We’re putting up loose hay in the 1940s and 1950s on the Scheckel farm outside Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin.
Between loads of hay, it was off to the windmill to get a cold drink of water. Cold pure water coming up from 200 feet down right out of Mother Earth. Man, that was a good drink. Several tin cups were hung on spikes attached to the legs of the windmill. Unhook the cup, remove the pipe from the well head, and fill the cup with cold water. Even let some run down your neck and back. You were already wet from sweat.
Haying season seemed to run all summer. It didn’t of course, it just seemed to. It was in spurts. First crop lasted two weeks, then cutting oats, second crop hay followed by threshing oats and wheat.
The end of any haying day was not the end of the working day. There were still chores to attend to. Feed the chickens, gather eggs, slop the hogs, milk cows, tend to the bull, curry the horses and put them out to pasture.
Getting hay in on time was a high priority for any farmer. No farmer wanted their hay crop to get rained on. The loss of food value is severe as precious nutrients are leached out.
While haying is tons of work and toil in hot weather, there is some joy to behold in the effort. The aroma from a field of drying and curing hay is a joyful odor. It is the sugar contained in those grass, alfalfa, clover, and timothy plants that brings out the pleasing smell.
Riding from field to barn atop a full load of loose hay was a joyful experience. A boy can feel like he’s on top of the world. What a fantastic view in every direction. A straw hat kept the sun off our face and neck. The blowing wind dried the sweat. With that load of hay coming out of the field, riding up high, a kid could think he was king of the hill, a “on top of the world feeling”.
There was another benefit to haying; watching that haymow get fuller and fuller day after day. Sometimes in the spring, we ran out of hay for the milk cows. The barn was empty and Dad had to buy hay. We always bought baled hay. I know he didn’t want to do that. Dad didn’t like spending money on anything, let alone hay.
But he had to occasionally. Barn was empty of loose hay, pastures were not ready in late March and early April, so search the newspapers for ads for baled hay.
I kept my eye on the barn filling, always aware of how full it was getting. When the mow got full, the trolley and fork that brought the new load of hay off the wagon could barely move, because it was dragging on the hay in the mow. We filled bin 3 as full as we could, dropping the hay in bin 2 and mowing or throwing it over into bin 3 so the hay was close to touching the track. Right up there in the apex. Then we would drop hay in bin 1, and mow hay back into bin 2 so it was full, working out way to bin 1, which would be the last bin to be filled.
Now the trip mechanism on the track could be unbolted, turned around, and made so the trolley ran in the opposite direction, so we could fill the bin above the horse barn. Sometimes that space got full, so the space where the hay wagon drove in was filled, then hay was put in the small barn.
A full barn meant a stable barn. Mom and Dad worried when the barn was near empty, vulnerable to the wicked storms that moved across southwestern Wisconsin. Some of those winds were fierce and an empty barn could be blown down. It would happen to neighbors of people we knew. When the barn was getting full, a feeling of relief because a full barn of hay is more stable than an Army tank.
I think even the horses had a sense of what was going on here. I just imagined they knew that their sweat equity was paying off. That they were harvesting the food they would chow down in the winter.
The horses chewed grass in the pasture after working hours. Often the horses were led to the water tank next to the cow corral and half way from the barn to the hog house. Turned out to pasture, they would go down on all four legs, roll around in the dust. Sometimes we would curry comb the horsed. The curry comb was a brush that comb through the horse’s coat, especially important in the areas where the collar rested on the huge beasts.