Dusty Dancing

Posted Monday, July 13, 2009, at 10:02 AM
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  • Through all that nasty dust, mud, heat, uncertainty, and other negatives, too many to cite, the dance of the farmer, with rural life is a dance that none would ever shy away from, as long as there is warm blood in the vein, and enough credit, or money, to perform the dance one more day.

    I was privileged to dance the farm/dance for a few years. The love and thrill of farming still sings in my being. I do envy those who have danced their whole lives, with God's domain successfully, or not quite so, depending on the weather.

    In His Service. Arley Steinhour

    -- Posted by Navyblue on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 3:57 PM
  • Hey Slicker,

    When you get some of the grey hairs together, take a survey for how many of them worked as "Back-wire men" on the early pickup balers.

    You think operating a combine without the air conditioned cab would be dusty -- There has not been an adequate description of the hours of pure unadulterated discomfort endured by "Back Wire Men".

    First, they rode on steel seats beneath the feeding platform at the top of the lifting conveyor on the early pickup hay balers.

    Inches above their head the "Feeder" forked loose hay into the baler in the split second the feeding plunger was out of the feeder, and before it rammed down into the hay.

    All the dust, chaff, seeds and dry debris from the hay poured down around the Back Wire Man.

    Ride that steel seat for a day, and cough dirt up from your throat and lungs for a week. Ride it for a full summer with a custom baling crew and cough up dirt through Christmas.

    All he had to do was grab the sharp tip of the bailing wires as they were fed through by the tier on the outside and feed them back through the slots on the blocks dividing bales.

    Mistakes were not allowed. You could not cross top wires to the bottom and vise versa, no feeding both wires in the same block slot, no getting the wire on the wrong side of the blocks, and tying the block into the bale.

    On the other side, the tie man had to grab sharp ends of two wires from a feeder tube atop the bale chute, feed one through the blocks' slots at the "front" of the bale being formed, align the loop end ready to tie. as soon as the Back Wire Man fed the tips back through the rear block at the back of the bale, the tie man had to feed the tip through the loop, guess the amount of wire for proper tension and tie, then repeat with the other wire with the same tension.

    In the meantime, someone, usually a 10-12 year old boy was running alongside the baler, grabbing the blocks as bales were freed and run the blocks back to a holder beside the feeding plunger. The tie man would watch the bales and when the building bale's front block reached a marked point on the baler chute, he pushed the block holder into position for the block to be fed into the baler press by an arm on the plunger.

    At the rear, there might be a stacking sled with a strong teenager riding behind, pulling bales from the baler and stacking them four and five high across the sled. Once full, he took a six to eight foot steel crowbar from its holder, jammed it into the ground in a slot between the two X eight sled runners and dumped that load of 24-36 bales.

    Naturally, this usually took place on the hottest days of the year, under threat of thunder storms, so rest was infrequent and brief.

    Many of those who lived through a full hay harvest made as little as $1 per 14 hour day, and after the baling was complete, they got to help haul the hay into the barn or a big stack.

    Sometimes during and after WWII, an older man (75-90) would drive the tractor pulling the pickup baler, a young woman would be up on the feeding platform wielding the pitchfork, a 9-14 year old boy or girl would be back wiring, the most capable man or woman would be tying, another young child (boy or girl) would be running the blocks and the strongest person available was riding the stacking sled.

    The back wire man was always the worst job, even on the old horse-powered stationary balers, where the horses circled with a long boom around a geared center pivot. With those, he still sat beneath the feeding platform.

    Another fringe benefit, all sorts of critters came with the hay over his head. Snakes, rats, bumble bees, injured skunks, etc. -- In that position, you never knew who or what was going to drop in unexpectedly.

    If it happened to be a rattlesnake or copperhead, heartbeats became erratic.

    There was no escape for the Back Wire Man, in front was the tilted feeding conveyor, baler wheels to the rear, so he stayed on that steel seat and dealt with whatever came down.

    Leaves us oldster feeling plumb sorry for these pore fellers who have a stereo player breakdown in their air conditioned cab, meaning they have to endure the local radio station.

    -- Posted by HerndonHank on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 5:19 PM
  • *

    Arley - Labor of Love comes to mind.

    Hank - I'm sitting here thinking about that back wire man... skunk in lap when a rattler lands on top of the skunk. A real good example of Murphy's Law in full effect. Great description of a really tough job handled by machines now-a-days.

    -- Posted by Brian Hoag on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 9:37 PM
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