It was a clear warm day in early June. I had just awakened to the steady muffled sound of the DeLaval milking machine coming out of the open milk house door. As I sprang out of bed, I could hear the milking machine shut off and the clang of the milk cans being put into the cooling tank in the milk house. Grandma had breakfast started in the kitchen and the smell of coffee and bacon was wafting up the open stairway to my bedroom.
Today was a special day. This was the first day of the haying season and the excitement was evident even in the adults in the family. There was something special about once again replenishing the stores of food for the cattle for the coming winter. In truth, haying season was the first unofficial recognition of summer finally arriving on the farm. Oh, there had been a lot of work preceding this day. There was the early spring work of field preparation for the planting of oats and corn, but that, more often than not, was done in the cold and damp and not so nice weather. But today was different. This was summer.
I knew that as soon as breakfast was done and a few more chores of necessity were completed, my uncle would bring out Bonnie and Clyde to get harnessed for the day’s work. I really don’t know why they were called Bonnie and Clyde, since they were both mares, but they were. Perhaps, it was a playful tip of the hat to the pair of outlaws who had added a bit of excitement to the otherwise somber and difficult days of the not-so-long-ago Depression. Of course, that was years past now, with the intervening years filled with the welding together of the national spirit and the sacrifice and heartache that was World War II. But that was then, this is now, and now was going to be a great day.
My uncle had spent the last couple of days mowing down a considerable portion of the ten-acre hayfield just north of the barn. Bonnie and Clyde pulled the four and half foot ground driven mower around the field at their own slow pace. No need to rush, they were going to be doing this all day, so why hurry? When that was done they would be hooked up to the three-bar side delivery hayrake and go around the field several more times rolling the hay in to a twisted rope called a windrow. Luckily, we were enjoying a run of clear dry weather, which allowed the hay to dry before we picked it up. When the hay was dumped in the barn in the haymow, it had to be very dry, or it would begin to decompose, heat up, and possibly cause a fire – something that a few of our neighbors had discovered much to their detriment a year or two earlier.
By the time that the horses were harnessed and hooked up to the wagon, the dew was gone and there was a slight breeze out of the west. The horses and wagon were driven around to the back of the barn and hooked up to the hay loader. This was essentially a moving elevator that when driven over the windrow would pick up the hay with a series of tines on a rotating drum and transfer it to a moving slatted ladder, which then loaded the hay into the wagon for transport. Unfortunately, the “loader” didn’t do much of the loading, except to bring the hay to the wagon from the ground. The loading part was done by someone standing in the wagon with a pitchfork and stacking the hay in the wagon. That’s where I came in. Since it was difficult to drive the horses down the row of hay and stack the hay coming up the loader at the same time, I got to drive the horses. Perhaps if Bonnie and Clyde had been a little more disciplined, I could possibly have been unneeded in this activity but, alas, they weren’t and because they were much more interested in heading for the barn than following the row, I had a job.
Exciting as this job was, it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Controlling two very large horses with minds of their own was a challenge for nine-year-old me. Clinging to the front of the hayrack and handling the reins while getting directions from the person forking the hay in the wagon to “Slow down!” was nearly more than I could handle. This was especially true when the windrow rounded a corner and now was headed straight at the barn. This caused Bonnie and Clyde to have visions of a long drink at the water tank and a rest under the shade tree in the barnyard.
When we finally had the wagon loaded and were headed home, the next step in the haying adventure was about to begin.
The haymow, the area in the barn where the hay was stored, was on the second floor of that structure. In order for the wagon filled with hay to get to that level, a man-made earthen ramp had been constructed when the barn was built. This ramp was called the barn bridge. Since this bridge was at a fairly steep angle, Bonnie and Clyde had to really lean into their harnesses to haul a full wagon up the slope. Once inside, the center of the barn, the driveway, was paved with four-by-ten-inch planks extending to the far wall. That wall had two large sliding doors that opened to each side, so you could theoretically drive through the barn and out the other side. Unfortunately, even though the doors were there, there was no barn bridge on that side of the barn, so there was a sheer drop of about ten feet to the ground below. Therefore, in order to prevent a disaster of being unable to stop a full load of hay from continuing over the edge along with the horses and the driver, me, a large plank about fourteen inches wide and about three inches thick was fastened to the beams on each side of the doorway to act as a safety stop.
Once the wagon was in place in the barn, a horse had to be unhitched from the wagon and moved to the barn bridge area to be hooked to a very large hemp rope that pulled a four-tine unloading mechanism called a hay fork. The large tines of the hay fork were inserted into the load of hay and when ready the horse pulled on the rope which, through a series of pulleys, hoisted the hay to a track in the peak of the barn’s ceiling to be transferred to one side or other of the driveway to be dumped in the storage area, the haymow.
Once the wagon was unloaded, the horse was hooked up again along with its mate to the front of the wagon, and then backed out of the barn and down the barn bridge to return to the field where the entire process would be repeated. Usually, about four or five of these trips was enough to tire out man, boy, and the beasts.
As much joy and anticipation as there was at the beginning of the day with the first hay of the season heralding in the unofficial start of summer, by the end of the day the realization had set in that was still just as hot, just as dirty, and made you just as tired as it did last year. And god, I wished I could go fishing.
Horydczak, Theodor, approximately 1890-1971, photographer
Created / Published
ca. 1920-ca. 1950.
Contributor: Fogarty, Thomas