During my adolescent growing-up years (14,15, & 16), I had a job working on a nearby farm. This was a great time in my life. My folks didn't have any extra money, so buying anything frivolous was out of the question, unless I earned the money myself. Not a bad concept when you think of it.
The main chore I was involved in was haying. I did other things, but only because I enjoyed being on the farm and soaking up the ambiance. Farm work is hard labor and I took to it like I was made for it. Cleaning the gutters was probably the only task that turned my stomach.
Haying season was during the months of June, July, and August, and that's when I earned the most money. I was paid a nickel a bale which seemed more than fair to me. I knew some kids who worked other farms, that only earned three cents a bale. I earned enough each summer to enable me to buy all my own clothes and shoes for school, plus a little extra. My mother would have provided these things for me, but durable and economical mother goods weren't the fashions I had in mind.
A side benefit of my time spent on the farm were the exploits that provided a lifetime of tales to tell. Some of these were the product of just plain mischief, while others were accidents that turned out ok in the end, and more were just humorous faux pas.
I've chosen the following story to tell because of an email I received yesterday from my son, J.;
"I think the story of when you lit the hay wagon on fire is a great one to put in your book!!!"
To clear up the misconception that I lit the hay wagon on fire is reason enough to retell the story. The ending though expensive, did finish with a comical remark
Ernie, the farmer and my employer, didn't own the farm. He owned the cows, but not the farm. He was only a few years older than me, maybe 8 or 9 and just out of the service. He wanted to be a farmer, but didn't have the funds or collateral to allow him to purchase a farmstead. So he rented and or leased the barn and sundry fields and pastures within a 5-6 mile radius. He actually lived in the city with his parents, just a block from my house. It was a workable arrangement and allowed him to put aside some money aside for the future, when he could have and own his own farm. Further demonstrating his frugality, he purchased old decrepit, but quite usable equipment. One of his two tractors was a 1950 Case which had four forward gears, only 3 of which worked. This tractor was a workhorse but slow; top speed on the highway was about 12 mph.
On this particular day, Joey, Ernie's 13 year old cousin, Ernie and yours truly were haying a field 5 miles from the barn and a half mile back off the main highway. It was 3:30-4:00 PM. We were finishing up a load with nearly 130 bales. This was quite a large load; normally a load would be 100 to 110 bales. I had loaded it and packed the bales tight. One of the traits Ernie admired in my15 year old self was my ability to build a tight load. Joey was the tractor driver, while Ernie and I traded off throwing bales on the wagon and building to load.
The reason for building such a large load was to try and get the field cleaned off. There were still enough bales left in the field that we would have to use a second wagon. Ernie tells us to take the full load back to the barn and that he will stay and finish up the remainder (probably 50-75 bales) by himself. He told us to go home for supper after parking the haywagon by the hay elevator, and that he would meet us back at the barn after supper to unload.
The seat on this particular tractor was constructed so that it could be slid forward for the driver to sit on or slid back to allow the driver to drive while standing. Off we go with Joey standing to drive and I was sitting in the seat. A mile and a half down the road we are going down a fairly steep decline, and I say to Joey;
"Man that sun is hot. It must be peeking over the top of the load now that we're going down hill and it's beating down, right on my neck."
Joey turns his head to see and becomes immediately excited and says;
I turn around and see that the entire front of the load is in flames! I yell to Joey.
"Pull over on the shoulder and unhook the tractor."
By now we were at the bottom of the hill. I jump down from the tractor while Joey pulls over to the shoulder, under the power and phone lines and in the front yard of a residence.
I run around to the back of the wagon thinking that I'll climb up the back run to the front of the load and kick the bales that are on fire in front to the ground thereby saving most of the load.
Moving quickly I begin pushing the top front bales off with my feet. I hear Joey yelling but in the excitement fail to comprehend what he is saying. Then I see what has him all lathered up: The tractor jack-knifed when he pulled off the road and he had been unable to unhook the tractor from the wagon. Not only was I kicking burning hay bales off the wagon, I was kicking them right on to the tractor. Next I hear him yelling:
"Rel, get down, get down now...the whole load is on fire!!!!!!"
I ran to the back of the wagon and jumped off. Turning around, I saw a conflagration so huge and fierce that I began saying my Hail Mary's and running to the opposite side of the road as fast as I could. The heat was so intense that it peeled paint off the first few cars that foolishly passed by.
An adult who was driving a car with Canadian license plates got out and started directing traffic. Basically, with the help of a couple others they just stopped traffic going both ways. Joey and I were standing at least 300 to 400 feet away and the heat was so intense we had to move further away.
A lady come out of the house in whose yard the burning hay, wagon, and tractor were disintegrating, and yells at us:
"Get that out of here right now!"
The gentleman from the car with the Canadian plates says to her in his British accent;
"What do you expect them to do madame, pee on it?"
We don't know what caused the fire, whether it was spontaneous combustion, a spark from the tractor exhaust, or even a cigarette butt flicked out of the window of a passing car.
We do know that we lived to tell the tale, that we got in no trouble at all, and we didn't have to pee on it.
Labels: Farm stories