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FOR a fortnight, all through hoeing-time, the gloom of our recent bereavement rested on us heavily. Yet it is one of the kind provisions of Nature that all griefs, even that for this greatest of calamities, death, fade insensibly away as days pass.
Haying-time had now come around again, haying-time at the old farm. What memories of hot July suns, palm-leaf hats and perspiring faces rise at the thought of it!
Again I seem to smell the early morning odors from the swaths of grass, fresh-reeking from the scythes, or catch the noontide fragrance of the hot windrows of hay as we "tumbled" it up for the rack-cart, which came rattling out into the field. Again I hear the merry whit-te-whit of the whetstones, the low rip of the severed grass-stalks, the wearying note of the grindstone, and at last — after forenoons of infinite length — the welcome toot of the old dinner-horn.
Once more I see Theodora, or Ellen, or Halstead, coming afield in the blazing sunshine, bringing that longed-for jug of cold water, tempered with a dash of molasses and ginger to keep the inordinate quantities which we drank from hurting us. Yet again the loud black thunder-shower rises in drear gloom over the mountain, bent on drenching the whole day's batch of hay. And then what hurry and scurry there would be to pile a big load on the cart and rush it to the barn before the sheeted rain struck!
Such was "haying" before the days of farm machinery.
During all those first years of our sojourn at the old homestead in Maine, the seventy or eighty tons of hay, for a large stock of cattle and horses, had to be made and stored wholly by hand labor. Sixty acres of grass on upland, swale and meadow had to be mowed with scythes, raked by hand-rakes, and pitched on and off the hay-rack by hand-forks.
Little wonder that after four or five weeks of such labor, drinking so much water, perspiring so profusely and toiling so many hours under the hot sun, we emerged from the ordeal fearfully tanned, indeed, but perceptibly thinner, leaner, and sometimes sick.
The first relief from the hardest of the work came when the Old Squire purchased the first mowing-machine and the first horse-rake ever seen in that vicinity.
The clatter of that new mower set our farm-horses crazy at first, and for a while we were obliged to use a yoke of oxen to draw it, Halstead walking beside them with a goad-stick, while Addison sat on the machine and worked the levers. Even when propelled by slow ox-power, the new mower would cut as much grass as three men; and the horse-rake accomplished as much as four men.
It seemed to us then, fresh from those back-aching scythes, that a golden epoch of haying had dawned; and as is always the case, the hopefulness which sprang from those new inventions led us to dream of others that would do the rest of the hard work.
"Now if we could only contrive some way to pitch the hay on to the cart in the field and pitch it off in the barn, haying would be nothing but fun!" Addison used to say that summer, "I wonder if we couldn't?"
But the horse-fork which hoists an entire load at four forkfuls, swings it round and drops it in the mow, was then unknown to us, and seemed too difficult to be made practical. At that time it looked easier to contrive some device for hoisting the hay upon the cart in the field; and I remember that Addison had talked a great deal about this as we mowed, raked and pitched the previous summer. He was always the most resourceful among us, although Halstead and I were keenly interested.
Invention, however, proved by no means an easy matter. He was unable to hit on anything which promised success for a long time; not until the following March, in fact, while we were working up the year's stock of fire-wood in the yard before the woodshed.
Then one afternoon, I remember, Addison suddenly threw down his ax, shouting:
"I've got it! I'll take the 'lags' off our old threshing-machine and that pair of cart-wheels up at the north barn!" and he started to run for the barn.
He was up at the north barn much of the time after that; but in the course of a fortnight he had put together the most remarkable combination ever seen in that locality — either for loading hay or any other purpose. Rumors concerning it spread abroad, and people came to see it. For some reason it appeared to amuse everybody tremendously, and the old north barn floor, where Addison had set it up, rang with laughter on those early spring days.
But the sight of it was as nothing to the sound of it. For when in motion it made a truly awful noise, rumbling, squeaking and groaning; and some one soon nicknamed it "the howler."
Yet clumsy as it was, I am now quite positive that this was the first real hay-loader invented in America — for the hay-loading machines now on the market make use of the same principle which Addison studied out that spring, and involve no new idea. The new machines are comparatively light and portable, while Addison's was ponderous and clumsy, since he had nothing to work with save the large wheels from an ox-cart and the "lags" and some other gear from two old worn-out threshing-machines. If I remember aright, the whole apparatus cost him not over eleven dollars.
The wheels of the two-wheeled ox-carts such as we then used were wholly of wood, hubs, spokes and fellies, and were very large and heavy, the hubs being fully twelve inches in diameter. Two of these huge wheels and the two small forward wheels of an old wagon furnished Addison with the wheeled gear for his hay-loader.
For picking the hay up in the field, after it is raked into windrows, he had perceived that some sort of revolving cylinder, or drum, with projecting teeth like those of a horse-rake, would be required; and to raise the hay from this gathering-drum to the top of the hayrack at the rear end, and drop it there, he had to devise a long "carrier" of some sort running upward. For this latter essential, he made use of both sets of lags from the two old threshing-machines which I have mentioned — that is to say, the part of the threshing-machine on which the horses walk, and which runs on iron trucks up a little inclined track. As his carrier had to be fully sixteen feet long, he joined the two sets of lags in one, and set them in a strong, lofty frame.
A far lighter carrier would have answered as well, or better, but these old lags were all that he had to work with for this purpose.
