In the old days baling hay was not a one-person operation like now. After the hay was cut and raked into windrows the baler crew of at least three people finished the job.
A ranch where we lived had a vega (meadow) that made great grass hay, so my dad decided we could put it up ourselves for winter feed. His crew was, as usual, his family. I think I was 10 or 11 and my brother two years younger when Dad bought that hay baler.
My mother drove the Jeep pulling the baler down the windrows and its upward-rolling teeth picked up the hay. At the machine’s top a big plunger, with an up-and-down motion, packed the hay into the bale compartment. The bales were separated by wooden blocks with gaps in the edges for the wires, and everything was pushed along in jerks until it reached the end and fell off.
A bench for the people handling the wires lined each side of the bale compartment. It even had a floor for the workers’ feet.
Timing had to be perfect for adding the wooden block, so the plunger wouldn’t hit and break it, so my dad took that job. The person driving the Jeep controlled how fast everything happened, so my mom got nominated for that.
My brother and I were “punchers” and “tiers.” The puncher pushed the slick end of baling wire through beside the block, Dad pushed it back through at the other end of the bale and we tied the two wires. The wires came in the correct length with the loop at one end, so we pulled the slick end through the loop and made a half hitch to hold it.
I remember it being noisy and really, really dirty. After awhile our bodies were totally the color of dirt. We loved it.
By the time we finished baling the hay in that vega, we were good at it. My dad decided he had the best hay-baling crew around – so he hired us out to a farm person a few miles away.
By the time that job was over we no longer thought it was such fun. There weren’t that many break times, being dirty wasn’t so nifty anymore, it was hot, we were always thirsty.
A few surprises livened things up, though. The one I most remember is the snake, still alive, wiggling frantically on his way by. We couldn’t see his tail, so we didn’t know whether he was a rattler, so we did what any snake-spooked country kid knew to do – we screamed and jumped off our bench.
That bale went out the end not tied – and we didn’t care.
The last batch of hay that traveled up the baler that summer had a little winter surprise for that farmer – my brother’s straw hat.
The best deal of all, though, was Dad let us chew tobacco back there where Mom couldn’t see us. I always wondered if she knew, anyway, but she never said anything. Wise woman.
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org