Grinding corn was fun because all I did was to sit on the big
wide horse and tell him to "Whoa" or
"Giddup." When he walked around in a circle while
hitched to the grinder’s "tongue," the
grinder’s burrs crushed ear corn for the dairy cows.
I’d stop Jake when the bent-up wash tub was full of what we
called "chop." Dad or a hired man emptied the tub,
scooped in more ear corn and signaled to me. I’d put my
heels in Jake’s ribs and say "Giddup," and Jake
and I went around in circles again.
A harder job paid 75 cents a day for punching wires at the hay
baler. It was clover, alfalfa, timothy or "pasture"
hay, which was a mixture of grasses. Dad cut it with a sickle
mower and left it flat in the hayfield for a sunny day. Then,
depending on the humidity, sun and wind, he raked it into
windrows with horse-drawn sulky rake and turned it so the sun and
wind cured it enough to keep it from heating or molding when it
was packed tight into bales.
The men chose a central spot for the baler, chocked its wheels
to keep it secure in its place and cranked a noisy gasoline
engine to start the baler. It was noisier than the engine. A Long
Tom rake, pulled by two horses, delivered the cured hay right up
to the baler on the opposite side from which I was to punch the
wires. The team backed off and went back down the field for more
hay as two men began throwing the loose dusty hay into the hopper
Every time they threw, it covered me with dust and dirt. Bits
of hay went down my neck. The big plunger arm whammed down into
the hopper, stuffing the hay in and another device pressed it
forward into an endless bale. Wooden blocks were inserted when
the bales reached about a hundred pounds each.
Someone would yell "Block!" and my brother Jim would
put in a wooden divider to space between bales. The next cloud of
dust and dirt arrived before I finished stuffing those long
baling wires through the slots in the wooden block. It was noisy,
dirty and tiring work but I just kept thinking about those three
shiny quarters I was earning each day. That helped me forget the
hay down my neck and grit between my teeth. Pick up balers put
this kind of hay making in history books, but it was an
improvement on hay making when Claude Russell was a boy, in the
"Hay was cut by hand with scythes and the swaths raked
into windrows with hand rakes," he said. "Wheat and all
grains were cut with cradles and I’ve often seen as many as
six men cradling in one field. Another man followed each cradler
to bind and tie the grain into bundles. Boys carried the bundles
to other men who did the shocking. The first reaper did not bind;
it went in front of the horses. The Buckeye mower was the first
to come to Arcadia Valley near Belleville, Mo."
Uncle Claude’s father owned and operated the first
threshing machine in the valley. Horses walked on a treadmill
that was belted to the separator. The bundles of grain went
between crushing cylinders and came out onto an oscillating
contraption. Grain fell through perforations in the bottom and
straw went out to be stacked by men with pitchforks.
"In spite of that primitive labor," he said,
"the people prospered, were contented and happy. They made
sport of hard work." He also enjoyed telling about their
home life, and I’ll share that some Tuesday soon.