We had about seven days of dry breezy weather, with a high pressure ridge lingering over the great State o' Maine, and so it seemed that the whole state set about making hay.
That much reliably dry weather after a spring in which we got both sun and rain in abundance, and not too much of either, will mean a bumper crop, too.
Accordingly, on Monday night my own phone rang and I heard the high reedy voice of a fifteen year-old Amish farmer with an offer of hay.
Timothy is following in his brother's footsteps and learning to make a living from the land. One of his other brothers is an extremely competent self-taught wind power engineer, but that's another story. Timothy and James, brothers two and three (out of thirteen siblings total), have opted for the farm rather than the workshop.
I was scheduled to be busy with my crew all day Tuesday, so I arranged to come get as many bales as I could on Wednesday.
This, of course, is not the way you do hay, being picky about schedules like this. You drop everything and make and put up the hay while you have the weather to do so. But I have a crew to run, and so can't drop everything.
But, when a little more weather-luck and a serious but fortuitous snag with Tuesday's wind power research job left me free Tuesday afternoon, I showed up a day early at the farm with my truck and a borrowed trailer, and Timothy and I labored together to load the first hundred bales while his father drove a two-horse team around the field dragging an older baler with a large single cylinder Wisconsin engine, making a fresh bale every twenty or thirty seconds.
Not too shabby a productivity rate for horse power! It took both of them to get that old motor running, though. There's just a flywheel to spin by hand, no starter motor or pull cord, and even working together they could only push the crank through one ignition stroke.
Think of it: Only one chance for the engine to catch on each try. When you start a car the starter motor can turn the engine through as many ignition strokes as are needed.
It was a bit like prop-starting one of the old Chipmunk trainers we still had in the RAF in the 1970s and 80s.
And any baler is so heavy you need the most massive horses to pull it, especially when you also tow a hay wagon and load at the same time.
It's quite the system. But it works. And picking the hay off the field saved me fifty cents a bale, even though I had Timothy's help to pick it.
Actually, towards the end of the first load a crew of Amish youths from a different family showed up to help, and one of them came with Tim and myself to put the bales up in my barn.
This was the first time any of our local Amish had traveled to our own farm, although I've visited most of them at their farms for one purchase or another.
Their verdict? "Cute." Our place is small and only lightly productive by their standards. But it's obviously well managed, or at least they thought so.
I only required a total of two hundred bales, and the day was wearing on with the driving back and forth very slowly, our old farm truck carrying and towing three tons of hay at a time. I had the two youths load me another hundred bales as I drove around the field, planning to off-load them by myself.
Just as we were finishing our second load, the shear pin connecting the Wisconsin engine to the baler severed with a loud bang, and I watched as their father threw the mechanical clutch, replaced the pin with the engine still running, and then started the baler again.
Most balers have a shear pin somewhere, in case a big rock or piece of iron is encountered in the windrow. It's easier to replace a small pin than it is to repair the damage to the baler mechanism.
That old Wisconsin must truly be hard to start, though, to require the pin be replaced with the engine running. I think I would have shut it down, even if only to have a minute's peace in the hayfield while I switched out the broken shear pin.
A starter motor would be nice.
Back home with the last of the bales at about five-thirty, I struggled to get them into the barn attic by myself. The hay door is eight feet off the ground, and having already loaded and unloaded a hundred bales, I was pretty tired. The bales were a good solid forty pounds each, and some were much more. I managed to get half the load in the attic. The rest was temporarily stashed on the ground floor.
But that was that: The hay was in, safe, out of the weather. The important part was done. This was a nice bit of good luck.
Of the several big farm jobs each year: shearing, firewood, hay, all but one are done now. I've made a start on firewood, but I still need three more cords.
Aimee will have to help me get the rest of the hay up to the attic this weekend sometime.
Despite the fact that we will have to move some of this hay later, this was still the most efficient hay-day we've had since we bought the farm.
Thanks to some good weather and a very young Amish farmer.
Wouldn't it be nice if all youngsters were as helpful and as productively engaged?