Maynard van der Galien
I have never been around work horses so I’m fascinated by my Old Order Mennonite neighbours who farm with horses and have no tractors. I often stop by the road where they farm and watch horses pull a grain binder, cut stalks of corn that are laid onto a horse-drawn wagon beside the cutter, horses raking hay, pulling a wagon and hayloader for loose hay, pulling wagon along rows of stooked sheaves of grain as men fork on the sheaves.
I have seen two hayloaders at work in the same field. When heavy pulling is required such as plowing they will hitch up six or eight horses. That is something to see.
When our family immigrated to Canada in 1953, all the active farmers on our concession road near Eganville had a tractor. No one farmed with horses. I still remember the tractors—a little Farmall, an International Harvester, two Massey Ferguson tractors, a John Deere, and we had a little grey Ford.
My father didn’t have a tractor back in Holland as tractors were just starting to make an appearance in our neighbourhood. The country was decimated from the war and all the manufacturing plants had been geared to making war supplies.
During the Second World War, the Allies were faced with a big problem—how to provide both tanks and tractors.
I recall asking my father, when we were mowing hay with a five-foot cut Massey Harris mower, why farm machinery was so backward but airplanes were flying in the sky. We had flown to Montreal by KLM in 1953 and it was a big event for us to fly across the ocean. I was too young to drive a tractor at the time but I could pull back a lever on the mower that raised and lowered the knife. My Mennonite neighbours are using that same type mower and sitting on a hard steel seat.
I never thought I’d see hay loaders picking up loose hay again after balers came on the scene on our concession. They were so much faster.
The loose hay loader was probably a great invention for farmers when they were built in the late 1800s. Farmers didn’t have to fork hay onto a wagon from hay coils in the field.
The hayloader was hooked onto the back of a wagon you were filling. Driven by the wheels and a chain, hay would be picked up from a windrow and then moved up the loader by the wooden bars with steel fingers. It was quite a workout for the pitchfork man on the load during the hot summer afternoons. Even though the horses or tractor pulled it at a slow pace, hay kept coming out pretty fast and it had to be forked in place to build a good load that didn’t fall over.
At the barn there was a setup for loose hay loading. Hook and tackle I think we called it. There was an extension of the roof over a beam from which a pulley hung. The pulley ran along a track to the end of the barn. A device like a harpoon-style fork would be pushed down into the wagon load of hay, locked in place so the bottom of the fork went into a hook and a tractor or horse would pull a long cable and a huge forkful of hay would go up the side of the barn, link up with the connector on the track and slide down the track in the barn where a man would pull a rope to let the hay fall off the hook. It took six to eight hookups with the hayfork to empty a wagon load.
I remember it well. I drove the tractor to raise the hay upward. My father hooked the hayfork and yelled at me to go and when to stop.
I never thought I’d see this kind of loose haying operation again. One hot afternoon this summer I watched a neighbour collect hay with three teams of horses. A boy was raking hay with a steel wheel side delivery rake pulled by a single horse. A young man was on a wagon forking hay that was coming down from the hayloader. He had two children at the front of the wagon holding the reins guiding the horses. And a man with two horses was hauling a full load of hay to the barn where they have a hay tackle system. He would be emptying the load.
It sure bought back memories of those hot summer days of the 1950s and early 1960s.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and agriculture columnist.