July 1995

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Diaries of T. N. Smith

Kanona, New York


John Rezelman

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July 1888

As I read his July diary entries I looked, just as I did in June, for the date when Smith started haying. This time I found it, clear, certain and early on. On July 2 Smith headed the page "Begin haying" and wrote "Get mowing machine out and mow most of the day on the South of lane next to creek. Clover and timothy. Weather clear and warm." Now that's "for sure" — no question about it.

Why do I put so much emphasis on when haying started? Because it was very important, that's why. On the majority of Northeast farms, in Smith's day and later, when livestock was kept or hay sold as a cash crop, hay made up most of the crop acreage. Its harvest was about the biggest single operation carried on under time pressure in the farmer's year. Hay harvest could become very protracted, for there could be a week or more at a time of rain and damp when hay could not be made. The work was hard physical labor at the season of greatest heat. Upon its outcome depended the amount and quality of food for livestock for the ensuing year, or their hay's salability as a cash crop.

Smith's contemporaries knew that early-cut hay was best for ruminants, herdsmen having observed since dim antiquity how cattle and sheep thrived on it. They also knew, however, that the juicy grass of June took longer to dry than July-cut and that June's weather was apt to be cooler than July's, further slowing and extending drying time. They knew that it was just harder for them to make dry hay very early without some of it becoming moldy. These farmers weren't making hay just for ruminants, but also for their horses; which were extremely important to them. Moldy hay wasn't too good for any hay-eaters, but for horses it was much worse than that. It could engender heaves and possibly other disabling respiratory conditions. Hay meant for sale had to be horse-suitable. The market decreed that. Then, too, in June, as we have seen, cultivating was an important job conflicting with all other tasks.

Therefore, starting haying in early July and not before was not a foot-dragging delay. It was a considered trade-off judiciously arrived at, a compromise that suited the times. July-cut hay would still nourish ruminants but was likely to be much safer for horses.

The work could go forward faster with hotter curing weather and less conflict with cultivating. It was the collective consensus — early July is time to start haying. Keeping lots separated, as "this is cow hay, this is horse hay" was sometimes attempted, but it didn't fit well with most barn storage conditions.

Smith's equipment for haying consisted of a horse-drawn mowing machine which differed hardly at all in basic design from the last ones manufactured about the 1940's. His had perhaps a little less sophisticated gearing and bearings than the later models and used more cast iron and wood and less steel in its construction, but essentially it was the same. He no doubt raked with a horse-drawn steel-tooth "dump" rake that was highly similar to the last ones that eventually disappeared from factory assembly lines. He had wagons with racks that could move towering loads of hay from field to barn, provided the person arranging the load — "building" it, they called it — was sufficiently skillful. At the barn hay could be pitched into mows with hand forks or raised to the barn peak with special hoisting apparatus and dropped where wanted. Once there, it was distributed around the mow with hand forks keeping the surface level so it would complete its final curing phase, or "the sweat," without pockets of mold. Side delivery rakes were at this time in the "being invented" stage and the few hay loaders there were here and there had not yet won market acceptance.

Smith, like his neighbors, would cut a field and let it lie until dry enough to rake. The rake would leave it in windrows from which it was sometimes directly loaded. More often, men with forks would make it into well-laid piles, called "cocks" or "bunches" in this part of the country and other names elsewhere. This practice is what Smith meant when he wrote "rake and put up." These heaps were then loaded by hand on the wagon. When they had settled in the field overnight before loading, you could plunge a pitchfork into them and the whole mass so impaled would cohere as a unit, called a "forkful." Settled cocks were more convenient to pitch than new-made ones. This sequence was repeated over and over until haying was all done, except when broken into by rains. A wetting would necessitate spreading out and turning the hay, to dry the water out, with resultant loss of nutritional quality. There was always a feeling of accomplishment and relief when the last load disappeared into the barn. Clover sometimes yielded a second cut, but that was never in such volume, so it wasn't the same.

Specifically, quotes after July 2 related to haying follow:

July 4. "Draw 4 loads."

