On the farm, along with the daily milking routine, came seasonal work that had to be done to get ready for winter. In the Summer hay had to be cut and “put up” or stored in barns and sheds. In the Fall, the corn that was planted in the Spring had to be cut and chopped into silage. The silage then had to be stored in a trench silo to preserve and pickle in order to make a good feed for the cows during the Winter cold and snow.
When I was a little girl we had never heard of round balers. Gasp, yes, I know I’m old! So every small square bale had to be picked up out of the field and stacked neatly on a hay wagon. The wagons were then pulled to the barn and the hay was unloaded, sent up the long hay elevator, re-stacked and stored in the big hay loft. All of these things took a lot of man power. There was the person raking the hay, one baling it, two or three stacking it on the wagon in the field then someone had to pull the loaded trailer to the barn. If you were lucky and had enough help you had another crew waiting there to unload the bales onto the conveyor and neatly stack the hay in the barn.
I don’t ever remember not having enough hay help in the summer. It was in part because the young men liked my Daddy but it was MOSTLY because of my Nanny’s cooking! Nanny would start cooking for the hay crew right after she had cleaned up the breakfast dishes. I would help her by setting the kitchen table and an extra card table. I then pretty much just tried to stay close but out of the way until I was needed.
When the hay workers took a lunch break they eagerly came and sat down to plates piled high with country ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, baked apples, green beans, homemade biscuits and jelly and all the sweet tea they could drink. Finally there was cobbler or pie for dessert.
With the invention of the round baler, or when it finally got to our area, the need for summer hay help dwindled. One or two men could easily mow, tedder, rake, bale and store the big round bales.
In the Fall everyone got ready for corn cutting. Daddy and Uncle Blake cut corn together so we all pitched in to help. When I was little I would watch as the trucks brought the chopped corn from the field and dumped it into our bunker silo. Then someone on a tractor would constantly pile the silage up and drive over it to get all the air out and pack it down tightly. This helped the silage heat and pickle and it smelled so good! I loved to get to ride in the silage trucks and watch the spout on the chopper fill up the truck with corn.
When I was old enough to get to drive a silage truck it was like a right of passage. That I could be trusted to drive the old split shift dump truck to the field, follow along with the corn chopper and then bring my full truck load to the silo to dump was pretty exciting, at first. It seemed like if the field would grow corn Daddy and Uncle Blake planted it. Needless to say some of the ground was fairly steep and we were hauling loaded trucks on narrow dirt roads and the highway to get to the silo. It kept a truck driver on their toes and made me draw up more than once!
Everyone looked forward to corn cutting time. And for the first week or so it was fun! We would bring our brown bag lunches, water and snacks to the trucks in the morning with smiles on our faces and a cheery “Good Morning” on our lips. Chestnuts were usually ripe so we all had a little bag of them to munch on throughout the day. Mom would make a blackberry cobbler and you would get your portion, with ice cream, when it was your turn at the silo. Life was good!
But then everything started to get boring, you started getting tired and things started to break down. The truck drivers got tired of being bounced around in a dusty old dump truck, the tractor driver pulling the corn chopper got a sore back and crick in their neck because of having to turn around and watch behind them all the time, the silo packer got bored with the monotony of driving up and down the ever growing pile of silage, and tempers would get short.
That cheerful “Good Morning” became just a steely stare, our stomachs ached from eating too many chestnuts and we had perfected the use of a very familiar hand gesture. For a couple of years we even bought big squirt guns and had water fights to break the boredom. Hiding in the uncut corn until the next truck got there then shooting a stream of water straight into their unrolled window seemed to take the edge off. And no one was spared. If you were somewhere around us while we were cutting corn, at some point you were gonna get wet!
But although we were tired and grouchy, we were always sad when the last load was hauled to the silo and couldn’t wait to do it again next year. Well, everyone except Uncle Blake and Daddy, who were just relieved and thankful that we made it through another year and that there were full silos ready to feed the cows for the Winter.
(cornfield photo credits: Dawn Taylor Rudy)