Monday, December 7, 2009

Making Hay the Old Way

The Bear Lake Valley is a high mountain valley with long winters and short summers.  As a result the number of cropw that could be grown successfully was somewhat limited.  Alfalfa and barely were the two main crops raised on our family farm in Lanark.  The farm consisted of mostly very fertile land and had no rocks on it at all.  The soil was rich and produced bumper crops on good years, if we could get it irrigated at the right time.  It seemed our lives pretty much revolved around preparing the soil for planting, planting the crops and then making sure they got water at the right time.  Of course, there were the cows to be milked morning and night, that was a given, sort of like inhaling and exhaling as we breath.  Our farm was located over a mile from the main irrigation canal and was serviced by a smaller lateral ditch which had to be cleaned and repaired each year.  This was a monumental task, espcially with a shovel.  Eventually we got a horse drawn ditcher and even later hooked it to Arnell Earley's Caterpillar tractor making the ditch cleaning job much easier.  Everyone who had property along the ditch turned out to help clean it.  We were just at the end of the ditch, so that gave us more work to do.  Squirrel holes in the ditch were a major problem and could easity drain out most of the water coming to our farm and fields.  We always attended our church meetings as a family, but the only thing that would sometimes alter our attendance was when it was our turn to take a stream of water from the canal.  Dad knew how important that water was to the success of his crops and would sometimes miss a meeting if the water could not be set to run effeciently  for at least a couple of hours until he could get back to it.  When the alfalfa began to come into bud, Dad recognized that as a signal that it was time to get ready to harvest the hay, which would be needed for our animals during the long Bear Lake winters.  The first step was to mow the hay.  In those early days it was done using an horse drawn mower such as the one pitured here.  It was drawn by a team of horses and had about a four and half foot cutter bar.  One of the big problems was keeping the hay knife sharp.  This was done by using a pedal driven grinding stone about two or three times a day while in the process of cutting the hay.  Around and around the field the team of horses would go pulling the mower with Dad on the metal seat until the large fields of alfalfa were all cut.  It was a long and somewhat tediuous process for both man and beast.

After a few days drying in the sun the hay was raked, using a horse drawn dump or a little later a trip rake similary to the one shown below.  The hay was raked into long even windrows.  I remember sitting on that old iron rake seat until my rear was raw.  I was always a baseball fan as well, and I remeber Mom coming over in the field to tell me the scores of certain Major League baseball games that she had listened for on the radio at my request.  What a great mother we had.

Then the hay would be pushed up into large bunches with an implement we called a pushrake or sometimes a sweeprake.  It was pulled by two horses, one on either side of the pushrake and driven by a man, or in our case mostly by Ellis, who sat or stood on a platform at the middle and rear of it and controlled the team with the reins and sometimes a whip.  It was not an easy task.  The horses had to be trained to go jsut right or they would just go around in a circle.  Ellis got rather proficient at it and I remember how proud he was that he could take the place of a man at an early age.  I learned how to do it too, but not until much later.  I even did it as a hired hand for Cyril Budge in the Paris Bottoms after I returned home from my mission, while earning money for college, but it was that early training on our own farm that made even that possible.  Below you can see a pushrake in action.  This is just like the ones we used back in the 1940s and 1950s and on into the 1960s..

Then the large bunches of hay were pushed up onto the "ricker" which was postioned at the front to of the haystack and by using another horse or team of horses and a pulley and cable  assembly the large bunch of hay  would be deposited   on the top of the haystack where Dad was usually to stack the hay into an orderly, usually a square pile..  When we finished the stack was about thirty feet high.  Then we would move the "ricker" and start a new stack.  We would usually make four or five large stacks (about ten more stacks after I was eight years old, because Dad leased the Lyme Hymas farm, which we ran for many, many years) each year, the first crop being put up first was on the bottom and then, when it was time for the second crop, the original stack had settled some and there was room for the second crop to go on top.  It was hot, dusty and hard work, but our little crew, Dad, Ellis, and I and sometimes Mom got the job done.  Mom always had a hearty meal prepared for us at noon.  We looked forward to the break and especially Mom's good cooking.  We didn't have to be  told by the church authorities to eat a meal every day with the family.  That is just what we did, every day, three times a day, without fail.

Before we got the "ricker", the hay was often pitched onto a wagon with a pitchfork and then unloaded in the same fashion a little closer to the barn.  This also hard work, but somehow in those days we never even thought about it.  That was the way it was supposed to be, and it certainly never hurt us.  It just made as stronger and kept us out of mischief.  Most importantly we bonded while doing something of importance together.  I will forever be greatful for the opportunities  of my youth.  I remember one day when I was probably about  eight or nine years old, Ellis and Dad were over in the North Field loading hay onto a wagon hayrack.  I had stayed home with Mother and we had been picking peas,  We had about a bushel or more and Mom went over to a nearby tree and sat down in the shade to shell the peas.  It was a hot day and Mom got rather faintish after a while and passed out.  I thought whe had died,  I was scared to death.  I ran as fast as I could
 over to the North Field and told Dad.  I remember he grabbed me and threw me up onto the hay wagon and turned the team towards the house.  He was whipping them with the riens all the way.  We fairly flew across the field.  Moments later we arrived at the house where Mom had recovered from her fainting spell and was again at the task of shelling the peas.  Dad was so concerned about her, but fortuantely it was a one-time occurance.  Mom always had kind of a hard time dealing with heat on the hot summer days.  One memory just leads to another, it seams.

One of the best memories of the haying season was the home-made root beer,  Mom saw to it, that we had a never ending suppy of homemade root beer.  We almost looked forward to all the hard work of haying, knowing that whenever we came back to the house,  there would be a good bottle of cold root beer.  Sometimes it got rather powerful, but mostly we drank it before it had a chance to become too fizzy.

by Bart


  1. I liked your article, it brought back many memories.

  2. As I read your article I brought back many good memories. I was just a 5 or 6 but my job was to lead the horses that lifted the hay on the overshot stacker. Wonderful time of my life.