March 5th…“TELL ABOUT HOW YOU SPENT YOUR SATURDAYS ON THE FARM.”
Miss Meadowlark christened another Minnesota Saturday morning with her singular symphony of song. She truly set my tone of joy as the hinge pins creaked on our farm home’s back-porch screen door as I stepped outside to drink in the fragrance of the new day and our nearby Lilac bush. The aroma of those Lilacs were like a dessert after having just given our mother thanks for the great breakfast she prepared for us.
With a mixture of morning dew and gravel among my toes, my bare feet were quickly toughening to a thick, calloused layer that was almost as hard as shoe leather. This attribute allowed me to run barefoot and play, even in the stubble-covered Alfalfa field that Dad had recently harvested.
Well, let’s get into today’s gentle adventure…..Saturdays were a mixture of standard chores (that we did seven days a week) and upon completion of those tasks, our father, Russell, would hail us to his side and let us know what special event might be happening on our farm that day.
On our farm, Dad grew the rich forage legume known as Alfalfa. It was replete in nutrients for our livestock to eat and thrive by, rather than feeding them a simple grass hay. Among our family, and others in our farming community, we knew the proper name for this crop, but everyone still called the Alfalfa by the common nomenclature of “hay”. And, for that Saturday, in particular, haying season was upon us.
A few days prior to this busy haying event, Dad had used his “International Harvester” Sickle Mower to cut our Alfalfa crop down. Now came a time for the hay to lay drying in the sunshine. Another day or so, and Dad would pull an implement behind his “Farmall” Model H tractor that would then rake the crop into windrows to make it easier to bale.
Thankfully, for our folks, there were usually young, local high school students who were always eager to make a few extra dollars, so Dad would hire enough of those strong youngsters that he needed to get this operation completed. This agricultural operation was sometimes complicated by “Mother Nature”. Approaching rain storms often pressed Dad and his crew to bale hay as fast as they could, even into the nighttime, if need be, so they could get the dry hay into the barn’s haymow before rain fell from the sky. Moisture in the hay could hurt its food value, and a strong rain, “hammering” at the cut and fragile Alfalfa leaves was not good. Worse yet, if the hay was baled wet, those tight bales, with moisture inside, could burst into flames in the barn’s upstairs haymow by a process known as spontaneous combustion/ignition. Then, our entire barn could burn to the ground.
From my young eye’s viewpoint, I was always in awe of the clockwork of our farming family and team of helpers who were making as fast a work as possible in bringing in tons of hay bales from our field.
Hot exhaust poured from the tall tractor muffler as Dad’s “Farmall” Model Super M began pulling the hay baler and a flat rack wagon. Our brother, Lowell, or a hired hand, standing on that flat rack, would slam a long-handled hay hook into the bale as it slowly was pushed out of the baler. With a muscular yank of that hay hook, our big brother (or a hired hand) would pick up the hay bale by its sisal twine strings and stack it on the flat rack wagon in interlocking patterns until the wagon load of bales was as high as possible. A downside of this haying operation was the brisk prairie winds that often blew the hay chaff all over the stacker person. That scratchy chaff also tended to stick to your sweaty skin and sift down into your clothing to itch at you under your T-shirt.
Now, it was another family member (or hired hand) that would drive up alongside our father with an empty flat rack wagon. Dad brought the baler to a standstill while a full wagon was unhitched and an empty wagon hooked onboard. The tractor engine was revved up by our father and the baling commenced once again.
This frenzied flurry of farming continued well into the evening hours as the sun began to wink its way below the horizon. Our bevy of Mourning Doves nestled in the treed windbreak then began to sing us their own song of quietness as another Saturday came to rest for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.