Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Life on the farm was hard, dirty, yet happy

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 with pitchforks.

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 19th century.

"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.

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