The Haying Season part 5

It’s haying season on the Scheckel farm outside Seneca in the heart of Crawford County, Wisconsin. Like all farm machinery of the 1940s and 1950s, frequent greasing was necessary.  The grease gun was a constant companion. The grease gun was filled from a big 5 gallon pail of grease, unthreading the body from the head, sticking the open-end body down into the grease, and pulling the small handle in the back. The gun filled with grease by suction.

Dad bought buckets of grease from his brother Arnold. Our Uncle Arnie had a farm down on Wauzeka Ridge and also sold grease, oil, and seed on the side.

Machinery got a grease job before starting out. A hay mower might have 3 or 4 zerts. A zerk is a grease fitting, or grease nipple, Sometimes they’re called Alemite fittings. I learned that the patent for the Zerk fitting was awarded to Oscar U. Zerk in 1929, and assigned to the Alemite Manufacturing Corporation. The grease gun fitted over the nipple, the handle was pumped three or four times, or until you saw grease oozing out of the bearing area.

Oscar U. Zerk was born in Vienna, Austria in 1878, came in America in 1946, but lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Quite the inventor, he held patents on quick-freezing ice cube trays, special brakes on trolley cars, and over 300 other inventions. Zerk was very much in the news in Feb 1954, when robbers broke into his mansion “Dunmovin” tied him to a chair, stole dozens of valuable paintings, valued at $200,000 and escaped in Zerk’s own car.

A year later, a career criminal, Nick Montos, was arrested in Chicago, and given 7 years for the robbery. He spent a good amount of time in Alcatraz, died in Nov 2008, age 92, oldest criminal in Massachusetts history.  Zerk died at age 90 and is buried in historic Green Ridge Cemetery in Kenosha. Growing up as a kid on the farm, we used the work “zerk” a gazillion times but had no idea of the origin of the name.

Machinery was greased several times a day. A threshing machine might have as many as 15 or 16 zerts. Haying was usually a late morning and afternoon affair. The hay lay in long ropes winding around the field. It was a pretty sight to behold. If it rained while the hay was in windrows, the rake was used to turn the windrow over a few hours before harvesting the hay. It gave the sun and wind a chance to dry the hay.

The ideal conditions are to cut the hay, let it lay 3 days, rake it and harvest it before it rains. Well, that’s the ideal, but every farmer knows he’s at the whim of God and His Divine Providence. (Mother Nature, if you’re an atheist).


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The Haying Season part 4

One of the all-time great smells of this world is hay that is drying or curing. I have often thought that if someone could make a perfume or ester of curing hay, they would make a mint.  There is no better odor on planet Earth than alfalfa, clover, timothy,

and grass lying in the sun waiting for farmer to bring it into the barn.

Three or four days after cutting, hay should be ready to put in the  barn. The Scheckel family out on Oak Grove Ridge near Seneca in Crawford County put up loose hay in the 1940s and 1950s. No baler for the Scheckel family.

Dad had a McCormick-Deering side rake. Sears Roebuck was offering side delivery rakes for less than $100, with $8.00 down in 1940. The rake was not a large or heavy piece of equipment and a team of two horses could pull it easily.

Raking started after the dew was burned off by the summer sun. That might be about 10 o’clock in the morning. Dolly and Prince were hitched to the rake. Raking was done by about noontime.

Our McC-D rake had 2 large 3-4 foot steel wheels in front, 4 bars of tines that spun on a reel that was at an angle to direction of travel. The tumbling tines would gently kick and roll the hay into straight narrow rows, ready for the hay wagon and hay loader. A smaller caster wheel turned in the back. The driver saw up quite high, unlike the hay mower. I like raking hay. I had a good view, breeze blowing, straw hat to keep the sun off, the wonderful smell of cured hay. Horses, whether mowing or raking, moved at about 2 to 2 ½ miles per hour.

Our hay mower cut a 5-foot swath. With a five foot sickle bar, we would rake two of the five foot swaths into a single window with the side rake.

