We’re ‘putting up hay” in the late 140 and early 1950s on the Scheckel farm near Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin. The six long reciprocating arms brought the hay up from the ground and it tumbled off the top of the hay loader onto the wagon.
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.
The sickle mower was the loudest piece of machinery in the whole operation, and that was only because of the rhythmic click, click, click of the sickle bar moving to and fro. The side rake was quiet, just the swish, swish, swish of the big reel turned and twanging noise of the tines occasionally striking the ground. The hay loader emitted a bunch of low volume noises. All those machine parts, gears, drive chains. But for the most part, haying was quiet, idyllic, slow paced, steady, even picturesque.
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
We’re ‘putting up hay” in the late 1940 and early 1950s on the Scheckel farm near Seneca in the middle of Crawford County, Wisconsin. Dad had a heavy wooden hay loader from the 1930’s. Many of our windrows of hay were up and down hills. Two horses pulling a loaded hay wagon, with 2 or 3 people aboard, and a heavy wooden hay loader behind- well, that is asking a lot from Dolly and Prince. Somewhere along the line, he bought a lighter metal New Idea hay loader. It was the one he sold at the farm auction in 1965.
What an exquisite piece of equipment! Standing about 10 feet off the ground and about five 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.
It took 3 people to run this operation. Dad took the hay coming from the hay loader and forked it forward. One of us boys, Phillip, Bob, or me, built the hay load in the front area of the wagon and another boy drove the team. That was the desired job. No sweat equity here. It was like being in the wheelhouse on a Mississippi River steamboat. Sun beating down, blue sky with puffy white clouds, breeze blowing. It doesn’t get better than this!
Several times around the field to get a full load depending on whether it was first crop or second crop or third crop, how steep the fields, and how close to the barn. We boys traded off tasks. Didn’t always get the job you wanted. It was a matter of pride to build a good load. The hay wagon has boards on all four sides. Built up about 3 ft on the two sides, about 4 feet in the back, and the front was up about 3 feet, but had a 3 feet center that was raised about the other front side board. The reins of the horses could be tied to these boards.
If short-handed on help, the reins were draped over the front boards of the hake rack. The Scheckel 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.
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).
One of the all-time great smells of this world is hay that is drying or curing. I have often thought that if someone could make a perfume or ester of curing hay, they would make a mint. There is no better odor on planet Earth than alfalfa, clover, timothy,
and grass lying in the sun waiting for farmer to bring it into the barn.
Three or four days after cutting, hay should be ready to put in the barn. The Scheckel family out on Oak Grove Ridge near Seneca in Crawford County put up loose hay in the 1940s and 1950s. No baler for the Scheckel family.
Dad had a McCormick-Deering side rake. Sears Roebuck was offering side delivery rakes for less than $100, with $8.00 down in 1940. The rake was not a large or heavy piece of equipment and a team of two horses could pull it easily.
Raking started after the dew was burned off by the summer sun. That might be about 10 o’clock in the morning. Dolly and Prince were hitched to the rake. Raking was done by about noontime.
Our McC-D rake had 2 large 3-4 foot steel wheels in front, 4 bars of tines that spun on a reel that was at an angle to direction of travel. The tumbling tines would gently kick and roll the hay into straight narrow rows, ready for the hay wagon and hay loader. A smaller caster wheel turned in the back. The driver saw up quite high, unlike the hay mower. I like raking hay. I had a good view, breeze blowing, straw hat to keep the sun off, the wonderful smell of cured hay. Horses, whether mowing or raking, moved at about 2 to 2 ½ miles per hour.
Our hay mower cut a 5-foot swath. With a five foot sickle bar, we would rake two of the five foot swaths into a single window with the side rake.
When was the hay was cured, it ready for raking into windrows. We wanted about 30-35% moisture content. We did not own a moisture gauge. Dad, being an experienced farmer, could pick up a handful of hay in his hand, and know when it was ready. No moisture meter needed.
If the hay was not sufficiently dry, or “too green” as was the saying, heat would build up in the hay mow. A farmer could lose his barn to fire. Seems every summer, we heard of at least one barn in Crawford County going up in flames. The Scheckels put up hay that was “green” a few times. You could go up in the haymow a few hours or a day later, press your hand down in the hay and feel the heat. If that happened, Dad or Mom would take a buckle of salt and sprinkle it on the hay. The salt would absorb the moisture and prevent heat buildup.
The last week of May started the haying season for the Scheckel family out on Oak Grove Ridge in the heart of Crawford County outside Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s. The hay was cut using horses, raked into windrows using horses, and hauled into the barn using horses.
First the collar, made of leather and stuffed with straw, was placed over the horse’s neck. All the weight that is pulled by the horse is applied to the collar. A good fitting collar was important. If the fit is bad, the horse developed sores.
Next, Dad would reach for the harness. He slung the harness atop the horse, and slid the hames into the slots on the collar. I didn’t know that when I was a little tyke. For me, those hames were places to hang onto when Dad lifted us kids up and sat us down on the horse to ride out to the field or to ride home for noon dinner or the end of the work day.
The breaching, the big strap around the rump, went over the tail. The breaching is the piece of the harness the horse pushes against when backing up an implement.
The bridle would go on next by first placing a bit in the horse’s mouth. The sides of a horse’s mouth are very sensitive, so pulling on the reins pulls on the bit, which pulls the horse’s head from side to side. The reins connected to either side of the bit. This is how the horse is “steered”. The farmer drove the horses with the reins.
The reins were black leather straps that extended from the bridle back to the driver. There were supporting rings to carry the reins over the horse’s back, so they won’t get tangled.
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” are 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 ft 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 horses were now ready to go to work.