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.
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).