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.