‘Summer job: Modern’ equipment speeds up, simplifies custom baling work, but there’s no getting around that haying is a hot, dusty task

posted July 31, 2017 9:16 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Robert Lovejoy, Eyota, Minn. (Olmsted County)

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    The first page of the operator’s manual for a Case sliced hay baler displayed an image of the machine, with the seat on the outside of the baler where a worker sat, and the tube that held the bale wires that were used for tying the bales.

In 1950, my parents sold their farm south of Eyota, Minn., and moved into the village. Eyota was a community of about 500 people (now the population is about 2,200), 12 miles east of Rochester. My dad got a job as a field man for Lakeside Packing Co. in Plainview and my mother got a job at the Model Laundry in Rochester.

My five siblings and I were kind of left to fend for ourselves. My sister was 16, I was 11, and our four brothers were younger. Being the oldest, Mary was basically in charge.

Grandpa Lovejoy farmed five miles south of town and asked if I would like to help with chores, mow lawn, etc., for the summer. I thought this would be better than taking orders from my older sister and fighting with my younger brothers so I spent the next three summers at his farm.

One of the ways Grandpa supplemented his farm income was by doing custom baling for some of the neighbors. His baling equipment included a John Deere B tractor, a Case hand wire-tie baler and a couple of bale wagons that could be used if they were loaded behind the baler. It took three men to run this operation: a tractor driver and two men for tying the bales. The loading was done by someone provided by the person we were baling for.

I was soon the designated driver for the baling operation. The John Deere B had a hand clutch and foot brakes — a very simple tractor. The Case baler was powered by a Wisconsin air-cooled motor. This powered the pickup unit and the plunger that packed the hay.

The Wisconsin motor was a very good motor but had one problem — if it was stopped when it was hot, it was very hard to get started again. Most days when we would eat lunch we would just let the motor idle. If it did get turned off and we would try to start it again, it would kick back on the crank as you tried to start it. I heard of people carrying extra parts (cool to replace hot) and hook up belts to a tractor to start the motor, but I don’t know if anyone beat that problem.

The wire tying was done by two men, one sitting on the outside of the baler, the other across the bale chamber, behind the pickup unit. My Uncle Glenn was always on the outside seat as this was the one that ran the bale dividers and fed the wires through to the person tying. His stepbrother, Woodrow Shoden, did the finish tying.

The wires were about 9 feet long with an eyelet on one end. They came in bundles, probably 250 wires to a bundle, and put in a tube-type holder within easy reach of the person feeding the wires through. Two dividers were used, the first set in place and wires fed through channels with eyelets first. After the bale was complete, the divider would rip and the second divider was in place. The straight end of the wire was put in to complete the first bale, the eyelet end put in to start the next bale and on and on.

The tying part was pretty straightforward, but you wanted to feed the straight end through the eyelet and give it a twist or it would pull apart. A few times when someone was gone, I would sit on that seat and tie the bales. It was not a hard job, but monotonous and dirty.

As the driver I could tell by the way the hay was picking up and the plunger working what the speed should be. If the hay was heavy, it was a job for the men tying the bales to keep up. If I would go too fast, my uncle would whistle at me and hold his hand up flat indicating “slow down,” likewise if we wanted me to speed up he would hold his hand in the air and and twirl his finger around.

The condition of the hay or straw determined how dirty those bale-tying jobs were. If the hay was cut and we would get a rainy season, it could be mighty dusty before we got it baled. The outside person was not as bad as the person sitting behind the pickup attachment and plunger. Every time that plunger went, the dust and leaves would just fly. We carried several pairs of goggles in the tool box that were used if it was really bad, but it was hard to see with them on, and also hot. I remember times we would go in for dinner and the men would be covered in dust.

If the farmer wanted to load the bales and take the hay to the barn for storage, we used flatbed wagons. A loaded wagon would be four bales high and would haul about 70 bales of hay. There were no electric bale elevators or conveyors at that time; everything was loaded and unloaded by hand. That is why we had extra wagons available, as we could bale faster than they could unload and stack at the barn or pole sheds.

Loading the bales in the field was also a hard job. The bales weighed 55 to 65 pounds depending on how dry the hay was. It was a job to balance on the wagon, take the bale off the bale chute and carry it to the back. It was not really hard loading at the back of the wagon. You could load a couple of rows and then use those to go up higher. The really hard part was the front couple of rows as these bales would have to be lifted off the bale chute, lifted up and stacked.

We were baling for a neighbor, Louis Predmore, and he was loading the bales. Louie was a small man, probably 5-foot-7, 170 pounds. He was loading at the front of the wagon. There was a bunch of hay in the row that didn’t feed into the baler and I had to stop the tractor. Louie was in the process of throwing a bale up on the wagon, and when I stopped, he lost his balance and fell against the metal of the bale chute and got a big cut on his leg. From then on, I tried to watch the person loading and warn them if I was stopping, or else I came to a rolling stop.

My grandpa had two brothers-in-law that we baled for at Pleasant Grove, about 10 miles from the home farm. Some of this was along U.S. Highway 52, some county road and some township road. I drove the tractor and baler to that farm several times. I had to watch for traffic, mailboxes, narrow bridges and be sure to make the wide turns so we didn’t put the pickup unit in the ditch. Tractors did not go as fast in those days, and there were no signal lights or slow-moving-vehicle signs.

One of the “perks” of this work was on a rainy day or when we had the corn cultivated, lawn mowed, manure hauled and no hay to bale, Grandpa would announce that we were going fishing. In the spring we would go to Morristown, Minn., and fish bullheads. In the summer and fall, we would go to Alma and go out on the Banta fishing float, anchored below the Alma dam.

My pay for this effort was a penny a bale. I believe Grandpa got 15 cents per bale. I can’t believe that was much of an income supplement after he provided the equipment, labor, gas and supplies. Anyway, on Saturday night we went to Chatfield and Grandpa would figure how much I made for the week. We baled 1,500 bales and I got $15. I probably felt like Rockefeller with that much money in my pocket.

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