Archive for Thursday, July 18, 2002

Season stirs hayfield memories

July 18, 2002

During the past two weeks as the season reached certain maturity, the hills and valleys hereabout were active with farmers baling fields of brome, prairie hay and occasionally alfalfa.

It is a sight that takes me back to my high school years. My parents were educators living in central Kansas. In our rural community, my brother and I represented badly needed seasonal labor. We worked the wheat harvest and followed that up with days turning over wheat stubble with a two- or three-bottom plow. But it was haying that provided our biggest paychecks.

Before the introduction of the oversized bales, haying was a labor-intensive undertaking. Every bale had to be picked up out of the field and stacked somewhere.

Loading the trailer was definitely the more pleasant task for me. The division of labor always had the farmers unloading the wagon, and the hired hand stacking the bales. You counted your blessings when the destination point was a pole barn or outdoor stack, because framers could be criminally inventive about finding places to store hay. Abandoned chicken coops were a frequent favorite. Nothing clogs the sinuses quite like the dust stirred up when alfalfa bales are dragged on a dirt floor fertilized by generations of laying hens.

Still, haying could be pleasant enough once you got in shape and it was fun when you worked with friends. But it was your employer's nature that made the difference between a good and bad job. You appreciated those who give you a minute or two of badly needed rest and didn't screw down the baler to produce 100-pound backbreakers.

There was something about the enterprise that seemed to go to some farmers' heads. the need to put up every available piece of fodder against the coming winter. Once when I was working for a family, the father was trying to squeeze every last bale from the field by baling a windrow along the side of a terrace. It was the nearly impossible task of me and his son to stack the bales on a trailer listing at what seemed like 45 degrees. After about four failed attempts, the son pulled a bale from the chute and threw it at his dad, cursing the whole time. The father was instantly apologetic, mumbling something like, "Well no, there's no sense in that. We'll just let it go."

My brother and I also gave priority to the ability of farm wives to provide a job perk. It was the quaint custom back then to treat the hired help to a noon meal and, often, "supper." The county was populated with descendants of German pioneers. It was there that I learned how a bierock was supposed to taste.

Invariably, when the last bale was stacked, my employer would say, "That's the one I've been looking for." I always thought I'd find the one I was looking for when I dragged my last bale across a suffocating hayloft or chicken coop.

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