We’re continuing our story of haying in the 1940s and 1950s on the Scheckel farm outside Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin. Harnessing horses was not easy work. I was small, horses were big. I was always afraid I would get stepped on. I frequently watched Dad harness Dolly and Prince. He did it so smoothly, so quickly, like clockwork. Well, I guess if a person harnessed horse all their life, dozens and dozens of times a year, it would be a fairly routine event. Dad always harnessed on the left side of the horse.
The collar was placed over the horse’s head, the leather strap on top of the collar adjusted to make sure the collar was not too tight. Next, Dad would reach for the harness hanging from the pegs on the wall behind the horses. Slung the harness atop the horse, and slide the hames into the slots on the collar. Straightened out all the straps, the breaching that went over the tail, and pulled the tail free of the strap. The breaching, the big strap around the rump, is the piece of the harness the horse push against when backing up an implement.
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” were 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 foot 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 bridle was put on last. The bridle had those blinders, or cups, that prevented the horse from seeing to the side. I always figured those blinders were used to prevent the horse from being startled by anything happening to the side. But I’m not so sure they are not used to keep dust and debris from irritating or blinding the horse.
Once the bridle was put on, the rope attached to the bridle would be tied to the hole in the stall. The horse is now ready to go to work. The team of horses were attached together, reins brought down off the hames and it was off to the fields.
It is haying season, so out to the hay field to the waiting mower. One horse walks over the tongue of the mower. When both horses are in place, the mower tongue is lifted and placed in the big round ring attached to the yoke. The chains from the tug straps are attached to the single trees.
Hop aboard the mover with reins in hand. Sit on the metal butt-shaped seat. It seems that all farm machinery had the same kind of seat. Give the reins a ripple back on the horse’s back, along with the words “giddy up” and away you go.
In my mind’s eye I can see that sickle moving back and forth. Hear the steady rapid chit-chit-chit sound, hay stalks falling back, horse heads bobbing slightly up and down, and maintaining a steady gait.
The smell of fresh cut hay, birds ahead rising up, meadowlarks running off with their fake broken wing, wind whipping the tops of the hay fields in undulating waves. Those sights and sounds stay with a farm boy forever.