Colorful Country Characters

Time spent making hay on family farms created a lifelong respect for the way things used to be.

  • Baling hay was hard work, but rewarding for sure.
    Illustration by Wayne Stroot
  • Hay bales were lifted eight at a time into the mow.
    Illustration by Wayne Stroot

I grew up in a small farming community in the flatlands of central Illinois. During those years, I was privileged to come in contact with irreplaceable people who left their mark on me as a child.

Beginning about age 12, I spent my summers working for Flavel Horner, a sunburned flatlander who baled hay for a living. Flavel owned his own baler, a Massey Ferguson if I recall correctly. It pumped out the standard of the era: a small, rectangular, twine-wrapped bale of 70 to 100 pounds, depending on the time of day and type of grass. I would ride the rack wagon behind Flavel as he drove the tractor and stack the bales for delivery to the barn.

Flavel never used foul language unless the baler became badly clogged. Such an event would push him to the limit. He would thrust his arms toward the heavens and shout “hog ham and little fishes!” 

A very religious man, Flavel did not work on Sunday. The only time my grandmother would ever allow me to miss church was if I had to work on Sunday. Sweating in the sun beat sitting in a pew, so on Sundays I became a hired gun and sold myself to anybody who needed an extra hand.

My favorites were the Crawley Brothers: Woodrow, Arlo, and Cletus. They were all in their 50s, tall, whip-thin, and they all walked like scarecrows. Their farm had been in the family since the late 1800s, and all three men lived on it with their wives and worked together every day. I don’t expect any of them, unless they were in the military at one time or another, had ever been more than a day’s drive from home.

Raising cattle and hogs meant endless chores. I’d encounter Woodrow as he came out of the post office, or the drugstore, or somewhere. He’d tilt his cap back on his head, eyeball me, and cogitate for a moment before he’d speak.

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