When was the hay was cured, it ready for raking into windrows. We wanted about 30-35% moisture content. We did not own a moisture gauge. Dad, being an experienced farmer, could pick up a handful of hay in his hand, and know when it was ready. No moisture meter needed.

If the hay was not sufficiently dry, or “too green” as was the saying, heat would build up in the hay mow. A farmer could lose his barn to fire. Seems every summer, we heard of at least one barn in Crawford County going up in flames. The Scheckels put up hay that was “green” a few times. You could go up in the haymow a few hours or a day later, press your hand down in the hay and feel the heat. If that happened, Dad or Mom would take a buckle of salt and sprinkle it on the hay. The salt would absorb the moisture and prevent heat buildup.



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The Haying Season part 2

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The Haying Season part 2

The last week of May started the haying season for the Scheckel family out on Oak Grove Ridge in the heart of Crawford County outside Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s. The hay was cut using horses, raked into windrows using horses, and hauled into the barn using horses.

Harnessing horses is an art form, and Dad was good at it. Horse harnesses were stored on pegs behind the horses and against the wall of the horse barn, an alcove inside the Big Barn.

First the collar, made of leather and stuffed with straw, was placed over the horse’s neck.  All the weight that is pulled by the horse is applied to the collar. A good fitting collar was important. If the fit is bad, the horse developed sores.

Next, Dad would reach for the harness. He slung the harness atop the horse, and slid the hames into the slots on the collar. I didn’t know that when I was a little tyke. For me, those hames were places to hang onto when Dad lifted us kids up and sat us down on the horse to ride out to the field or to ride home for noon dinner or the end of the work day.

The breaching, the big strap around the rump, went over the tail. The breaching is the piece of the harness the horse pushes against when backing up an implement.

The bridle would go on next by first placing a bit in the horse’s mouth. The sides of a horse’s mouth are very sensitive, so pulling on the reins pulls on the bit, which pulls the horse’s head from side to side. The reins connected to either side of the bit. This is how the horse is “steered”. The farmer drove the horses with the reins.

The reins were black leather straps that extended from the bridle back to the driver. There were supporting rings to carry the reins over the horse’s back, so they won’t get tangled.

The belly band ran under the horse, and Dad snapped the reins into the hames.  A yoke strap was attached to each side of the horse’s collar. The bottom of the yoke strap had a snap fastener. When hitched to an implement, the snap fastener attached to the neck yoke, a 3-foot  wooden bar that is fastened to the horse drawn implement tongue. That neck yoke is suspended from the collar of the harnesses.

The “tugs” are thick leather straps attached to the hames and collar and running back on both sides of the horse. A length of chain is attached to each end of the tug strap. The chain is used to hitch the horse to a singletree. The singletree is a wooden 3 to 4 ft piece to which the tugs of the horse harness are fasted. The center of the singletree is attached to a doubletree.

A doubletree is a wooden swinging crossbar, to which smaller singletree bars are attached. Doubletrees are used when 2 horses are hitched side by side to pull a wagon or other farm machinery.

The neck yoke wooden bar had a big 4-inch medal ring into which the tongue of the implement would fit. A metal stop prevented the metal ring from sliding back too bar, and it was used for the horses to push against to back up any implement or wagon. The horses were now ready to go to work.



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The Haying Season part 1

School was out by May 20 for the 28 kids at Oak Grove School in the hill country of Crawford County outside Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s. It might have been vacation time for the “town” kids, but just the opposite for farm kids. It was time to go to work….and work all summer ‘till Sept 6 or so. Then vacation would start for us. That’s the way we looked at it.

It was haying time and we could see it coming on the mile-long walk to and from school. The clue was the fields of standing green hay; clover, alfalfa, and timothy. Over 2 feet high and undulating to and fro in the breezes that swept over the ridges and valleys of the Driftless Area.            The Scheckel fields were keep clean of white weed and yellow rocket. Every few weeks five or six of us formed a line, separated by 10 feet or so, and moved through the hay fields, plucking the hated weed.

