How They Made Hay In His Day
MY reminiscences here about old-time haying, with racks of loose hay and an unloader powered by a horse that tried to trod on my barefoot tootsies, certainly aroused the doddering remnants of those golden days. A pile of letters makes me wonder if our ultimately computerized era will ever have memories of like warm values.
Thanks to one letter from a New Hampshire woman named Whitney, a price has been established for our recurring thoughts. She tells how her family harvests some 5,500 bales of hay in their modern operation, not to feed out but to sell. She asks what hay sold for in those times.
Somewhere around $20 a ton.
We never sold much hay, but now and then we would buy. Our barn would hold a hundred tons of loose hay, and if we got that much under cover it would be poking the rafters.
Loose hay, stuffed to the rafters in hot June and July, would begin to settle soon, but if we had a load or two more to bring in, the youngsters would be sent up to "tread mow." They'd crawl around and jump and frolic, and make some more room. After that, playing in the hay was not encouraged, as cows were fastidious - for which our word was "notional." They'd skip worked-over hay.
Farmers tried to "come out even" on hay. At Candlemas a guess would be made - "... half your wood and half your hay." If you didn't have enough hay to carry your herd through to green grass, you'd sell a couple of heifers. If you were going to have some hay left over, there was always a neighbor who would need "a little."
All loose hay.
There was baled hay then, but not in this context.
Most towns had an entrepreneur who cut hay on speculation, stored it, pressed it, and shipped it to the cities. Cities grew no hay, but had plenty of dray horses, lots of driving horses, and police and fire horses.
Every city also had a haymarket square, some of which persist in name only.
Our town had two hay dealers, Sam Fitts and Ed Bartol, who shipped to Boston's Haymarket Square. They would cut all the hay they could find in the summer, store it, and just after Christmas would begin to press and ship.
Each had a press powered by a steam engine, and the engine could also be used for threshing in season. They needed hands for this operation, so there was employment competition with the iceman, who would begin to harvest his pond about the same time.
The pressed hay came to town by sled and at the team track was loaded into boxcars. Brokers in Boston would find buyers, and then Sam and Ed would get their money.
Even though little hay was bought and sold locally, our feed store always kept some on hand, and a few times I'd go to get a bale for our family bossy with my hand sled. Twine is used in field baling today, but those old hay presses used baling wire. Under a wire would be tucked a little tag with figures showing the weight of the bale.
The numbers would range from 95 to 105, with 100 being the averaged goal. Call it a dollar. Field bales, today, weigh less than that, even though they are made from newly cut grass and our old hundredweight bales were made from hay cured in the mow for at least five months.
Some of those old hay brokers in the cities could be unscrupulous, and they had a way of cheating the shippers. They would claim the hay shipped was inferior quality, whether it was or not, and refuse to send the agreed price. The shipper had no after-the-fact recourse, but he could be prepared.
Each town had a minor official called the Inspector of Hay. His certificate attested the quality grade, and a broker couldn't go behind his signature.
Sam Fitts and Ed Bartol always had each shipment inspected before it went into the boxcars.
However, no broker, Boston or otherwheres, chanced to notice that our town had two inspectors, who shared the official rubber stamp. They were Ed Bartol and Sam Fitts.
Sam inspected Ed's hay, and Ed inspected Sam's. They, between them, kept all the Boston hay brokers honest.