BY MAHLON MILLER
I think farming must be inbred in our DNA. As humans we have been involved in some aspect of agriculture ever since Adam was commissioned as caretaker of the garden of Eden. The fact that animal and soil husbandry is therapy for the soul in itself should prove that we were created for it and it for us. Whenever I help with milking or plowing or threshing or even fixing a fence or a manure spreader the hustle and bustle of life fades to the back and even if things go wrong the day seems worthwhile and I am in my element, in harmony with 6000 years of heredity. When my brother Daniel, who does the farming at home on Dad’s farm, asked me awhile ago to help him with some hay I jumped for the chance. He wanted to mow the whole 8 acre field beside the driveway at one time. Usually he wouldn’t mow that much at once, but the forecast looked good and the hay was in the right stage and since I planned to help he decided to cut the whole field.
That was on a Monday afternoon. The day was very hot and had to go slowly for the horses sake. At chore time he wasn’t done yet so he went out again after supper getting done about 9 p.m.
Tuesday was hot again, great weather for drying hay but miserable for anything else. The hay lay extremely thick and looked like the crop of the decade. We both thought: So far so good, which probably jinxed us.
On Wednesday morning the jinx was on. The sun rose red and hot and the air was sticky with humidity. All day long the breeze came out of the east and the humidity got heavier and heavier until you almost broke out in a sweat from the effort it took to breathe. The horses got tired and had to rest often, each rest period deepens the anxiety level of the farmers as there was obviously a rainstorm brewing.
As the day got hotter, Daniel took off his shoes, tied his laces together and hung them over the frame of the hay rake. A couple of hours later he noticed they were gone. Somewhere during those rounds they had fallen off and gotten raked into the windrow with the hay. It was just an old pair of tennis shoes and the Tingley rubbers that covered them were worth more than the shoes themselves. It wasn’t any great loss. The worst part was having to walk home in his stocking feet at lunch time. And the fact that the jinx had the upper hand.
At 3 p.m. Daniel started baling. The baler is an old John Deere 240 on which we have replaced so many parts that it is hardly old anymore. This time, however, it was clicking right along and working well for about a quarter of the field when it ran out of gas. All the way at the far end of the field too. The jinx was still on.
Daniel ran home to get gas while I carried bales together to make the loading up go faster once the girls got done with the milking. When he got back we filled up the tank, primed the field pump and got going again. Up one side of the field and half way down the other when suddenly he noticed gas splashing out of the open tank. He had laid the gas cap on top of the baler when he filled up the tank and forgot to close it again. In that same time the bungee cord that held the gas tank in place had torn and it was shooting around all over the top of the baler. He stopped and called me over and we wadded up a handful of hay for a plug. I found a spot to hang on to on the back of the baler and held the plug and the tank until we got to the end closest to the building. The jinx was still on.
Two bungee cords and a small block of wood fixed us up again. Daniel went along with the baling while I got the wagons ready and started loading. Out in the field it had only been hot but up in the barn it was REALLY hot. For the first couple of loads the girls threw the bales off the wagons and I stacked. After awhile the hay in the mow was higher than the hay on the wagon so we switched around. Sweat poured and shoulders sagged lower with each load. But there was still a lot more hay than daylight hours so we just gulped a drink every chance we got and kept going. The jinx hadn’t licked us yet.
By sunset we had done about 3 /4 of the fields. Now the baler was starting to give us trouble. The plunger drive would jump out of time and shear a pin at the flywheel. Daniel would reset the timing and put in a new pin which lasted anywhere from a half round to 6 to 8 rounds before it happened again. The thunderheads were piling up high in the west and there was no dew on the ground so we kept franticly replacing pins and hurrying on. About 9:30 after shearing 3 pins in rapid succession the baler’s timing jumped way off and the plunger crashed right into the knife snapping the plunger rod in two. The jinx had played its trump.
After talking about it we agreed the hay was worth too much to lose it. Daniel went to the neighbors and borrowed a baler to finish and came back with two more wagons. Now we had enough wagon space that we could quit unloading. After that the jinx seems to have spent itself. The borrowed baler had a voracious appetite. We loaded the wagons as high as we could and parked them in the barn. The breeze was cooler now and the end was in sight but I was pretty well whipped. When our neighbor came over to help with the last two loads I was just glad to let him.
Finally we were done. We caught up with the baler in the a last couple hundred feet and picked the last bales off the shoot. The motor was cut to idle speed and then stopped altogether. An overwhelming feeling of relief and satisfaction and weariness and pride in accomplishment that was too big for words swept over us all. The horses also knew we were done and perked up a bit as the steel wheels crunched on the gravel of the lane and the last load of hay went up to the barn and under cover. It was 11:35 and we had outlasted the jinx.
After a ride home and a bath I felt a lot better. But when I finally got into bed I was too tired to sleep. About 1 o’clock the promise of the east wind was fulfilled and a steady rain set lulling me off to slumber. The comfort of knowing that work was done and well done and that we had 3600 dollars of hay in the barn for the cows was indescribable.
We’ll be keeping a sharp eye for a pair of shoes and a gas cap next winter.