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A Hay Story

I know that some people are fed up with the exceptionally hot weather we’ve been having lately, but I love it. When I step out into the sunshine and feel myself wrapped in the heat, or when I hear the lazy drone of the cicadas and smell something that I can’t quite describe in the hot summer air I know, without a doubt, that it’s haying weather.

Small square bales are as rare as common sense these days. You’re more likely to see huge round hay bales, or even the large ,square ones, half the size of a house, but back in the day, everyone made the smaller, more labour-intensive bales, and so did we.

Many people stacked their bales on the hay wagons, and then unloaded them in the barn, filling their loft as though playing a huge Tetris game, but not us. Because Dad’s back kept him in pain much of the time, occasionally sending him to bed for days, he did his farm work as “back-smart” as possible. That meant buying a baler with a bale-throwing attachment. ⇐ Quite a short video, and fun to see!

Unlike the one in this picture, our wagons were home-built, and had solid wood sides, and a wooden front that was half as tall as the sides.

We loved watching the machine gobble up windrows of dry hay. A few minutes later the spinning rollers at the back would catch a newly-formed bale and pop it through the air and into the wagon.

Usually it was Grandad who drove the tractor and baler, and usually it was Dad and his girls who picked up and unloaded the full wagons. First we’d make the ride into the field in an empty wagon – rattling and bouncing along like small toys in the bottom of an empty box.

This little grey Ferguson is exactly like the one we used to pull wagons from the field.
We lifted the wagon tongue onto the drawbar, aligned the holes, and then dropped a large bolt through to join tractor and wagon together.

Once in the field, one of us would climb down to unpin the wagon. Then dad would back up to the full wagon and we’d attach it to the drawbar of the tractor. When we were small, it often took two to do the job — one to pick up the heavy wagon tongue, and a second person to drop in the pin after Dad had inched the tractor into place.

That done, we scrambled back into the wagon piled full of bales, trying to find two that were angled like a lounge chair. There we lay, eyes closed, enjoying the sway of the wagon as it moved over bumps in the fields and back lane. I can still feel the sun, hot on my already hot skin, and smell the wonderful scent of dry green hay.

When not in use, we girls used the elevator as a jungle gym. We’d “skin the cat” on the lower cross-piece, and when we were bigger, we’d climb the elevator and sit on or hang from the higher one. (Mom — this may be news to you!)

When we got back to the barn Dad would park so the back of the wagon was even with the bale elevator. He’d lift the back door of the wagon up and prop it open, then start pulling bales out with a hooked fork on a long handle. He placed the bales on the elevator and they would make the long ride to the peak of the barn, where they’d tumble off into the haymow.

We’d mostly behave while the wagon was being emptied, often playing house on a woodpile nearby, and sometimes running to the house to get cold drinks.

After every milking, each piece of the milkers had to be taken apart, washed in a large sink, and disinfected, before being hung to dry. Before the next milking, the process was reversed, and during the summer we girls often put the milkers together.

If haying continued late into the afternoon Dad would often ask one of us to go and put milkers together so he would have time to bring in one more load of hay. The younger ones would be sent to the pasture to bring the cows to the barn. If we all did our jobs, everything was ready when Dad came to do the chores.

Writing all of this down makes me realize how entirely different this life was from that of my grandchildren, and even my children. It’s hard to imagine sending five- and six-year-olds across 100 acres to herd cows from a distant field. How many ten- or twelve-year-old girls these days would agree to enter the damp milk house to put milkers together — not necessarily without whining, because we did plenty of that — but how many would actually do it?

I know that the “good old days” were never as wonderful as memory would trick us into believing, and they certainly were a lot of hard work. But from my perspective now, I can’t think of a thing I’d change.


Phyllis writes words: words for stories, and words for books. Phyllis writes words for blogs too.

9 thoughts on “A Hay Story

  1. What a fabulous story!! “As rare as common sense” …. “Like small toys in the bottom of an empty box” Wow! How do you write such amazing stuff?! I just loved it – AND – it reminded me of how much I wanted to live on a farm when I was a kid. I was stuck in suburban Burlington, but I spent as much time as I could in the woods behind our house and the old apple orchard across the way (until they cut it down to make room for more houses!), but – it just wasn’t the same. Heavy sigh….

    You’re right, too – I can’t imagine any of my kids doing that type of physical work and that’s a shame. It would have done all of us, a world of good. Thanks for this wonderful story.

  2. Phyllis, your story is great. Even though I didn’t grow up on a working farm the same way you did, I can remember riding on wagons full of grain, and jumping into the half empty wagons like it was a swimming pool. I too love the drone of the cicadas on a hot summer day. One thing that has intrigued me for several years – we always hear cicadas but I don’t think that in all of my 53 years I have ever seen a cicada! Isn’t that a mystery?

  3. Phyllis, love this story as it brings back great memories for me too! My grandparents had a hobby farm which my father worked at almost daily in the summer. My mom worked long hours as she had just started a new business so my brother and I grew up there. When I remember all the “unsafe” things we did it makes me laugh at how safety conscious and uptight our generation are with our kids. Poppy or my dad would let us ride the empty hay wagon down the road to the field, open sides n all. Then once there, we would get to take turns driving the tractor in low gear while the other ran around the field helping the men try to collect the bales. Once the hay was all loaded we would climb to the very top which my memory says must have been 5 bales tall and sit at the very top for the ride home down the road. While the men unloaded the wagons we would go play in the fort we built in the trees near the Oshawa creek (directly behind Durham Colllege/UOIT in fact). We often ventured around the property on our own for hours I’m sure. We would only have been 10 and 7yrs old! Makes me wonder how our generation got so cautious and paranoid when our parents were not. I can say for sure my kids won’t be riding the bales at the top of a hay wagon alone anytime soon, and yet my brother and I turned out fine with only minor injuries sustained from rocks thrown or fish hooks in the skin! Who ever would have guessed!

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