By Norris Chambers

             When we drive along the country roads now we see big round bales of hay. Most of them are very large and would require machinery to move around. Sometimes you see them stacked but most of the ones you see are just lying side by side at the edge of the field.

            Hay baling has changed many times since my first experiences with the activity. I’m sure it had changed several times before I became acquainted with the process. The first bales I remember were rectangular, probably two feet wide, five feet long and a foot think. The size, however, varied with the different brands and sizes of the baling machines. The process of making bales was divided into several operations and was spread out over a few days. First, when the grass or grain was ready for baling it was cut with a mower. The mower was horse drawn and cut about a five-foot strip of hay. The mowing was started on the outside of the field and continued around until the job was completed in the middle of the field. The next step was to take another horse drawn implement called a hay rake and drag the cut material into long piles. The hay rake was about ten or twelve feet wide and was equipped with a seat for the operator.

            After the hay had dried for a few days it was ready for the baler. The baler was a rather complex machine and there was usually only one in the community. The operator either charged by the number of bales or traded for a percentage of the harvest. It took several workers to perform the baling operation. The actual baling began with two men with pitchforks in the field loading wagons that hauled the hay to the baler site. Another two men stood on the wagon and pitched the hay into the baler. There were at least two hay wagons on each job. 

One or two horses walking in a circle pulled a long pole that powered the baling machine. This pole turned a series of gears and shafts that carried power to the required points.  The machine had a wide hopper on top with a heavy metal wheel with paddle like extensions turning slowly. Hay was thrown into this opening with a pitch fork and was packed into a lower chamber. From there it was forced into a chute the size of the bale and the pressing continued until the hay was the desired length for the bale. A wooden plate the size of the bale was inserted and more pressure applied. When the desired compression was reached two long baling wires were inserted and placed around the bales and tied. The wires were long enough to encompass the bale and had a loop on one end. The free end was placed through the loop, twisted and cut off if too long. Usually the size of the bale was adjusted to fit the wire length. 

            A stop partition was then placed in the chute and the tied bale was ejected when the next bale was compressed. Sometimes separate compressions were scheduled to make several hay blocks in the bale. At this point it was the duty of the “bale bucker” to remove the bale and either stack it or load it on a wagon. Bale bucking was not an easy job and sometimes required two men to perform.

            Clifton and I worked with a hay crew one season. Our job was in the field pitching hay from the rows onto the wagons. There were at least two wagons keeping the hay press in operation. Loading the hay was not a very hard job but it was one that required constant attention. The pay was a dollar a day and a day was twelve hours or more. Food was free for the workers and it was plentiful and good. The property owner’s wives prepared the meals.

            There were dangers associated with baling hay. The men feeding hay into the hopper were the most prone to accidents. A careless workman could lose a leg or even his life. There were also hazards in the fields such as runaway horses or uncovered poisonous snakes. There were even occasional cases of heat exhaustion.

            In the later thirties old baling machines were replaced with combine types that cut the hay and baled it in one operation. These machines greatly reduced the number of required workers. Then in recent years the trend has been for the machine baled round bales.

            Did we have fun baling hay in the old days? On a scale of one to ten I would rate it about a three. About the only thing lower on the scale was heading maize.