley by a long hay-rope. The rope was threaded up to the trolley, 30 or more feet in the air, then along the inside of the barn roof along the trolley track, then out the other side, down through a system of pulleys, and eventually tied to a tractor on the other end of the barn from the hay fork. A lighter weight “pull-rope” was also attached to the fork assembly so the person loading the fork could trip the fork to drop the bales, then pull the trolley and fork back outside to the hay rack for the next load.
The loader would prepare a group of eight tightly stacked bales on the rack. Then one of the for large fork tongs was pushed into each corner of the stack. The loader would stand back and yell “OK” loud enough for the tractor operator the hear. The tractor operator would very slowly back up, pulling on the hay rope through all of the pulleys and lifting the loaded fork to the trolley at the top of the barn. If done correctly, none of the eight bales would fall out of the fork. The fork would continue up nearly 30 feet, until it engaged the trolley, releasing the trolley to roll along the track, through the large open door, into the barn. In the barn would be one or two workers, stacking the bales for long term storage. One of the stackers would yell “pull” at just the right time, as the load rolled across the track at the roof of the barn. On hearing the pull command, the tractor would stop, and the loader would yank the lighter weight rope, releasing the forks and dropping the load of bales to the floor of the barn, or the top of the stack. the tractor operator would then shift gears and drive back toward the barn, allowing the loader to pull the fork and trolley back outside for the next load. The stackers in the barn would immediately begin stacking the dropped bales so they could move out of the way before the next load appeared overhead.
That would mean as many as eight men, three tractors, a baler and 4 to 5 hay racks were needed each time hay was harvested, which in a good year might be 4 or more times. Then if the work was shared between neighbors, as my uncle did, it would be necessary that many times for each farm. Most of the summer, between spring planting and cultivation and the first fall harvest, (usually oats) was spent putting up hay. All of this was further complicated by the fact that if the hay was too green, it could spontaneously combust and burn down the barn. In addition, moisture was your enemy, so we couldn’t start in the morning until after the dew burned off, and any rain stopped operations, and we had to get partially fully loaded hay racks under cover fast.
In 1965 I moved away to college, then, two years later I entered the U. S. Navy. Though I have not lived in Iowa since 1965, it will always be home and I will always have fond memories of growing up around farming operations. I learned a lot about the value of hard work and life in general while helping out the around shop and working on the farm. They are memories I will always cherish.
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Jim Nantz, IA, entered 2002-03-26
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