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. Like all farm machinery of the time, frequent greasing was necessary. The grease gun was a constant companion. You filled the grease gun 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.
A hay mower might have 3 or 4 zerts. A zerk is a grease fitting, or grease nipple, The patent for the Zerk fitting was awarded to Oscar U. Zerk in 1929. 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.
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.
Dad had a wooden hay loader in my early years on the farm. Later, he bought a lighter metal New Idea hay loader. What an exquisite piece of equipment. Standing about 10 feet off the ground and about 6 feet wide, the horses straddled the windrow of hay. The big wheels of the hay loader drove the mechanical parts. A wheel driven chain on the left side turned the rotary rake, and drove 6 rows of tines, 3 offset from the other 3, that raised the hay up a sloping chute and into the hay wagon.
Several times around the field to get a full load. If short-handed on help, the reins were draped over the front boards of the hake rack. The Scheckel boy handling the hay in the front of the wagon could both drive the horses and help with the load. The horses knew where they were going. They were smart enough to straddle the windrow of hay. The only time they needed “steering” was at the end of the row or a ninety degree turn. I suspect they could pretty much do that also.
Putting up hay with a team of horses was quiet affair, no motors or engines. Horses don’t make much noise. Putting up hay loose, not baled, one could hear songbirds, notice hawks soaring overhead, searching for mice, crows cawing in the distance woods. Putting up hay loose was a chance to admire the patchwork of fields, woods, and neighboring farmsteads.
That is the view I have of haying as I look back at it now. That was not my view at the time. In the 1940’ and 1950’s, haying was back breaking, dirty, dusty, and sweaty toil.
Occasionally, a snake would come up the hay loader and onto the wagon. Oh, that was great excitement. The Scheckel boys did not like snakes. We took every opportunity to kill them. Typically, they were garter snakes and black snakes or what we called bull snakes. Those snakes were quite harmless and we were told they ate a lot of field mice. But I always considered snakes to be one of God’s mistakes.