The chance to pilot the haywagon by myself just about had me bursting all my shirt buttons

Posted by | June 24, 2009

There were plenty of days to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ the summer I worked for the Grant brothers. Lee started by driving the team of horses pulling the wagon to the far corner of the field. The fluffy piles of sun-cured alfalfa hay smelled as wonderful as they looked. I kept my eye on Lee before he got down from the empty wagon. He reached up over his head, looped the free end of the check reins around the tip of the front uprights and tied them in a loose-fitting knot.

Lee instructed me: ‘You stand atop the wagon while George and I do the heavy lifting. We’ll keep the team moving down between two windrows. That way you can build the load from each side.” Two strong men vying for attention kept me hopping as I moved back and forth. They would lift a forkful, lean back and pivot at the right moment so as to exact every possible ounce of leverage as they hefted each pile of hay.

haywagon in West VirginiaBoth ends of the huge platform had a set of vertical uprights to stabilize the load from front to back. Each one was about six feet high. The anterior support was narrow, ladderlike and hinged so it could be lowered out of the driver’s way when the wagon traveled empty. The stationary prop stretching across the rear was different. The two stakes kept the load from shifting and had a single crossbar. The configuration resembled a miniature set of football goal posts.

I labored mightily to carry out the loading plan and made sure each layer of hay was tamped uniformly across the wide hayrack. An even bigger challenge was to methodically see that the build-up was square along the edges and securely tied-in with the middle. The double binding insured that no section was apt to slide off and threaten the stability of the whole load while en route to the barn. Furthermore, if the job of interlacing each forkful of hay had been done properly, the wagon could be easily unloaded in the barn with a two-pronged hay fork penetrating two or more layers at a time.

George hoisted the last pile of hay to top out the center. With a long-handled pitchfork in midair he called out “Oh boy, it’s all I can do to reach you!” The load was so high I was standing on top of the world. It was time for a breathing spell; beads of sweat ran down my face. A big red handkerchief helped wipe away the perspiration. I must have struck a proud stance, for my maneuver caught Lee’s attention.

“You’ve done a fine job topping out that load, Kenneth. Find your way up front and grab hold of the reins. I’ve seen you cruising back and forth to town with Maude hitched to the spring wagon.” The chance to pilot the haywagon by myself just about had me bursting all my shirt buttons. My concentration shifted to driving the team of horses as they strained in their collars. The wagon’s wood creaked as they pulled the massive load through the field and on towards the barn.

—Excerpt from The Day is Far Spent, by Kenneth A. Tabler, Montani Publishing, 2006
b. 1926, Martinsburg, WV

appalachia appalachian+history haymaking history+of+appalachia Martinsburg+WV

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