Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

The weather has been spectacular here since I arrived. We're experiencing a beautiful Indian summer with sunny skies, 80 degrees, no frost yet and landscapes of orange and red. This follows weeks and weeks of rain that were generated by the hurricane out east last month. The first Saturday I was here it was sunny and bright so it seemed everyone was out mowing their lawns and hanging out laundry. Everyone was so happy to see and feel the sun again.

The weather is supposed to change soon and there is still some work to be done. The Amish neighbors have been working hard all week to get the hay in the barns before the rain starts. While out on my walk yesterday I came across this pair of teenage brothers mowing a field of alfalfa.

Here's how an Amish teenager gets in trouble with his dad: the younger boy, he's maybe fifteen or so, was galloping one pair of horses down the road pulling a piece of equipment. (The equivalent of an English boy speeding in dad's car.) They normally don't go faster than a trot on the paved road. Just a minute later one of the horses slipped and went down on the road. It got back up and seemed to be uninjured- they did continue to work with it all day- but I'm pretty sure that was about the same as denting dad's car in the English world.

 Getting a field of hay cut this way takes them a couple days rather than a couple hours of tractor time.

After cutting, the hay was raked and put into windrows to dry out.

I could see that these boys had a long day's work ahead so I packed up my paparazzi camera and walked home. Not too long later while trying to load photos for yesterday's blog post, another Amish neighbor and good friend of my son-in-law came by the house to use the phone. Enos casually mentioned that they were short on helpers for the hay work and didn't have anyone to drive the wagon. He joked that it might be a good job for Katie to do. The bumping wagon might help shake the baby out, he said. Or not. I offered to come along and help though I have never driven a team of horses before. I have ridden lots of horses but I have no experience with draft work horses. Enos immediately took me up on the offer of help. He must have been reeeeeally desperate!

The next thing I knew I was on an Amish hay wagon heading out to the hay field. Jonah came along for the ride.

My job was to guide the horses around the field over the windrow while the machine pulled behind the wagon picked up the windrow and dropped it on the trailer. Enos forked the hay around evenly on the trailer as it dropped on.

There were two pairs of horses working this job. This pair of 14 year old Belgian draft horses knew pretty well what to do without me. Taking the corners was the only tricky part.  After the wagon was loaded we left them to rest and took out a pair of 18 year old black Percherons. Those two were not happy to work that day. One horse continually tried to eat the hay. Whenever he got a good mouthful the other horse would try to take it away from him. Needless to say, that pair worked a lot slower than the Belgians.

 This was my view. I had to stand and balance on the rail of the rack at the front and grip the reins. It was like standing on a fence that was moving six feet above the ground.  And I was occasionally trying to take sly photos. The horses seemed to know when I wasn't giving all my attention to them so they would take it as an excuse to mess around. Jonah stood beside me and as the hay piled up he got to stomp it down. That's my water bottle hanging on a string so it wouldn't get lost in the hay. Enos' idea.

One pass around the field got a load good enough to swap for an empty wagon.

These men had a system for baling the hay that kept them working within the rules of their community. Though they can't use any form of electricity, gas engines are allowed. They had a baler powered by a small engine that was attached with a long belt. Both pieces of equipment were put up on timbers so that they wouldn't move.

My mechanic husband will look at this photo and tell what the engine is, because I've forgotten what they told me.

Here's where the rules came in to play. Gas engine, yes. Electrical start, no. They had to pull start with a rope. But they weren't strong enough so they tied the rope to a pair of horses who pulled harder and fired it up.

While we headed around the field again with a fresh wagon, a couple of men unloaded the hay with pitchforks, feeding it directly into the baler. The bales were loaded onto another wagon and the Amish boy who was speeding on the road that morning stacked the bales.

The Amish men joked with me and said that we don't often have a woman from Oregon helping us bring in our hay. I have no doubt that is very true.

And I don't often drive an Amish hay wagon!


  1. Just think of the stories Jonah will tell his children about the time "I helped my grandmother bring in the hay on a horse-driven wagon..." with pictures to prove it! Go you.

  2. You are adding a lot to your resume this year. Keep on having fun.
    - Bill said that

  3. I know! Right Bill? Crazy!

    SG- I hope Jonah remembers something of it. He had a grand time.

  4. I'm pretty sure Jonah's old enough to remember, and I'll bet it's just the kind of memory that will stick (physical, a bit unusual, lots of senses involved, and a sense of responsibility). I'm thinking of my Dad and his boyhood memories of activities outdoors, including, if I remember rightly, helping his grandfather, who piloted cruisers on the Mira River in Nova Scotia. I saw the remains of the boat, the Miss Mira, decaying at the river's edge on a trip out East in MY childhood. Twenty-five years later, I wonder if anything remains. Now I'll send my Dad the link I found (http://www.cb-ns.org/GM-RiverSteamers.html) as it refers to his grandfather by name!

    You do tend to send my mind on a scenic stroll sometimes!


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