By Evelyn Richardson Here and There

Haying season clearly points out the sharp differences between then and now in how farming practices are carried out.

As I watch the big, capable machinery take the fields in stride and get the job done in hours instead of what would have taken days, I marvel at the advances that have happened in my lifetime.

Tractors were around, but many farmers continued with mule teams during the era when my experience was hands-on.

As the alfalfa and lespedeza grew, my father got the harvest equipment ready. The mower might need a new tongue, and always there were broken sections on the blade that had to be replaced at the shop.

I wasn't much help with the mowing. Don't let anyone tell you that mules are dumb. They easily sensed that I was at the reins and had no respect for my authority. If the mower got to a thick patch of growth and the pulling got harder, they simply stopped. None of my hollering or prodding with a long switch made them cooperate.

Raking the cut hay was more manageable. I just had to watch and dump the load before too much got packed in the rake to make it heavy to pull.

The cured hay was loaded on the wagon by hand with pitchforks. I had a smaller, more lightweight fork than the wider models for the men, but I helped. There was an art to placing the forkfuls of hay on the wagon bed in order to build the biggest load that would not fall off en route to the stable.

Today's hay is baled in the field and mechanical lifts help to get the bales or rolls onto trailers and into storage. We parked the loaded wagon close to the open end of the hayloft which was above the cow stalls.

A wonderful invention, the hayfork, was attached to pulleys that traveled a track the length of the loft. The fork was pulled down, pushed through a big hump of hay on the wagon, and the teeth were engaged to hold the hay. Then the mule, hitched to the rope at the opposite end of the stable, was ordered to pull. When the fork reached the spot where its load was to be dumped, the fork "manager" pulled the trip rope.

Of course, manual labor with a pitchfork had to move the mounds over to the eaves of the loft so more loads could be dumped. Then back to the field for more.

What a good feeling it was to have the loft stuffed with sweet-smelling hay, ready to be pitched down through an opening of the floor to the cows below when cold winter nights arrived.

If a farmer did not have a loft or building in which to store his hay, stacks were made in the field. Proper methods had to be followed to put up a haystack that would stand straight against the wind and shed the rain.

We with a loft were doubly blessed. Not only did the roof protect the quality of the hay for winter feeding, but also it provided a place for hens to fly up and steal their nests, and for us kids to hide and to play. A whole different experience from climbing on bales.