The Scheckel family “put up hay loose”, as the expression goes. No hay baler on the Scheckel farm. We would cut the hay down, let it dry and  cure for a few days, and bring into a windrow with the side-rake Then the hay loader and wagon moved through the field, both pulled by horses.

Horse barns have a unique smell. Not a bad scent, mine you, just different. If you want a really bad aroma, walk over to the pig house. The horse barn whiff is a combination of horse mature, urine, oats, hay, sweat, and oiled leather. Those dried horse droppings made good missiles (horse apples) for brothers to throw at each other.

Prince, Dolly, and Lightning each had they own stall with a bin in front for loose hay and an elevated box off to the side for oats and corn. Using a halter, the horses were lead to the watering tank for a drink.

Dad had a No. 9 McCormick-Deering Enclosed Steel Gear Mower. The No. 9 was advertised to “take less power to pull and last a lifetime.” These No. 9 mowers, with a 5 foot sickle bar, were made from 1939 to 1951. The sickle bar bore serrated triangular knives that moved back and forth horizontally. Guard teeth in front of the blades helped hold stalks upright and protected the sickle bar teeth.  Getting the mower ready meant putting grease in the zerks and checking for loose sickle blades.






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Life After Retirement

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Life After Retirement

I do believe most everyone looks to retirement with some trepidation. What will life be like after decades of routine, where the agenda and rhythm of life is dictated by one’s job or profession.

It’s coming up on 8 years since Ann and I retired after teaching a total of 70 years at Tomah High School. Eight good years, with travel, grandkids, church work, pinochle club. Hobbies of jogging, bicycling, flying RC planes (when I don’t wreck them), crossword puzzles.

We have four books out there, three science books and a memoir book of growing up on a farm in Crawford County in southwestern Wisconsin, attending a one-room country school, Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers.

The Seneca Seasons book is what they call a niche book, of most interest to those who lived and grew up in the time frame of the 1940s and 1950s. We go out and do a lot of book talks concerning the book and that era, a PowerPoint of about 300 slides, stories of the farm, school, Church, and family. Some of the slides are the 51 sketches by artist Fred Weiner.

Folks often come up to us after our talk and say things like “I remember things just like the way you described.” Many of them attended a one-room country school, some taught in such a school. That makes sense because if you lived in rural Wisconsin in that time period, you would have many shared memories. We’ve presented Seneca Seasons talks to many libraries, senior centers, Sons of Norway, and church groups.

With a background in science teaching, we do about 25 programs a year for schools, Museums, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts. These are gee whiz, high interest, kid participation, Mr. Wizard type, demonstrations with brief explanations of the principles involved. We’ve done these programs for groups as few as 10 and as many as 600.

The current physics teacher at Tomah High School is Oakley Moser, a former student of mine. He is very good at his job, a Kohl Award recipient, and science department chair. We do programs together at the Deke Slayton Museum, the Parenting Club at Winnebago Park, and our latest venture, a monthly 5-minute Science Lab television program for LYNXX-24.

We have another venture. Ann and I traveled through Israel in October of last year, 2017. It was a marvelous trip through the Holy Land, and we put together a PowerPoint of that trip that we’ve presented to Church groups in our area. It has been well received and no rocks have been thrown at us!

Jerusalem, the Old City, Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross) Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, tomb of David, the Western Wall, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, Megiddo, Masada, Sea of Galilee, Church of the Annunciation, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, Sea of Galilee, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. We discuss the political situation, the West Bank, and the views of three major religions.

Retirement has been very rewarding for us thus far. Health is everything and we been blessed with good health (knock on wood). We continue to write a weekly science column for The Tomah Journal newspaper, a monthly account of Knights of Columbus, and periodic pieces for The Country Today agricultural newspaper, The Catholic Life magazine, Monroe County Herald, and a number of monthlies.



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