Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Baling hay was a filthy job but paid real money

Grinding corn was fun because all I had to do was to sit on our big, wide horse and tell him to "Whoa" or "Giddup."

He walked around in a circle while hitched to the corn grinder by means of a long wooden "tongue."

The grinder burrs crushed ear corn, making chop for the dairy cows and Mom’s chickens. I’d stop Jake when the bent-up wash tub was full of chop and a hired man emptied the tub, scooped more ear corn into the grinder hopper and signaled.

I’d put my heels in Jake’s ribs and say "Giddup," and Jake and I went around in circles again. This happened about once a week, mostly Saturdays before I was 8 or 10 years old. My much harder job paid 75 cents for punching wires at the hay baler all day long; Dad headed the crew of men. We were baling hay - clover, alfalfa, timothy or "pasture" hay, which was a mixture of grasses. Dairy cows got alfalfa.

The weather forecast was for nice drying days, so Dad mowed it with the team hitched to the sickle mower. He left it flat in the hayfield to "cure" for a day or so, then he raked it into wind rows with the horse-drawn sulky rake so the sun and wind cured it enough to keep it from heating or molding when it was packed tight into bales.

The hired men brought the wide "Long Tom" rake with long wooden tapered "teeth" polished by years of haymaking.

That kept the horses about 15 feet apart as the long teeth slid under the dried hay to build it into a great mountain between them. The driver stood waiting with the first load.

When all of us were in our places, tools in hand, Dad gave last-minute instructions, and someone cranked the baler’s noisy gasoline engine. Dad put the baler into gear, and that added dirt in our faces and more racket. Two men with pitchforks tossed loose hay into the hopper, then with the Long Tom rake brought a mountain of cured hay right up to the baler on the side opposite me. They backed the horses and rake out, and I could see that I was in the dustiest, dirtiest position of all!

I was to push two baling wires through a big wooden block that shaped the length of the bales. My brother Jim was on the opposite side - dust and dirt to his back - to receive both ends of each long wire and tie ends firmly together so the bales would be the same size, for storage in the barn till needed. He also bucked the bales and stacked them aside - hard work.

Suddenly I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was in a position where all of us in the crew had to perform our duties in a routine that made even the least helper - me - important to the entire operation.

No wonder I was earning so much money! Seventy-five cents a day! But it was more important that they couldn’t have baled that hay if I hadn’t pushed those wires correctly and at the right moment.

No matter that the noise was terrible and we had to talk at the top of our voices.

No matter that every forkful of hay the men threw into the hopper sent more chaff and dust on me. Never mind that I was dry and thirsty.

I was 14 years old, and others were counting on those wires to be punched through those blocks continuously.

And I did it.


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