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Chuck Hinman: IJMA 158, Putting up Hay in Olden Days

It's Just Me Again No. 158, Putting up hay in the Olden Days jirst appear 29 May 2008

The next earlier Chuck Hinman column: Chuck Hinman - IJMA 100-B: Aging Gracefully

By Chuck Hinman

It's June 1933 (seventy-five years ago) and this memory story is about putting up the first crop this year of alfalfa. If the weather cooperates there should be three more crops this year. Over winter the alfalfa field goes dormant before next year's crop harvest.

This will be the first crop of hay put up in our new hay barn. Somewhere around here there is a picture of the barn with white Z's on all the barn doors. The barn is barn red. The old buff colored Blue Springs Lumber Yard located on the south side of main street between Homer Knight's machine shop and the Blue River was bought and torn down by my Dad, Arley Hinman. It was re-constructed as a hip-roof hay barn on our farm between Liberty and Wymore. George Moore, carpenter of Liberty, Nebraska, did most of the work. I would estimate the mow alone to be thirty foot square and thirty foot high; obviously it held a lot of hay.

And of course when it was finished, the Hinmans had an old fashion barn dance in the haymow of their new barn. Everyone including mothers with new born babes got in the haymow the same way - they shinnied up the hay ladder constructed on the west side of the barn. I've scaled that ladder hundreds of times with a pitch fork to throw alfalfa down the hay chute to feed the cows and horses who were gathered in stanchions and stalls on the ground floor munching away on good ol' alfalfa hay.

The barn featured a steel track that traversed the length of the mow ceiling. With the mow door down, grapple forks of alfalfa were slowly elevated via a pulley system up the side of the barn and onto the steel track on the ceiling, and with a trip rope, the hay could be dropped anywhere along that track until the mow was full. What a barn and what a haymow! They don't store hay in mows with the advent of balers that roll hay in massive round bales that are wrapped and stored outside. A tractor with a big iron spike on the front carries these huge bales to the feed lot as needed making hay barns obsolete. But not so in 1933!

So sit back and enjoy how hay was put up in the olden days. We will talk about mowing alfalfa, raking it into rows, loading the hay on a hayrack, taking that hay to the barn and putting it in the haymow. Never will you hear the sound of a tractor. This is pre-tractor days. All machinery is horse drawn. It's a nice clear day with no rain forecast for several days. We don't want rain when we are putting up hay. Dad is mowing the 15-acre alfalfa field with a seven foot sickle blade mower pulled by Fanny and Major. It will take all day. Sometimes Dad took the sickle blade to Barneston to have it sharpened by a blacksmith north of Wolken's grocery store. Or sometimes he used a foot powered concrete wheel and sharpened the blade at home.

As soon as the hay was mowed, it was ready to be raked in rows so that you could drive a hay rack pulling a mechanical hay loader up those rows. When the rack was full (and running over) you disconnected the hay loader and took the hay to the barn to be put it in the mow. This was quite an operation - 1933 style high tech. Let me see if I can describe it.

The work is to get the hay from off that hay rack up the side of the barn and into the haymow. The engineering involved makes extensive use of pulleys and ropes. At the beginning of the haying season the huge mow door is slowly let down with pulleys and rope.

Now the team of horses is taken off the hay rack and is going to be used to pull big grapple fork full of hay on a pulley up to the top of the barn and down the 30 foot track before the trip rope drops the hay on top the growing mountain of hay inside the mow. The horses are driven back and the process is repeated (ten or twelve times) until the rack is emptied.

Then you hook the team up to the rack and go back to the field for another load until this crop is in the barn. When the fourth and last crop is in the barn, a happy event is seeing Fannie and Major making the umpteenth trip, slowly pulling the mow door up and shut -- signaling the end of the haying season for 1933.

What I have just described represents a lot of sweaty, dusty work with itchy hay down the neck of your shirt. But that's not the end of the story. Our city cousins would tell you their fondest childhood memories are the Sunday afternoons in haying season when Uncle Arley would spend his day off hooking up Fannie and Major to the pulley system and instead of pulling hay up into the haymow, would be pulling a rope swing with screaming kids up in the mow where they jumped out in the mountains of hay, climbed down the ladder and waited their turn in line for the next trip! Where else could kids have that much fun except on a Nebraska farm in 1933.

Written by Chuck Hinman, 29 May 2008

This story was posted on 2012-08-05 08:47:52
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