Farm Horizons, Aug. 2015

Making hay, the old fashioned way

By Starrla Cray

When Willard Kreitlow was growing up in Middleville Township near Howard Lake, there were no GPS auto-steering tractors or modern bale ejectors.

“I was born two years after women got the right to vote,” said Kreitlow, now in his early 90s.

Kreitlow learned how to use a dump rake when he was about 10 years old.

“We used the dump rake to rake the hay into a windrow, and then we’d pitch it on the wagon by hand,” he said, explaining that the job required at least two people. Sometimes, farmers made shocks of hay and left them in the field until they cured.

“It was horses at that time; tractors were just beginning to show up,” Kreitlow said. “It was quite a job.”

Typically, Kreitlow’s task was to load the hay.

“One time, my dad was driving, and he had a hard time looking back,” Kreitlow recalled. “I fell off the wagon, and he just kept going.”

Hay loaders appeared a bit later, when Kreitlow was a teenager. This piece of equipment rakes windrows and loads them right onto the wagon, so there’s no need to load it with a pitchfork.

After the wagon was full, it was brought back and stacked inside the barn, or outside nearby.

You had to know what you were doing so it would shed rain,” Kreitlow said.

A baler with a self-tie system was invented in Iowa in 1936, by a man known as Innes. A Pennsylvania farmer named Ed Nolt improved the design shortly after, but both balers are reported to have had functional flaws. New Holland began marketing automatic square balers in 1940, making it possible for a farmer to bale 35 to 40 tons of hay per day.

During the Great Depression, many farmers didn’t have money for new equipment, and they got by with what they had.

“Some had more equipment than others, but generally, everyone was in the same boat,” Kreitlow said. “That was a very, very tough time for farmers . . . My father was what you would call a sustenance farmer – that meant we always had plenty of food, but not much else. When I was a teenager, we didn’t even have a phone.”

Memories from the early 1950s

Allen Glessing of rural Waverly was 5 or 6 years old when his father used dump rakes and hay loaders.

“We used to do 25 acres of alfalfa,” Glessing recalled, noting that they started around Memorial Day, and usually had first crop in by the 4th of July. “Now, we do 90 acres in five days, and we have second crop in by the 4th of July.”

Rural Waverly farmer Greg “Butch” Bakeberg and his brother, George, were both born in the late 1940s, when hay loaders and dump rakes were still in use.

Early on, the equipment was pulled by horses.

“I remember sitting in the front seat holding the reins,” Greg said, noting that he was probably about 5 years old.

By the time George was that age, the family used a tractor. George remembers driving, while his dad stood behind him on the wagon, pulling the hay in.

“He’d tell me when to start and when to stop,” George recalled.

Today, George and Greg both have hay loaders on their farms as decorations, serving as reminders of days gone by and a different way of life.

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