July 5. "Draw 3 loads. Begin to mow on 18-acre field."

July 6. "Mow nearly all day." (Hired man cultivated corn.)

July 7. "Got 500 lbs. of plaster to put on potatoes."

July 9. "Put Paris Green on potatoes in a.m. Mow on big corner lot in p.m." (Hired man cultivated corn.)

July 10. "Draw 2 loads of hay. Rake & put up what was mown yesterday."

July 11. "Draw 6 loads of hay. Now have 20 loads in barn. Mow some. Rake & put up a little hay."

July 12. "Mow some and draw in 1 load of hay."

July 13. "We draw in 2 loads. 28 loads in now."

July 14. "Finish mowing the large corner lot."

July 15. "Finish raking and putting up hay in large corner lot."

July 16. "Begin to mow on meadow across creek. Draw 3 loads."

July 17. "Draw 4 loads…Cradle around wheat field N. of barn."

July 18. "Draw in 1 load of hay."

July 19. "Mow a little and draw a little to barn."

July 20. "Cut — draw in 1 load."

July 21. "Finish haying."

They worked almost every day! There must have been no rain.

July 23. "Cut wheat, Reap some."

July 24. "Finish cutting wheat. Draw 2 loads of wheat

July 25. "Get 22 quarts of cherries. Draw 2 loads wheat."

July 26. "Draw in balance of wheat, 3 loads."

July 27. "Ordered book, 'Cleveland and Sherman.'"

July 28. "Put Paris Green and plaster on potatoes… Cut brush."

July 30. "Cut brush…Cradle around oat field."

July 31. "Picnic at Keuka Lake. Orrin binds some… Mow thistles."

I have a suspicion, from a rough attempt to correlate mowing and subsequent haulings, that Smith may have forgotten to record just a few loads, but have no proof.

T. N. did not have one of those trying haying seasons in 1888, the kind where the weather caused great losses of time and feeding quality. To be able to finish in 19 days gave no grounds for complaint. He did take a few bold risks — "mow most of the day" and "mowed all day" represented a lot of hay exposed to weather at one time, but he was just observing that hay-harvest axiom: "You can't cure it 'til it's cut." There was actually a little rain in this 19-day period and a little conflict with row crops, but mostly hay harvest moved steadily and expeditiously forward that year.

Row crops did come in for some attention, as corn cultivation on the 6th and again on the 9th. That "plaster" so favored by Smith for his crops shows up again when they got 500 lbs. to put on potatoes (That's more proportionately than any of his other crops got) and some was put on July 28th. Paris Green was applied to potatoes, almost certainly to poison that striped Colorado Beetle or "potato bug" on the 9th and 28th. How put on? Possibly shaken on with some kind of sifting device, or dissolved in water and sprayed or sprinkled on.

Serendipitously, it became necessary to begin wheat harvest only four days before the end of haying, not a serious overlap creating no dire conflict between the two crops. They began on the 17th with "cradle around the wheat field." This meant they cut the initial field-opening swath by hand with a grain cradle, the specialized scythe with the long wooden fingers that carried the cut grain to the end of each swing. Smith evidently cut his grain crops with a reaper (See Crooked Lake Review Number 20, "Otis Edsall's Reaper" for a full description.) This cradling was to save the grain in the longest trip of all around the fields from the trampling of the horses and rolling down by the bull wheel — a typical T. N. Smith flourish, Stanley Fox says. In addition to cradling, Smith refers to "cut" and on one occasion, "reap." He also refers to people "binding" which tells us his work was not done with a self-binding, twine-tie harvester, even though these were newly in use and available at the time.

The 26th of July saw the wheat as well as the hay secure in the barn. There was time in this busy month to get cherries (for the year's pies?) conclude it with a picnic on Keuka Lake and a few other breaks like those. On the last few days of the month they "cut brush," "mowed thistles" — timely and desirable activities, but things you would never do if your main crops needed attention. Nevertheless, there was probably more sweat spilled over Smith's acres by man and horse in July than in any other month of the year.

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© 1995, John Rezelman
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