By Norris Chambers


            A few days ago a lady told me that she read and enjoyed the Old Timer Tale every week and she just wondered how many more there were to tell. She reminded me that after five years and a tale a week there had been many of them told. She was right; I have told many of them. I thanked her for the compliment and told her how it was so easy to remember them.

            “At the White Settlement Historical Museum we have displayed several hundred old farm tools and accessories. There are all kinds of plows and ground tilling equipment, milking devices and necessities, grain grinders, coffee grinders, ice shavers, calf yokes, wolf traps and some sort of tool for just about any job. All that is necessary to find a tale is to walk through and remember an experience with one of the many historic items. For example, I was looking at the wall exhibits and noticed a hay hook hanging on the peg board. I immediately remembered an experience with a hay hook that occurred many, many years ago.”

            We had three work horses: Alec, Min and Stranger. Alec and Min also served as saddle horses but Stranger was never broken to ride. Jack was an old mule and he could be ridden in an emergency, but at his age we tried to avoid it. I think I told you about the time I rode him to drive the milk cows home and he fell on his side, pinning my leg beneath his body. While trying to get up he kept rolling in my direction. Eventually I escaped and he got up. Neither of us was seriously injured! I also had a donkey named Birthmark, but he didn’t serve any purpose other than being there for Clifton and me to have fun with.

            When there was light field work to be done Jack was called to duty. It was usually my job to take care of him. I fed him, harnessed him, worked with him and then at the end of the day took his harness off, fed him again and left him in the large lot with the three horses. The lot adjoined the long shed on the side of the barn where feed troughs were mounted on the wall at about the right height for convenient feeding. Each horse and Jack knew his place and was usually waiting there at the appropriate time for a meal. The meal usually consisted of shelled corn or oats and a block or two of hay.

            When the corn or oats was dispensed a bale of hay (bales were rectangular then, not round) was opened and a block or two was provided for each animal. To handle hay we used a little tool called a hay hook. This was a steel rod about sixteen inches long with one end sharpened and bent into a hook. The other end of the rod was threaded and a short handle was bolted at the top at a 90 degree angle. This served as a convenient handle for one hand. In use, the hook was slammed into the bale or block of hay and was used to lift or carry it to a desired location. Sometimes two hooks were used on a heavy bale.

            We had brackets for storing the hooks on the wall with the feed troughs. The brackets were hand-made in the shop and had a metal plate with two curved hooks pointing upward. The handle of the hay hook fit nicely in the holder and the hook was ready to lift out and use at any time.

            The oat and corn bins had small openings into the feeding shed outside and the grain was released into a bucket by opening a sliding door at the end of he chutes. We had to devise special fasteners for the chutes because the horses were smart enough to open an ordinary sliding door.

            After a country breakfast I made my way to the barn to feed the horses. As I walked under the shed I noticed that the horses were already in their places waiting for their food. Old Jack was not at his trough and was standing with his head elevated considerable. This was unusual because he was ordinarily more anxious than the horses to get on with the eating.

Then I saw what the problem was. Jack’s head was held up by the hay hook in its holder. The sharp point had somehow entered his left nostril and exited an inch or so above the opening, punching a hole from the inside of his nose to the outside of his face. A closer inspection indicated that he had bled considerably on the ground and along the side of his face but the bleeding had now stopped. He rolled his eyes and looked at me, but didn’t attempt to move his head. The hay hook kept him in a fixed position. He had already discovered that it was best to be still.

            I turned to go back to the house and get help from my dad, but when I turned he was already under the shed. In a short time he had removed the hook and inserted two well placed stitches. Jack didn’t appreciate it when the wound was well saturated with alcohol.

            “Go ahead and feed them,” Dad said. “Jack will be all right. And from now on we will hang the hooks with the sharp point toward the wall.”

            When I told Clifton about it he had only one thing to say. “That stupid mule ought to know that hooks are for catching fish, not stupid mules!” Clifton shouldn’t have been standing beside Jack when he said that. The insulted mule swished him smartly in the face with his bushy tail.

            “You shouldn’t call Jack stupid,” I admonished Clifton, and then added: “Even if he is!”

I shouldn’t have added that last phrase because Jack swished me thoroughly with the other side of his tail!