Making Hay: My Summers as a Hay Baler

1 / 2
While other girls went to the pool, worked on their tans and got manicures, I tried not to burn in the hay field.
2 / 2
While other women have fine china in their china cabinets, Brenda keeps a memento of her old Farmall A.

At age 13, my first vehicle was a rusty red tractor. While other girls polished their nails and worked on their tans, I spent my summers in the hayfield on my little A Farmall.

The oldest of four, it didn’t matter to Dad that I was a girl. He needed help, and I was it. Nobody cared that my housekeeping skills remained neglected and undeveloped, and neither did I. Housework meant being indoors, and, for me, that was like putting a snowball in the oven.

On my tractor I was in a world all my own. People muse about NASCAR drivers being able to drive in circles for hours in the heat. The only things NASCAR has on farmers are the paycheck and a pit crew. What farmer wouldn’t love a pit crew?

I spent endless hours in the field. Most of my time was spent raking hay. Dad did the baling, and Grandpa could be seen puttering around the meadow on his H Farmall. Some days he helped. Some days he didn’t. I guess at his age, he had earned the right to drive out of the field whenever he chose. I didn’t have that option, so I always went prepared.

Sissies wore shoes, although I always kept my emergency sneakers tied together by the laces and wrapped around the tractor’s gearshift lever. You never knew when you might have to tromp through a thistle patch.

My little tractor provided no protection from the sun, and we made hay while the sun shone. I wore shorts in the field, but kept a pair of jeans on the tractor.

The work day didn’t end when the baling was done. Dad had no qualms about putting me in the barn loft to stack bales. Handling hay and wearing shorts go together like dill pickles and banana cream pie. After trying to stack hay in shorts one time, I never forgot my jeans again.

Dad also did custom baling for other people, so I put many miles on my tractor. To say it was in tip-top shape would be a baldfaced lie. But when you spend that much time together, you learn all the little, and not so little, idiosyncrasies of the machine.

The tractor had a radiator leak. One would think Dad would fix that problem, and he did, in his own unique way. His solution was to set a cream can on the drawbar, tie it on securely and fill it with water. OK, I filled it with water every morning. No, that didn’t stop the leak, but it was now manageable.

When the tractor began to steam, I would get water out of the cream can with a little tin can, fill the radiator and keep on working. I had no idea this was a strange solution. It seemed perfectly normal to me, as did parking on a hill.

If I didn’t park on a hill to get a rolling start, I had to crank-start the tractor by hand. Rarely did I let myself get caught in that situation. There was enough work to do without working up a sweat before I even got started. If I had to crank, I got cranky. Wonder if that’s where the name originated?

In my teenage years, it seemed I spent an eternity in the field. As an adult, looking back, I realize that time helped form the person I am today. I still love being outdoors in the summer. I no longer rake hay, but I can often be found picking green beans in the middle of the day.

When I step outside and get a whiff of freshly mowed hay, it never fails to send my mind back. I am sitting on a rusty red tractor, raking hay in Grandpa’s bottom field. If I close my eyes and breathe deep, I can see Dad on his big tractor and Grandpa circling the field on his H.

Many women keep fine china and dishes in their china cabinets. I don’t have fine china. My cabinet is filled with pretty dishes, a collection of bells from various states, and something more precious to me than any china. Placed lovingly on a shelf is all I have left of my little tractor, the rusty old crank.

A freelance writer for more than 20 years, Brenda Brinkley keeps her computer keyboard busy at her home in Marshfield, Missouri.