Baling Hay

I want to write down found memories before winter makes them seems like a rural legend. I’ve felt nostalgic about summer lately even though I really don’t care for the season. This is a little slice of that nostalgia.

David Letterman had a morning show back in the early eighties. It was a part of the structure of my summer morning as there typically was dew on the alfalfa at least until the “Letterman” show concluded. At this time, I would say good-bye to our dog, Benji, and go bale hay.

I liked baling hay because it was something at which I needed little supervision. I could gas the tractor, grease the baler and load it with twine and go take care of business. When I arrived at the field, I could feel the hay to know if it was ready and start my day. Someone would eventually bring food and I carried my own water.

I was just talking with a friend the other day about baling hay. The real focus of our conversation was the knotter portion of the baler. Knotter is a descriptive name because this piece of intricate, mechanical jewelry metered out the size of a bale, grabbed twine and knotted it in the blink of an eye. It was also the one piece of the baler that could have occasional problems-particularly as it aged and fell out of mechanical tolerances. There was really nothing I could do about the knotter but deal with the results of any problems which manifested themselves as a broken bale. I would simply spread the bale out a little and bale it up again.

Choice of baler tractor was conundrum. The big 300 Farmall had more horsepower, live power take-off (PTO) but no power steering. The little 300 was a sweetheart to drive with power steering but if you pushed in the clutch, the PTO stopped. The largest tractor we had at the time was a John Deere 4020-complete with powershift; I used it once for baling hay. Baling hay with the 4020 was an absolute joy, you could switch gears with clutching and it had a cab that kept the dust off your neck. There was no air conditioning but I just kept the doors open and the rear window closed and it was very comfortable. I think I got about 3 hours of that form of baling before I was reissued one of the 300s. These weren’t so bad either but once I had powershift my eyes were wide open and I saw what I wanted in a machine. This experience began a love for automatic transmissions, even in a semi.

Later in life, we discovered night-time hay baling. Leaves have most of the nutrition in alfalfa and dry alfalfa would lose a lot of leaves during the baling process. It would be a bit more humid at night and so we didn’t lose so many leaves when we baled hay. I would come home from work about ten at night and go bale for a few hours until it got too tough. It was weird to be the only person out in the middle of the field but it was also very peaceful. My imagination sometimes played tricks on me but I eventually grew to ignore my mental illusions of Bigfoot or werewolves darting in and out of the light cast by the tractor headlights.

Like most of the things I truly care about, I have more information to share about the subject than the listener’s attention span can absorb. If you are still with me, the main point of the story is I liked baling hay. My guess is that my memories would not be so comforting without the prism of nostalgia that years of distance provide as I don’t bale hay anymore. As I grew older, I never watched Letterman Show much either.

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