Gene Foster – Part 7: Crops and hay

“We worked farm early AM to sundown.” After the outside work, they would ride horses or mules or walk back to the barn, unharness and feed the animals, and put them in their particular stables. “After we eat supper we took turns going to barn & turning horses & maybe a milk cow or calf out for the night.”

The farm work involved planting, plowing, and baling hay. “Yes, I plowed all day every day from age 7,” except maybe Saturday evenings, Sundays, and when in school. “Sometime in the fall harvest schools would allow kids to help in harvest.”

Dad identified this as the type of planter he used. His granddaughter, Tabitha Foster, found this image online with him April 16, 2018. This photo is from the Wisconsin Historical Society, https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM23601

Father and son (Everett and Gene) formed a farming team. “Dad always operated the cultivator & I run out the middles,” Gene wrote. “I would make every round he made, no getting behind.” Gene also planted using a “horse-drawn walking planter. Running out middles with a Georgia Stock, which I still have with some modifications.”

I’m not sure exactly what Dad was talking about. I think a cultivator was used to get the ground ready, then the planter, followed by the Georgia Stock plow. “Running out the middles”  involved plowing between the rows of growing crops — the “middles.” Merriam-Webster defines a Georgia Stock this way: “a plow beam with handles and a standard to which a moldboard, shovels, teeth, or sweeps are attached.” Some people who still use a Georgia Stock in 2018 still sing its praises. Someone going by the name Buggy on a ruralheritage.com message board said this: 

“A Georgia Stock was a simple implement with a single beam, a leg to attach points to and handle. It took a number of different points from middle buster, turning plow to a wide range of cultivator sweeps. It was/is a do-all implement. They are still out there here in the Southeast but HARD to come by in good condition. There was/is also a Carolina Stock with a different handle configuration and a Texas stock I do believe. Generally considered to be a one horse/mule implement. Beam could be either metal or wood.” [Source: Buggy, “Georgia Stock Plow,” April 3, 2009, http://www.ruralheritage.com/messageboard/frontporch/11788.htm%5D

As for hay baling, Gene’s dad, Everett, cut and baled hay for some of the neighbors. “We used horse-driven equipment,” Gene said. “The first job I ever had when I was 5 was to drive horse or mule, which was powering the hay press. You could either walk or ride.”

Dad confirmed that this hay baler was similar to the one they used, but theirs did not have a motor on it. This photo was the best I could find. It is actually pictured in Chile on the website horseridingchili.com https://horseridingchile.com/chilean-country-life/mountains/making-hay-in-chile.

It was hard for me to understand Dad’s description of baling. An article at farmcollector.com titled, “History of the Hay Press: The mechanical hay press made loose-hay transportation a thing of the past,” described it this way:

“With nearly every machine, hay was pitched into a hopper by hand where a gear-powered plunger pushed it into the bale chamber. At the same time, a reciprocating plunger compressed the bale into a bale chute, just as it does on today’s balers. The difference was that once the bale in a bale press reached the desired length, a wooden block (with channels for baling wire) had to be introduced into the bale chamber to hold the bale shape and provide a means of tying the bale. Two men (one on each side of the press) passed pre-cut pieces of wire through channels in the blocks and around their side of the bale as it moved through the bale chute. Once the other end of the bale cleared the bale chamber, the other end of the wire was passed through the next block and secured.

“According to [C.H.] Wendell, the term ‘hay press’ remained in use well into the 1930s. The term ‘baler,’ meanwhile, was primarily reserved for those machines that were taken to the field where they picked up hay from the windrow. That didn’t happen, though, until around 1932, when the Ann Arbor (Mich.) Agricultural Co. pioneered the ‘pick-up’ baler that picked up windrows directly out of the field. J.I. Case also introduced a field-type pick-up baler in the early 1930s. Unfortunately, both models still required three people to operate the machine: one to drive the tractor and two to ride on seats attached to the bale chute, where they had the dusty job of feeding and tying the wires.” [Source: Tharran Gaines, “History of the Hay Press: The mechanical hay press made loose-hay transportation a thing of the past,” February 2012, https://www.farmcollector.com/implements/hay-press-zmhz12fzbea%5D

Online photos and videos illustrate how these machines looked and worked.

The hay baler Gene used was similar to what is described and pictured here, except it was horse or mule-drawn, and the movement of the wheels turned the press. So, he started by driving the horse or mule as it pulled the baler, but as he grew older he moved to other jobs.

“I moved up to what they called the monkey, this required pushing wire through the block which separated hay bales in the press chamber. Then when bale came out, pick up block and set back where the man feeding the press could insert it back into the press chamber. Before I graduated from high school I performed all jobs but one in the hay business. (They would not let me feed. It was dangerous.) The jobs related to baling was driver, monkey, tier, feeder, 2 pitchers, sulky rake, bull rake and hauling to barn with wagon and team.”

Gene’s dad had two mules, Old Jane and Old Tom. “About the time I got big enough to plow my great grandpa, Jim Ramsey, died & he had a mule named Kit, which Great-Grand-mother gave to Dad,” Gene wrote years later. And thinking of the mule led Gene to remember his great-grandfather Ramsey’s buggy. “I’ll never forget, G-G-Pa Ramsey had a fine buggy, it always sat under shed. He kept a buggy whip on seat. Charles & I was setting in buggy seat one day making like we were riding & driving, poping whip & G-G-Pa came out of house and made us get out of buggy.”

Gene and the men and boys did get occasional breaks. “If it rained where we couldn’t work, we would go squirrel hunting if it was in season.” Fur season stretched from early November to February. Charles and Gene would trap opossum, skunk, and fox. Hides usually brought five cents to one dollar. Racoons and mink moved into the area during World War II after the boys left home.

Copyright © 2020 Ferrell Foster

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