When I hear the phrase “the good old days,” my reaction is “If they were that good, we would still be doing it.”
This time of year it is easy to remember when life was simpler, the pace was slower, and neighbors were neighborly.
Years ago, by now the first cutting of hay had been baled and stored.
It is easy to be nostalgic about hay baling. Before large round bales were common, hay was labor intensive.
High school students counted on working during the summer putting up bales as a source of income.
Baling crews would require a minimum of one person driving and one person stacking the wagon.
Depending on amount of hay to be baled and the number of children in family, outside labor would be hired if needed.
The work was physical and anyone who remembers being part of a baling crew can easily recall those morning and afternoon breaks when food and refreshment was served, usually out in the field.
Stopping work to pause, visit, enjoy something to eat and drink that was probably homemade, while sitting under clear blue sky, makes it easy to recall those “good old days.”
Sitting with sweat-stained clothing, knowing the pause would be brief since it was important to keep moving doesn’t seem so bad all those years later.
Sentimentality is better appreciated when viewed through the gauzy lens of nostalgia.
The same could be said for anyone who remembers walking soybeans.
The work was tedious and slow, not as backbreaking as baling hay, but long hours were necessary to cover the acres.
I can remember harvesting oats in late July with a certain amount of nostalgia.
My dad had a Minneapolis-Moline G4 pull-type combine he bought just after WW II and used it through the ’60s. It had its own four-cylinder gas engine, the same one used on a Minneapolis-Moline R tractor.
It was hard to start, especially since it didn’t have an electric starter, only a place to stand and a crank to, well, crank repeatedly.
My dad ran the combine and I drove the tractor and wagon that hauled the oats from the combine’s bin.
My most vivid memory of oats harvest was when I pushed the hand clutch on the John Deere 720 diesel, discovered I had it in too high of a gear, thought I had killed the engine, but it paused, caught, and then ran.
But there was exhaust smoke coming out the air intake and when I put the clutch in a forward gear, the tractor moved backwards.
I looked over to see my dad waving his arms up and down shouting something.
He was shouting, “Turn it off! Turn it off!”
I turned the tractor off and asked him what had happened. He said the engine was actually running backwards. He said that can happen with two-cylinder engines.
Those summers we baled hay and straw with a New Holland wire tie baler powered with a balky Wisconsin engine.
Once it started, you really didn’t want to shut it off because it would be hard to start.
Both the Minneapolis-Moline combine and New Holland baler are sitting in a shed on the farm where I grew up, parked in those spots by my dad after the last time he used them.
They can stay there because their sentimental value exceeds any monetary value.
The John Deere 720 diesel was traded for a 4010 diesel and that tractor is still on our farm for the same reason as the combine and baler.
So maybe the good old days weren’t so good when you remember the amount of labor required or the smaller machinery we used.
And I will take a cab over an open tractor almost any day of the year.
But when it comes to reminiscing, those “good old days” were pretty darn good.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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