Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Uncle Cran's Tales: Making Hay in the Ozarks

Haying in 1936
(Image from Wikipedia)

In a recent blog entry about activities for my children during their upcoming Ozark trip, I expressed disappointment over the news from my cousin Mark that haying is now entirely mechanized and thus no longer a time when kids can experience hellish horror hauling 'square' bales from field to barn in Arkansas heat and humidity.

My murmur of disappointment -- along with some humorous yet incisive remarks about Uncle Cran's 'scholarship' in citing Little House on the Prairie to supplement his own Ozark memories -- prompted an email from Uncle Cran's old Viola classmate Jim Webb, who reads my blog from time to time:
You are always good for a grin at the expense of Cranford. However, the days of baling hay [into 'square' bales], as you remember it, are long gone [and replaced by entirely mechanized round baling]. When Cranford and I were youngsters, baling hay and hauling it would have been an advancement. Using horses we would cut hay and rake it into bunches. Again, using horses and a wagon we would drive from hay bunch to hay bunch and pitchfork the loose hay onto the wagon. When the wagon became loaded we would drive to the barn and pitchfork the hay into the barn. The older/stronger men would work on the wagon and pitch the hay into the barn loft. Inside the loft the hay would be pitched from one person to another until it reached the highest/fartherest destination in the barn where the youngest/smallest worker would trample it repeatedly to enable more hay to placed in the barn. This was usually done in June, July, and August and we would start in the morning as soon as the dew dried. We would work throughout the day regardless of heat. I think back to those times and wonder how we did it. As I said, baling was a huge advancement. Of course, baling today is out-of-sight.
Jim Webb and Uncle Cran's old totally unmechanized haying days certainly differed from my half-mechanized ones and thus must have been rather like what we see in the illustration above. Uncle Cran -- who had also received Jim's email -- offers his own remembrances of haying times, albeit with an excess of pathos due to the self-pity that we all now recognize as characteristic of Uncle Cran's childhood memories:
A recent communication from one of my high school classmates brings back memories of the transition on gathering and storing hay for the winter. And it was also a reminder of "The Good Old Days". The "good" part was being young, strong, and usually healthy. The techniques, however, weren't something you would go back to.
Note the transition that Uncle Cran makes in this passage from a lament for his lost youth to a lament over the poverty-stricken conditions that he -- an otherwise "strong, and usually healthy" boy -- had to endure:
I was born in a log cabin, with a roof that dripped water through the shake shingles, the wind blew through the chinking between the logs, in the winter you froze, and in the summer you melted from the heat. The oldtimers used to say, "Rich folks get their ice and cool air in the summer, poor folks get theirs in the winter; it all evens out in the end."

With the coming of a new house when I was six years old, and electricity whens I was ten, things began to even out. But some things remained the same. We now had a nice house, a light in every room, and a few appliances, including a refrigerator so we had ice for drinking and making koolaid, eventually insulation in the walls provided by oldest brother Cleo.

