It was a beautiful hot day in June 1977 on our dairy farm in Pacific County. The grass had been cut the day before and the sweet smell of hay drifted from the fields down to the house. But at about 4 p.m., Dad came in for a hurried meal because the forecast had changed. It was going to start raining overnight.
That would make the hay susceptible to mold and much less pleasant, both for the cows eating it and us wrangling it as we fed them over the winter. Our cousin Pete had started raking. Dad was going to bale the hay instead of milking the cows, which was left to our uncle and cousin Tony.
After our own dinner, my six siblings and I, ages 8 to 15, decided that we would get a load of the fresh hay in before the rain started. We had all helped enough with haying that we were confident we could manage it. Even 8-year-old Wendy had driven the tractor in the field a few times. The wagon was hitched to the tractor, and off we went to the field.
Once there, my oldest brother, 13-year-old Mark, took his place on the wagon to stack the bales. The bales were not square; they were round and light, barely 40 pounds each, rather than the more typical 60- to 80-pound bales. That made these bales pretty easy for us to roll to the wagon and then, usually working in pairs, toss them onto the wagon bed for Mark to stack.
Wendy was assigned to drive the tractor. She put the old Allis-Chalmers in the lowest gear, pulled the hand clutch back, and we were underway.
The field had two levels. We started in the lower section and picked up about 30 bales, about a third of a load, before turning toward the upper section. We were facing a pretty steep slope, but we knew that the tractor and wagon could make it if there was no attempt to stop on the hill. We instructed Wendy on the route and told her to hold on to the hand clutch and not stop on the hill, no matter what. The rest of us stood back, and she started up the hill.
You can imagine what happened next. All the bales slid off the wagon as it neared the top of the hill. Wendy did great, not stopping until the tractor and wagon were on level ground.
Mark drove the tractor back to the bottom of the hill via the gentler slope on the other side, and the rest of us rolled into a pile the bales that had not already ended up in a heap at the bottom of the hill. Then we loaded the wagon again.
It was almost dark when we finished filling the wagon and headed back to the barn. The final challenge was backing the wagon into the barn. There was only a foot of clearance on either side, and none of us had enough experience to manage that.
Dad was a little surprised to find the wagon loaded with hay in front of the barn door when he came in with the baler. He backed the load in and we were quite proud of our accomplishment. It was the only hay of that cutting that did not get wet.
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