Mail Call: July/August 2014

Readers write in with everything from baling hay in the good old days, to making homemade mayonnaise and cleaning cast iron.

| July/August 2014

  • Plenty of youngsters in rural America are all to familiar with the hay wagon.
    Photo by iStockphoto/Lammeyer
  • Nebraska Dave, a Grit Blogger, works constantly to improve an urban gardening plot he named, “Terra Nova Gardens.”
    Photo courtesy Nebraska Dave
  • Photo courtesy Nebraska Dave
    GRIT Blogger Nebraska Dave in his hard-hat during disaster relief.
  • Homemade mayonnaise turns the lunch sandwich from ordinary to extraordinary.
    Photo by iStockphoto/daffodilred
  • Heirloom tomatoes save seed well from year to year, and they are incredibly flavorful.
    Photo by iStockphoto/Funwithfood
  • Grit Blogger Caitlin Carpenter models the blogger T-shirts. Her blog is titled The Domestication of Cattle Cait.
    Photo by Julia Carpenter

Baling Hay

Dear Hank,

Just received the digital Grit magazine, and read through Making Hay on a Small Scale in the May/June issue. Hay days were good memories for me, too.

My memories must have started a bit earlier than yours. I do have many memories with square bales. The bales ran anywhere from 60 to 80 pounds, depending on how tight they were packed. My uncle had John Deere tractors and New Holland haying equipment. The mower was a John Deere mounted sickle mower with a 9-foot bar. It wasn’t until I was about 11 or 12 that I was allowed to actually mow hay alone on the tractor. My uncle pounded into my head to never put my fingers anywhere near the sickle bar. He showed me how to unchoke a bar by turning the steering wheel to the left and backing up, which would swing the bar around. That would do the trick most of the time. On the occasions that it would still be clogged, the tractor was shut off, the brakes were locked, and the power take-off was disengaged. Instructions were to always climb off the tractor away from the bar. We kept a wooden stick on-hand that we used to remove the chunk of hay or weeds that was clogging the mower. Safety was a big thing with him. I guess it’s why at 83 and retired from farming all his life, he still has all his fingers and toes.

The rake was a New Holland with the four or five big rotating wheels that had spring tangs around the outer circumference. The wheels floated up and down according to the terrain. We raked the hay into rows, and when the top side was dried, the rake was again used, and you’d just barely clip the row enough to flip it over to dry the bottom side. All the while, we hoped and prayed that it would not rain. If all worked out, then it was time to do the actual baling. The mowing and raking were accomplished with a 1949 B John Deere without power steering or live PTO. The seat was solid, and we celebrated if an umbrella kept us out of the sun.

Most of the time a flatbed wagon hooked behind the baler was the way we baled. A crew of five on hay day was the best. One person would drive the tractor, one would take the bales out of the baler and heave them back and up to the stacker. When the flatbed was full, the other two would exchange the full wagon for an empty one. Their task was to unload the wagon and return. Sometimes my uncle would bale the hay and drop it on the ground if the threat of bad weather was imminent. If the baled hay did indeed get wet, then we walked the field and stacked the bales by setting them up on end in a tripod. When the bales dried sufficiently, the flatbed crew of usually three picked up the bales and stacked them either in the hayloft or in an outside stack. The tractor for this was a c model. It had more power than the ’49 B, as well as live power take-off and power steering.

Always, hay day was on the hottest day ever. Have a great hay day.

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