But no running water until I had grown and spent a year in the navy. Our "running water" was provided by us kids going every morning with two buckets apiece to the spring, almost a quarter mile away, and at the bottom of the hill. We still used the "two seater" outside toilet.
Now that Uncle Cran has gotten the romanticized pathos out of the way -- even managing to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln in the process -- he turns from his log-cabin origins and finally gets on with his story of haying:
All of our plowing and hay cutting was with a pair of mules, named Kit and Kate, pulling the equipment. This team had a mind of its (their?) own, and when pulling our wagon, they would sometimes "spook" and run away. During hay season, the team would pull the mowing machine across a hay field. Then, after the hay dried in a day or two, they would pull a hay rake around the field. When the rake would gather a sufficient load of hay, a lever was tripped, the rake teeth would raise up behind the driver's seat, and a windrow was started. When finished, there would be a series of windrows. Then all the boys would take long handled, three pronged pitchforks, and pile the hay in "shocks," a mound of hay about five feet high. Then the team of mules would be hitched to our wagon, which had a flat rack over the wagon bed. One brother would drive, one or two would be on the wagon, the rest would walk along with the wagon and toss the loose hay onto the hay rack, two would spread the hay, and us "younguns" would "tromp" (trample) the hay. When the wagon was loaded as high as possible from the ground, the hay would be hauled to the barn, tossed into the loft, spread out, and again "tromped down." When the hay loft was full, the remaining hay was stacked along the edge of the field, a fence put around it, all to be fed out to the farm animals in the winter.
Surprisingly, Uncle Cran's description above was rather objective . . . but he again returns to a tale of suffering:
This was a hot, dusty job. The lespedezia and clover hay was the worst. The dry leaves would shatter as it was being tossed on the wagon, showering us little guys and gals as we tromped the hay, getting in our hair, our eyes, and down the neck of our shirts. It also got on the ones tossing the hay, but with their long pitchforks, it wasn't as bad. The johnson grass was used to "top" the haystacks and would shed the rain water, keeping the hay from getting moldy.

The only things that made it bearable, was drinking water from the gallon water jugs, wrapped with water soaked burlap, filled with fresh water from a nearby spring, Mom bringing us cookies at break time, then at the end of the workday we would jump into our swimming hole and wash away the dust, leaves and grime.
Fortunately for poor Uncle Cran, progress came to the Ozarks, making the entire process more bearable and his description thus again more objective:
We eventually sold the mules and bought a Farmall Cub tractor, cut the tongues off the farm equipment, and used the tractor to pull things. Then we would hire a man to bring his gasoline powered hay baler. it was hand fed by two men with pitchforks. My job, as the one too young to handle the heavier work, was to take the tractor to a hay shock, loop a chain around the hay shock and to the drawbar, and drag it on alternate sides of the baler, to be fed into the baler. The hay was then stacked on the wagon rack, hauled to the barn, and stored. We had hay hooks to stick into the wire tied bales to load, unload, and stack the bales. These bales would weigh on average about 65 pounds, but some were heavier.
Uncle Cran grew up, served in the Navy, started a family, and moved away from the Ozarks for a time . . . but eventually returned to find still more progress:
When we moved back to the Ozarks in 1981, this process was the same, except the hay balers were no longer stationary, but pulled by a tractor. The baler had a rotating pickup that gathered the hay, then compressed it, then the baler had two teeth that had two rolls of twine attached through an eye on the end of the tooth (sometimes called a needle), and when a certain length of compressed hay was ready, the teeth would come up from the bottom of the bale, contact the fingers on top of the baler, that would catch, tie, and cut the twine, the teeth would drop back down, and the tied bale would be pushed out of the chamber and fall to the ground, to be loaded and hauled to the barn.

When I reached age 65, I could no longer handle stacking the bales in the hot barn. I had to buy a round baler and a diesel tractor with a front loader. Now I can sit on my tractor with a shade above me, and let the tractor and baler do all the work. Then I attach a spike to the front bucket, another to the three-point hitch on the back, get myself a tall glass of ice water, or maybe a can of Pepsi, and haul the 800 pound bales to the barn. It's much easier now.

Ah, the good old days! The recent winter ice storm with no electricity or running water made me realize the present good old days aren't so bad after all.
Uncle Cran's reminiscences have apparently brought him to a recognition that his life has gotten better, and perhaps also to the moral insight that he has little to complain about . . . though I must confess my doubts about the extent to which he fully understands this moral point, for even here, in the wisdom of his years, he hints at a lament for his lost youth and failing physical powers.

But perhaps this blog entry, with its perceptive analysis of his character, will assist Uncle Cran in further moral growth.

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At 12:10 PM, Blogger Charles Montgomery said...

But still, even the perpetually self-pitying Uncle Cran must admit that this happened while the sun was shining?


