February 7th……“SHARE WITH US HOW YOUR PATERNAL GRANDFATHER USED HORSES TO CUT, GATHER AND STORE GRASS HAY ON THEIR FARM EAST OF LAKE MILLS, IOWA.
Gentle equine snorts, from “Sugar” and “Cane”, fluttered their soft, hirsute nostrils in the amber glow of dawn’s light filtering through the barn windows. Weighing a full 2,000 pounds each, these massive Belgian draft horses rippled with muscles, yet their hearts were reciprocating the tenderness of the approaching master horseman (our grandfather, Edwin A. Noorlun) as he rolled aside the track-type barn door and entered that livestock repose to begin another day on the Ingebret Tollefson farm five miles east of Lake Mills, Iowa.
While Edwin harnessed “Sugar” and “Cane”, that resplendent Iowa sunrise was made even more illustrious by the happy cackle of an immense flock of chickens that gathered round Kjerstie Tollefson (Edwin Noorlun’s mother-in-law). That battered old galvanized bucket she carried was magic, as far as those feathered fowl were concerned, because from it, our great grandmother brought out handfuls of golden grain and broadcast it to the ground in the yard of their much loved farm. Those feathered friends of hers clustered near her as if she was the Pied Piper of Hamelin town.
The reason my grandfather was helping on the Tollefson farm, was because Ingebret and Kjerstie were no longer the young, Norwegian newlyweds that had begun farming that lovely land back in 1890. Both of my grandmother’s parents were in their winter years now, especially Kjerstie (who required a more constant health care), and needed someone’s assistance in helping to maintain that grand farm. My grandparents, Edwin and Marie, rose to the need of their clan and sold their family farm near Clearwater, Minnesota. In love and service to their elders they came to Iowa and moved into the Tollefson’s elegant two-story farm home as they began living out the Bible verse of 2nd Corinthians 1:4 by “coming alongside” Marie’s parents in their time of need.
Bedecked in the unison of their impressive leather harness, “Sugar” and “Cane” stepped lively now from that classically-styled barn. With heads high and energy fresh they were a handsome pair and ready for work. Walking behind his team, Edwin had gathered the reins in his sinewy hands while he “steered” those draft horses to the Sickle Mower by pulling more on the left reins (for a left turn) or pulling more to the right reins (for a right turn) of the team. With voice commands and a gentle, even pull, “Sugar” and “Cane” were obedient to their master and backed up to the Mower. Edwin hooked up the implement, climbed aboard the steel seat and drove the team out to the grass hay field for mowing.
Like Nature’s starting gun, a handsome, scarlet-feathered Northern Cardinal gave its shrill high whistle as our Grandpa Ed dropped his mower’s sickle blade to ground level. Our grandfather made a chirrup, clicking sound with his mouth and his handsome team pulled forward to begin the work. As the mower’s wheels went round n round, gears were activated that transferred a back n forth motion of the knives on the cutting bar. Like falling asleep, swaths of grass immediately laid down flat from the cutting action of the bar as Edwin rolled along the field. After many swaths later, the hay field was now completely cut and would lay a day or two in the sun to properly dry the grass in anticipation of the next operation.
Being a blessing to the Tollefsons was a family affair, so our young Uncle Gaylord Noorlun was put to work a couple days later with a draft horse team named, “Trixie” and “Dixie”. Gaylord hooked up the team to a device called a Dump Rake. This farming machine consisted of a long row of spring-steeled tines that were shaped in a giant curve form. Those tines were attached to the axle of the rake and could be raised and lowered by the operator. Gaylord set the tines to ground and slapped the reins to the backs of his horse team. They then pulled the implement across the field till the tines were full of the grass hay. It was then that Gaylord would “dump” that load of hay and begin again. Back n forth n back n forth he went, dumping the new batches of hay in alignment with what he had done previously. When finished, the field now had neat lines (also called windrows) of hay waiting to be harvested from the field.
Blessed with strapping sons, our Grandpa Ed enlisted at least two of those boys on the big day of haying. The hay field had been cut, then dried, then raked. Now, it was time to harvest that “food” for the many animals on the Tollefson’s farm that depended on our farming family to keep them alive during those long and bitter Iowa winters. “Sugar” and “Cane” were hooked up to the wide Hay Wagon (sometimes called a “Flat Rack”) , which, in turn, was hooked up to a tall implement known as a Hay Loader. The motion of the Hay Loader’s wheels created a gear-driven, syncopated movement of long arms that had “fingers”, so to speak, that grabbed and moved the hay upwards on the elevated ramp from the rotating tines down at ground level. Ed, and his proud team of draft horses, straddled the windrow of hay. As the straddled wagon wheels passed over the windrow, the rotating tines of the Hay Loader raked the hay up and towards the syncopated, fingered arms. The mass of hay then traveled up, up and over the top and then fell down onto the Hay Wagon where Ed’s boys used forks to move the hay around on the Flat Rack till it was mounded high. Someone then jumped off the wagon and unhitched the Hay Loader. It was now time to head for the barn and put this load up in the Hay Mow (the “ow” in the word sounds like OW….as when you get hurt).
While out in the field, loading the hay, our uncles had slung/thrown a series of ropes across the wagon at various depths of the hay load.
With the wagon now full of hay, Grandpa and his sons enjoyed the ride back to the farm yard to unload. Once the wagon of hay was in position at the barn, those ropes (mentioned earlier) then became what’s known as “slings” that would be used to pull large portions of hay up and into the Hay Mow.
“Sugar” and “Cane” now had a new job that day. They were unhooked from the Hay Wagon and re-positioned at the corner of the barn. The back “evener” of their harness was now attached to a strong, thick, VERY long rope that traveled inside the barn, around various pulley wheels and, eventually up to the Hay Mow and out the large, open Hay Mow door.
Starting with the top layer of hay on the wagon, those rope slings (mentioned earlier) were now brought up from the two sides of the wagon as Grandfather tied them into a knot that hooked to the tracking system above him. One of Edwin’s sons would then take the reins of “Sugar” and “Cane” and slowly drive them forward as they pulled on that long, heavy rope. The resulting pull on that rope began to pull that entire layer of hay up into the air till it connected with the iron tracking system at the top of the Hay Mow door opening. You’d hear a “click” as the tracking system now took the pile of hay horizontally into the barn’s Hay Mow. Another worker inside the Hay Mow watched the traversing hay as it “flew” down the track. At the proper spot, the worker yanked on a trip rope which released the load of hay from the slings and let it fall to the floor of the Mow. A weighted return rope was instrumental in helping to bring the slings back outside to repeat the process again and again till the Flat Rack was empty.
In the shadows of that evening, when the last load of hay was in the barn, not even the sad cry of a Mourning Dove could dampen the spirits of all the hard workers that day that came together in a quiet rejoicing to have been a blessing to our great grandparents in seeing all that grass hay harvested. The grateful ladies of our clan would make the call for “Come and get your supper!” A line of bib overalls and smiling faces bellied up to the wash basins and sinks to scrub off the day’s sweat and soil from their well-worn bodies. With caps off and hair combed, these “knights of the land” sat themselves down for a feast fit for a king. Many of you folks might remember how lavish a farm kitchen table can be when it’s laid out with every tasty morsel from A to Z. Although this all happened before my birth in 1954, it would truly have been a fine day to be proud of being a Norwegian Farmer’s Son.