For centuries, hay was put up loose. It was cut and left to dry, then piled up. Technology improved from a scythe and wooden pitchfork to a horse-drawn mower and ropes and pulleys to get the job done faster and easier.
It was little before my time, but I think balers became common after World War II. The first ones tied with wire. Soon after, every ranch had a growing pile of baling wire.
Baling wire is strong, flexible, and was plentiful at the time, so it was used in all manner of repairs. It is from this era that came the saying “things went hay-wire”, in reference to a situation of anything broken down, and an operation where maintenance was a little lax was referred to as a “hay-wire outfit.”
The wire-tie balers are all gone now, and the supply of hay-wire has dwindled. The repair material of choice in the new millennium is duct tape - but this week I ran into some equipment that had been repaired with fence wire.
I had bought a used ‘big gun’ sprinkler set-up this spring that had been replaced by a center-pivot sprinkler. (This big gun is a giant RainBird that shoots a spray of water 150 feet, and drags itself through the field along a cable.) Between the excessive precipitation that delayed the need for irrigation, the extra worked caused by deluge, and a series of breakdowns in my pickup, I didn’t get much of the equipment hauled home until this week.
I also had my “new” self-propelled baler delivered to the mechanic at Clyde Park for repair of the air conditioning unit. In one trip I dropped off the baler and took the trailer on to pick up the first load of aluminum main-line pipe to haul to the ranch.
It was too late in the season to accomplish any effective irrigation of hay, but we wanted to at least set it all up to learn how it worked and to discover any missing pieces. After an exceptionally wet spring we have had an exceptionally dry summer. I had just seeded a hayfield last week, and the soil is too dry for the seeds to germinate well. Irrigating that field would be a good test of the “new” sprinkler.
I had always considered the ranch from which this equipment came to be pretty well-run. They had a big shop and lots of tools, and I assumed that they were on top of their maintenance program. But as we set up the pump we noticed a splash of liquid which turned out to be diesel fuel. We discovered that the series rubber fuel return lines had all ruptured at the joints. I began to list the supplies we would need to put it into shape.
Then we looked at the sprinkler carriage and found that a large chain had de-railed – the idler sprocket was loose and skewed. After spooling out the hose I pulled the carriage up to the shop.
We spent the rest of the day disassembling the hose reel to get at the idler sprocket. In the process we found several bad bearings and a broken idler pivot – that idler sprocket was literally secured by a piece of fence wire!
We did some cutting, ginding, hammering, drilling, and welding to affect the repairs. After straightening some pieces and securing some others, I had to remove an extra spacer and replace a bolt that had been part of the jerry-rigged hay-wire fix.
In the meantime, we took delivery of several loads of gravel on our road. During the building boom a couple of years ago there was quite a demand for landscape rocks, and the West Boulder is well supplied with them. The contractor who was hauling them never gave us any cash, but instead used his equipment to accomplish a number of jobs for us, including fencing and a major project to install water tanks to supply the cows with a source of winter water. Currently he is hauling in gravel as he hauls out rocks. He also brought us up a leveler to smooth out the gravel onto the roads.
We also started up some irrigation water in two hayfields, to hit some dry spots. These were places where a siphon tube quit, or where we hadn’t opened enough gates in the pipe to cover a high spot. It’s a little cool on wet hands in the mornings, but we’re still getting into the 80s in the afternoon.
The horse barn is now solid. We have removed the beam we’ve had supporting the upper story for the last five years and cleaned out all the extraneous rocks. There is still some work to do on the corral, but the barn is good for another fifty years.