Captions: Rosanna, 24, is Old German Baptist Brethren and lives in Garnett, Kansas on her family farm. Other photos below show her brothers on the hay truck working hard at baling.
By Rosanna Bauman
It’s blazing hot - nearly a hundred degrees, and in a land where the wind nearly always blows there is not much more than an occasional puff of wind that cools our sweaty brows. The sweat that dries off of our arms and faces only serves to attract the dust. Small bits of dried grass make your arms look like Papa Bear’s, but it’s scratchy, and you itch all over. But we siblings don’t have much time to think about our discomfort because there’s eighty-pound objects flying at our heads, sharp hooks swinging near our hands, and our footing is so precarious that our stumbling and lurching nearly causes us to fall in the way of the flying weights and hooks, or tumble fifteen feet to the ground.
Now, in case it sounds like we are engaging in some stupid activity, let me enlighten you that we are merely “hauling hay”. For all of the dreadful picture it makes, hauling hay is our favorite farm activity. It may seem odd, given the discomfort and danger, but there seems to be something special about haying time that makes nearly all farmers rank it as their favorite activity. The defining difference that makes this difficult task such a highlight of our year is that it cannot be performed alone. Dirty jobs become social highlights when they are performed with others. There is just something about working together on a tough job that makes you feel accomplished, and even invincible.
There’s that old phrase, “Gotta make hay while the sun’s a-shining” that is not that deep of a phrase, but holds multiple truths. It is elementary that you can’t, of course, bale hay in a rainstorm, because the hay has to be dry. (In case you didn’t know, wet hay that is stacked in a barn will begin fermenting; the heat from this process can catch your barn on fire) But where this phrase gets its depth of meaning is in the fact that the best weather to dry out your hayfield is the worst weather for you to be out working in. It is typically no less than ninety degrees, quite often a hundred, and you must be out in the open field, working like an athlete in Olympic training. There’s no other experience like it.
There’s always a sense of urgency because you never know when a summer thunderstorm will blow in. Trying to keep up with the others makes it a bit of a competition as well. Everyone takes a five minute break when the truck is full, to take their turn at the water jug. I don’t know of any better tasting lemonade than what Mom makes from lemon juice for in our water jug: it slides down your dusty throat with a nice tart taste that renews your stamina. And stamina is needed in the hayfield: Some days, we have hauled up to 600 small square bales. When you calculate the loading and unloading at eighty pounds apiece, that comes to total 48,000 pounds hefted in a day! Understandably, small square bales are not being baled much anymore as farmers move toward larger bales that can be loaded using machinery instead of manual labor. But they are giving up one of the farm activities most responsible for keeping youth on the farm.
There are four main positions when hauling small squares: The Driver, who slowly navigates the truck down the rows of bales, the Tosser, who walks along beside the truck bed or trailer picking up the bales and tossing them up, and the Dragger who catches the bale then drags it to the Stackers who carefully cross-stack the bales so they make a tight stack .While I prefer to be a bale tosser, or dragger, my first job in our hay field was driving the truck. It may seem that I had the better end of the deal, but I was only too glad to be able to get on the wagon and “buck bales”. As a young teen, I was not that excited about driving. Driving in a hayfield is more difficult than what it would seem. You must drive steadily, no sudden stops or starts or else you will throw someone off of the hay stack. You need to be able to guide the truck, and sometimes a trailer around sharp turns, steep hills, and bumpy potholes made by the coyotes or other wildlife. Our hay truck was resurrected from my uncle’s equipment graveyard- a 1959 grain truck. This had no power-steering, an extremely stiff manual gear shifter, and no air-conditioning. For some reason, the engine heat blew out directly on the pedals, so my foot would be burning up down there pressing on those heated metal pedals. It was difficult to see out of a windshield so spider webbed with cracks, so I would try to drive with my head out the window hoping to improve my vision and catch some fresh air. “Oh, no! There is a bale out of line! Crank itl” A giant truck with no power steering does not turn on a dime.
“Turn, turn!” I hear the boys holler as I grip the steering wheel spinner with both hands and lean all my body weight on it, trying to get the beast to respond. It responds, but a little too slowly. I feel the truck try to drive over the bale, so I quickly jerk it out of gear. I try to execute a smooth shift into reverse, but of course the combination of my inexperience and the truck’s antiquity results in a jerky reverse. As the truck lurches backward I hear the boys hollering in disapproval. I have no trouble envisioning them staggering about atop the haystack, wildly swinging their arms to maintain balance- hands that are gripping sharp bale hooks. The epitome of accomplishment can be found in riding back to the barn on a stack of haybales twelve feet high, the wind cooling your sweaty brow, your dog beside you, and your aching body telling you of time well spent.