St. Mary's - Basswood Grove
Denmark Township Historical Soc.
Where 2 Rivers Merged, MN Came Together
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True Horse Power Farming By Jim Cran, of Denmark Township
with information provided by my brother, Lauren.
When you're driving through the countryside in late June or mid-August, you're likely to see large round bales of hay scattered about the farmer's hayfields. These ¾ ton sized bales are the result of modern technology coming into the farming world. Nowadays the only time a farmer will touch the hay during the haying season is to pick up a handful of hay to determine if it is "too tough" [too wet] to be processed by his round baler.
Sixty years ago, farming wasn't quite as high-tech as it is now. Coming out of nearly a decade of "Depression years," not all of the farmers in America had tractor-drawn equipment in their possession. Their only source of powering their equipment through the field was with the use of the horse. Farming with only horses meant a lot of physical labor for the farmer, as the horse could only pull the machinery. The farmer bore the rest of the work during planting or harvest time.
My brother, Lauren Cran, provides the following information describing one major farming operation. Using the haying process as an example, the first step was the cutting of the hay using a horse-drawn hay mower with a ground driven, six-foot wide cutting sickle.
Dump RakeAfter allowing the hay to air dry for several days, the hay was arranged into windrows with a horse-drawn dump rake. A dump rake was 12 feet wide with long, curved teeth that trapped the hay within its curvature. When the rake was nearly full with hay, a pair of offset pedals could be used to raise the entire span of curved teeth. As soon as the hay had been cleared from the dump rake's teeth, the pedals were pressed again to drop the teeth to the ground to start gathering more hay.
Upon reaching the end of the hayfield, the horses were turned around and headed back alongside the previous set of windrows. Great care was needed in tripping the dump rake at the same locations as was made for the previous set of tripped loads of hay. This would produce straight rows of gathered hay.
When the hayfield was completely raked into these windrows, the horses were driven down each windrow to rake the hay into large piles of hay. A horse-drawn wagon would then be brought along each of the hay piles and Dad would manually fork the hay from the pile onto the wagon. It would take several piles of hay to fill the wagon and along the way; he would pause and level off the wagon load before moving to the next pile.
Open Hayloft DoorMy father would have the horses pull the wagon load of hay up alongside one end of the barn. There would be a large door to the hayloft already opened at that end of the barn. The hay would be lifted up into the loft with a hayfork, using a rope and a system of pulleys. Two horses provided the lifting power for the hayfork. Running along the peak of the hayloft, was a narrow track on which the hayfork would move until the release was tripped and the hayfork's load drop into the hayloft. Lauren came to be in charge of the horses that pulled the fork load of hay from the wagon into the loft.

With the hayfork carefully lowered down onto the wagon, the fork would be closed to grasp a load of hay. When all was ready for the lift, my father would call out to Lauren, "OK!" and Lauren would get the horses to start the pull. My father would hold a release rope in his hand. When he decided it time to drop the hay into the loft, he would pull back on his rope and the hayfork would drop its load. As he did so, he would call to my brother to stop the pull of the horses. After my brother stopped the team, he would take hold of the doubletree and carefully turn the horses around back for their next pull. It was at this time the hayfork would be lowered back to the hay wagon. This process would be repeated several times to clear the wagon of it load of hay.
After a wagon load of hay was dropped into the hayloft, it was necessary to climb into the loft and level the hay that had just been placed there. The hayfork would only drop the hay in the middle of the loft. None of the hay would land up close to the sides of the hayloft. With the leveling completed, my father would guide the horses with the wagon back out to the field to fill up another wagon load of hay.
Eventually there would be improvements to the process. My father eventually purchased a hay loader that ended the manual pitch forking of the hay onto the wagons in the hayfield. The horses would be led down the windrows of hay with the hay loader and a wagon behind them. The loader would be able to pick the hay off the ground and lift it into the air and finally dumping it onto the wagon bed.
Hayloader The hay loader was about six or seven feet wide and basically an angled, flat wood surface. About a foot above this surface, were about 5 or 6 narrow boards that traveled the length of the loader. Each of these had a number of spikes pointing toward the loader's bed. These narrow boards were mounted at the bottom of the loader on a shaft that very simply resembled the crankshaft of an automobile engine. This shaft was much lighter than a crankshaft and went fully across the width of the loader.

The loader was "ground-driven." A chain, powered by a large sprocket inside one wheel of the loader, provided power to turn the shaft. With the movement of the boards, the hay would be pushed up the bed of the loader a short distance by the spikes, and then the board would lift away from the hay and move down to take a new grasp of the hay. At any one time, about half of the spikes would always be in position to hold the hay, preventing it from slipping back down the loader's flooring.
Side delivery hay rakeThe purchase of a horse-drawn side-delivery rake would later retire the dump rake to permanent storage in our pasture. This rake was of a much different design. There were four pipes to which many small teeth were attached. These pipes were attached and spun about a central shaft. The movement of the pipes and these teeth moved the hay out the side of the rake, working the hay into windrows rather than simply being caught up by the teeth of the dump rake. This rake was also "ground-driven," the rolling of the rake's wheels powered the turning of the rake's central shaft. My father led the horses down the rows of mown hay and the windrows were prepared much quicker. These two units made a great improvement in the way hay was gathered and brought to the barn for storage.

With this one story, it can be seen that the farmers' work in the first part of the Twentieth Century was not an easy thing. This country should be appreciative to the hard work the farmers did to provide us with food, as the U.S. was said to have been "The Breadbasket of the World." Just this bit of information has opened my eyes to what was done for us all.
September 2000. Move to Top of Page DTHSociety Home page