The frame supporting this long carrier was made of white ash beams; and the carrier itself was put in motion by a large rotary cylinder, consisting of a hollow log of yellow-birch wood put on over the axle of the large wheels, between them, and attached rather loosely, yet strongly, to the hubs of the wheels, so as to revolve with them about the axle, and yet give some little play for turning the machine round in the field.
Addison had made a new, longer axle for the wheels, with the ends of it projecting outward through them on each side. It was on the ends of the axle, outside the wheels, that the frame supporting 'the carrier rested; the other or forward end of the frame was attached to the bed-pieces of the hay-rack with two clevises having iron pins which could be dropped into place, or pulled out to cast the machine loose from the cart.
At the top the carrier revolved about a small axle set high in the frame. When the cart moved forward, the large wheels of the loader revolved, turning the cylinder which set the carrier in motion.
The other cylinder, or drum, which picked up the hay and passed it to the carrier, consisted merely of another hollow log off the same yellow-birch tree trunk, two feet in diameter and six feet long, put on the axle of the forward wagon-wheels and attached to the hubs, much as the other, so that it would turn with the wheels about the axle. The teeth — horse-rake teeth, shortened — were set in this second log drum, and were of a length nearly to touch the ground.
Addison carried the iron axle of these old wagon-wheels to a blacksmith and had it drawn out so as to extend four inches beyond the hubs outside; and to these projecting ends he attached the ash shafts which connected the drum and wheels to the wheels in front.
When the machine moved astride the windrow of hay, the drum turned with the wheels, picked up the hay and passed it to the carrier, which in turn passed it up the incline to the top of the hay-rack, where the man on the cart took it with a fork and loaded it.
To prevent the hay from falling off sidewise and being drawn into the wheels, or blown away by the wind, "guides," made of light strips of board, were set on each side. And to keep the hay going steadily up the carrier, Addison drove a row of tenpenny nails into each lag, allowing the heads to protrude about two inches. He also contrived a semicircular guide behind the gathering-drum to keep the hay from falling back.
Gram, the girls, and everybody at the farm came out to see the machine the first time we drove into the field to get a load of hay with it. Several of our neighbors came running across lots, too, for we were making a fearful noise.
No amount of greasing would keep the "howler" quiet. It groaned and rumbled and creaked, till even steady old Bright and Broad rolled their eyes anxiously round to see what on earth was following them.
Gram laughed till she had to sit down on a stone and fan herself; but the Old Squire was not inclined to join in the hilarity. For some reason he considered it a wild scheme, although as a rule he was very tolerant of Addison's projects.
It must be admitted, however, that the loader worked pretty well. It picked up a windrow of hay and passed it up to the man on the cart as fast as the oxen could walk. It gathered the hay up quite clean, too, and required but little raking after.
It was necessary, however, that neither large stones nor stumps should lie concealed in the windrows under the hay. This had to be looked out for in advance when the hay was raked.
When the load was on, Addison pulled the two iron pins attaching the loader to the cart, and then drove to the barn, leaving it standing there in the field, to be hitched on again when we came back.
We considered it a success; and several of our much-amused neighbors said the same. The Old Squire, however, would express no opinion further than to remark that it might do very well for lazy folks.
Our chief difficulty was with the team in the field. Either the dreadful noise it made or else the unfamiliar drag which it set up at the rear end of the cart discomfited the horses amazingly; and even the oxen showed similar signs of alarm and dislike. Moreover, it taxed the team somewhat heavily, for I suppose that the contrivance must have weighed at least fifteen hundred pounds.
Otherwise it worked pretty well — after a clumsy fashion. We could get a load in about ten minutes with it, and we used it for as many as thirty loads that summer.
Then a little later, in grain harvest, we tried it one afternoon for a load of oats in the south field, near which were growing three acres of corn.
We had the oxen that day. Halstead was driving them. He always said afterward that there was a wasps' nest under the windrow of oats, but he was not a wholly careful driver. Whether it was from wasps, or the noise of the howler, was never very clear. The oxen started suddenly to run, escaped from Halstead's control, and rushed down the slope of the oat-field into the corn.
I never heard such a noise! It was a rumble and a groan combined, and when the howler struck into the green corn, it took the corn up by the roots, and loaded a stream of it, dirt and all, on top of the oats in the rack.
Addison, who was on the cart, jumped down, and we all three ran through the corn, trying to head the oxen off and stop them; but they had too much the start of us. They ran the whole width of the cornfield, and never stopped till they brought up with a crash against the stone wall on the lower side of the south field.
It proved a bad wreck. Not only was the hay-rack smashed, but on reaching the team, we found the nigh ox badly injured, so much so that he was not of much use again until spring. The howler, indeed, was about the only thing which had not suffered; that loomed up as tall as ever.
There were visitors at the farmhouse that day; but even indoors the Old Squire had heard the terrific noise and outcries from the south field. He came hastening out, and when he saw that broad lane of devastation through his corn, and found what had happened to the cart and to poor old Bright, he gave a glance at the lofty howler, then turned sharply on Addison.
"I never want to see that Juggernaut in my field again!" he exclaimed. "Bear that in mind."
That evening we hauled it from the field and stood it up behind the north barn, as much out of the old gentleman's sight as possible. It stood there for several years, and was never used again.
Yet I now imagine that, with a little more appreciation and encouragement, Addison might have patented his device and made a successful invention of it. So far as I can learn, it was the first hay-loader in the United States.