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Date:10/1/2014 9:26:54 PM
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Hay Making, Part II
From a little research on the web, I can tell you that McCormick produced a hay baler in 1874. I remember from the the later writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder that a steam-operated baler was used to produce 250 lb bales, using a crew much like the wheat threshers of that time. I once talked with my uncle Oliver Shallow who lived to be almost 90. He told me how he used his favorite team of horses to work with a steam-powered baler in the '20s. What I find fascinating about Uncle Oliver is that in his lifepan, and that of his son, Oliver Jr.; farming evolved (or devolved, depending on one's viewpoint) from subsistence farming to the corporate farming that we see today. Uncle Oliver was born in 1900, farmed with horses to a greater or lesser extent until around 1950, and when his eldest son, Oliver Jr, (born in 1927) married and started his own farm in the late '40s, ol' Oliver gave his son a team of horses as a wedding present.

Most people around my age grew up handling the relatively small bales that could be man-handled onto a hay wagon and then stored in the hayloft. I say "relatively small"; actually they were more than heavy enough for me when I was in my teens working for a dairy farmer in Couillardville, halfway between Stiles and Oconto along the south bank of the Oconto River in the 1970s. The most skilled and strongest of the crew worked up in the hay mow, where temperatures could get up around 110 degrees. To be able to plan and fit several thousand rectangular bales puzzle-perfect, 40 feet high, in a barn's loft is the work of a true craftsman. Such a task was way beyond my ken. The best job was to be on the hay wagon, stacking it one bale at a time. I loved standing on that wagon, knees slightly bent in order to sway with the slow rocking of the baler as it processed each bale. High on the rolling hills overlooking the Oconto, with the High Summer breeze cooling my scrawny, sweaty torso; I could look down and see the seagulls below combing the river, drought-shrunken in the Summers of the mid '70s. I could look up and see the giant cumulus clouds, snow-white and bereft of moisture during those Summers, feeling a drop of ten degrees whenever the wagon passed under their shade. Looking around me, I would see a kestrel fluttering over the windrows, looking for field mice scurrying away from the noise and disturbance of the machinery, and then folding its wings and dropping to the ground to collect its prey. God, I loved baling hay! I understood how later innovations like hay rolls and Bobcats and giant bales saved labor and made it more profitable; but like the scythe-wielding hay makers and stack-toppers of the previous generations, I rue the passing of an era. More about Making Hay next time. --Gary
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