Haying Time

From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings

The modern way of caring for the hay crop seems a far cry from the old way in which the weather had a lot to do with curing and stacking.

The horse fork for unloading was a wonderful improvement, as before it was installed, one man passed the hay to a scaffold at the big beam of the barn and another passed it on up to the man in the hay mow. With the horse fork, when help was scarce and a horse was trained to draw the load, one man could unload his wagon alone, the hay being left to be spread around later.

My first memory of haying time was when we had the old wooden horse rake, which I have described in another article. I have heard Father say that for a couple of years after coming to the farm he cut the hay and grain by hand. However, for cutting the grain a cradle was used. This consisted of a scythe with extra prongs, nearly the length of the blade, one above the other, that caught the grain when it fell and laid it in neat shape the heads all pointing one way. Thus the one following to bind the sheaves could, with the aid of a wooden hand rake, draw it together, make a band of a handful of the straw and with a neat twist of the ends secure the sheaf and leave it to be stoked up.

1874 Advertisement for Cossitt Bros. Agricultural Machinery

About the year 1870 we purchased a new mowing machine. It was manufactured by Cossitt Bros., then of Smiths Falls, (later moved to Brockville) and sold by Edward Glazier. This was a great improvement on the hand cutting. The frame was made of oak, and for thirty-five years it did all the cutting of hay on the farm. A year later a reaper attachment was purchased. This consisted of a platform fitted to the cutting bar and bolted to the frame of the mower at the back; an iron wheel at the other side of the platform carried its weight, and a reel similar to the ones used on the binder of later years held the grain to the knives.  On the centre of the platform a post secured with a saddle and breast-plate, so that a man could stand and support himself in the saddle, rest his chest against the breast-plate and with a fork gather the grain from the knives, pass it over to his left until he had enough to make a sheaf, and then with his fork, place the bundle behind the mower, ready to be tied. This mower is now in the museum of the Experimental Farm at Ottawa, with a lot of other farm machinery of ancient manufacture.

Later a self-raking reaper was purchased, but the bundles of grain still had to be tied by hand. As binders were beginning to be used locally about the year 1892, a second had Chatham binder, a cumbersome machine, with a wooden frame, was secured and the three neighbours, Father, Horton Rowsom and Will Morrison, managed to get it in working order. It cut the grain on the three farms but the next season the knotter refused to work. The lever that started the tying part having been damaged, the result was that the grain would fill up the knotter and the lever would have to be pulled by hand.

Horton Rowsom had a hired man, Ed Haywood. He tied a strong chord to this lever, walked along beside the knotter and when enough grain was in place would pull this cord. So Ed had a job, and all through the harvest he walked around the field pulling the string. Ed was a war veteran from the British army, who had come to Canada One day he ran away with a woman, went over the river and they were married. Ed said afterwards, it was awful rough crossing the river and it had been rough ever since! His wife finally left him, and he made his home with the Rowsoms.

In 1894 I had a trip to Manitoba with Horton Rowsom and Stewart Morrison, on one of the Harvest Excursions. There I had a chance to see the new Massey-Harris and Deering binders in operation. The next year a Massey-Harris binder with sheaf carrier was purchased and this served the three of four farms cutting the grain for many years

But to get back to the haying…. A new steel horse rake was bought about the year 1875. It also was a Cossitt rake and we were all very proud of it. However, five years later the hired man took old Tom, one of our team, to the field to do some raking after supper. Finishing this he drove the horse to a windrow of hay and left him, while he went on to cock up the raked hay. Tom (the horse) was not used to being in the field without his team mate and decided to leave for home. He took a straight course, the wheel went over a stone pile, and the teeth dropped down making such a clatter that it scared Tom and started him running. We children were outside the fence of the lawn rolling on the slope at the side of the road when we heard Tom coming. The wheel struck the gate post as he came on the road, and the axle broke. Fortunately we knew enough to get inside the fence as he crossed the road and passed right over the place where we had been playing. Striking the rake against a telephone pole, he left the remains of the rake there and went on to the stable.

Later, the 14 acre field back of the woods had yielded a great crop of hay. Father had it all ready to stack and secured a couple of extra men and team. All that day I had been on the horse rake following the wagons to clean up the rakings. At four o’clock Father said “Walt, you hitch the horse on the spring wagon, go to the house and bring out our supper. Your mother will have it ready.” Driving across the woodlot and into the meadow I soon reached the house where mother gave me a couple of market baskets all covered with papers and a table cloth, and I drove carefully back to the field.

I will ever forget that supper. The men came in, sat round on the ground, the cloth was spread and the basket unloaded – warmed up potatoes, smoked ham, just fried and tender, eggs, fresh buns and in the end of the other basket a large dinner plate of pancakes, each one the size of the plate and covered with butter, then spread with soft maple sugar, to make a pile at least six inches high. Father cut into them as you would a layer cake, each serving the width of a piece of pie and half the depth of the pile! Again they came back for more until the plate was clean Then we finished with a pot of tea and a jug of coffee. It was pretty hard for the men to move very swiftly after such a supper. I think I had two helpings of the pancakes. But by dark the three stacks of hay were finished, the poles were placed on them and we were ready for home. Is it any wonder that the memory of that day and that supper has been with me all these years?

Cutting grain on the Johnston Farm on the Lyn Road c1930
John Johnston standing next to his team of horses c1930
John Johnston getting ready to cut, next to the main CNR line c1930
Cutting grain c1930
A field of cut and stacked grain on the Johnston Farm just north of the CNR tracks and east of the Lyn Road shown in this photo c1930