At 12:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

True, and Uncle Cran loves to cite folk wisdom. No doubt he will comment on all of this when precisely the right moment arrives, for he will grasp that opportunity by the forelock and not let go till thunder makes the welkin ring and the voice of the snapping turtle is again heard in the land.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My true, honest, and compelling stories are given in a straight-forward, unbiased and deliberate manner, with not a hint of self pity.

My esteemed and erudite nephew takes them, and with his usual cynical fashion, makes them say what he thinks.

Perhaps, as one of his former students noted, his "High bulging forehead" contains a brain with the millions of connections that occasionally mis-fires.
This causes him to see things from his own "different kind of a dude" perspective, thus the result we see, and from which I suffer.

General Sherman, of Civil War fame, commented on one of his fellow generals. As I recall,not having the documentation at hand:

"General Phil Sheridan has a brilliant, intricate, fully functioning mind, with all the screws slightly loose."

Since my mind has its own loose screws, this is not an exact quote, and it has been a long time since I read it.

But I do admire my nephew, honor him for his intelligence, knowledge and sharp wit.
There is nothing halfway about any of those features.

And, of course, I always forgive him for his treatment of my tales.


At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I finished writing my previous note, I wandered back through the house, looking for the coffee cup I had left somewhere. The thought floated through my mind that the quote by General William T Sherman was more like:

"General Phil Sheridan's brilliant mind is like an intricate, fully functioning MACHINE, working smoothly together, with all the screws slightly loose".

Of course, with a 70 year old brain of my own, ravaged by the hot sun and the trials of life, my own brilliant machine-like brain has a few loose screws, short circuits, and other malfunctions. Such glitches are to be expected.

JK can empathize with my frailties, I'm sure.


At 11:53 PM, Blogger Bill said...


Yet another good tale from our esteemed Uncle Cran. Enjoyed the detailed recollections on haying-covering his barefooted, buckskinned clothed, coonskin hatted, sweating mule driving youth to his current sandal footed, cargo shorted, feedstore baseball hatted, A/C, GPS and cooled drink holder equipped tractor senior years.
What a guy! Hopefully he'll find that coffee cup.


At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Coffee cup!
So that's what I have been looking for all this time.

Thanks, nephew Bill.
But to your relatives, you will always be "Billy." You must outlive your aunts, uncles, and cousins to finally become "just plain Bill."

Your favorite(?) uncle,



At 12:34 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Cran, Cran:
It's William, Uncle Cran Cran.
And it's midmorning here (CDT)-shouldn't you be out working by now-or are you finished for the day?
William (according to the AR Birth Cert.)

At 5:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I am perhaps superfluous here, since Uncle Cran Cran and Billy the Kidder are having it out among themselves . . . but I would like to propose the possibility that Uncle Cran Cran's "brilliant machine-like brain" has perhaps never truly been fully mechanized and is possibly still functioning more like a couple of pitchforks madly tossing hay into the air.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the ravages of time, plus too much time working in the hot sun tossing hay, two concussions, a cracked skull, and other miscellaneous injuries, have done their damage.
Bill (or is it William, Will, Willy, or Billy), and Jeff (or Jeffrey, or Jeffery, even HJ), should show a little kindness and sympathy to a beloved uncle.
And I don't mean Woodrow.
As for working, I trimmed trees in our yard, stacked them for burning later. Then I poured and finished a cement portion of sidewalk. After that I used the weedeater, then my wife & I mowed our 1 1/4 acre of lawn.
An average day on the farm.


At 9:02 AM, Blogger Charles Montgomery said...

Perhaps this fine work was by the hand of Uncle Cran?

don't mix corduroy and hay

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, sounds at though there's still some farm work in bad need of mechanization.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CM, every year, that's a problem with green or wet hay . . . oddly enough. I've never quite understood how it happens.

But was corduroy mentioned? I skimmed quickly.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I am Cleo's granddaughter. I came across your blog by accident..


Cleo does not have long to live. Could you email me at, please?

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Rachel, thanks. I'll contact you by email.

Jeffery Hodges

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