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Published May 07, 2012, 08:33 AM

Saving by letting go

TOWNER, N.D. — Growing up, most of our pastures had herds of cattle or a small band of horses on them. But one small pasture, close to home, was occupied by old steel and antique iron. It was a little boy’s imagination playland better than most manufactured specifically to amuse.

By: Ryan Taylor, Agweek

TOWNER, N.D. — Growing up, most of our pastures had herds of cattle or a small band of horses on them. But one small pasture, close to home, was occupied by old steel and antique iron. It was a little boy’s imagination playland better than most manufactured specifically to amuse.

My pasture playland had old horse-drawn equipment, antique cars and tractors and even a jeep. All manner of things for a kid to sit on, steer, shift and pretend they’re doing something grand in their little mind of make believe.

I always was particularly drawn to one large old hunk of iron with pulleys and gears and fly wheels as big across as I was tall. The one big wheel could be turned, which turned another gear and another with teeth and cogs, which drove a plunger of sorts, but it was pretty slow motion. Dad always warned me not to stick a finger in there, and I never did.

The machine was an old stationary hay baler. It used to sit out in the hayfield, a natural resting spot for old stationary hay equipment, but Dad pulled it up closer to the yard, much to my satisfaction, as it completed my playground line up of horse mowers, horse rakes, cultivators, binders and planters.

I knew it was old, but I never knew a lot about its origin. I think it was originally owned by another old homesteading neighbor to bale hay on our shared hay meadow. The only reason to put hay in little square bales in those days was to make it possible to load a rail box car to the max and ship it somewhere to sell at a better price.

Fellow baler

I did hear stories of another stationary baler in our family, on my mother’s side, that I always found interesting. Her uncles had one that they bought second hand in 1912 from a local fellow who had shipped the baler off to Yakima, Wash., by rail where it was set to use baling hay.

And some of the hay it baled was shipped to Hawaii to feed the horses and mules that powered the pile drivers that built Pearl Harbor. The baler came back to North Dakota and was bought by her uncles to bale hay out of the stacks made on the Mouse River meadow.

A little brush with destiny in a roundabout way, but still a story worth telling. Better yet, the baler was made by the Sandwich Manufacturing Co., of Sandwich, Ill. Yup, and the baler had been to Hawaii, which once was called what? The Sandwich Islands. Destiny.

Renewal and preservation

I’ve always wanted to see our old baler work, but never seemed to have the time or talent to get it back in working order. So I pitched the idea to a friend with a local threshing show who had an affinity for fixing up old farm implements.

Last week, we loaded up the old baler on a trailer and donated it to the Drake (N.D.) Threshing Show. I hope they can save it for posterity and someday put on an old-fashioned hay baling demonstration for old timers and kids and old-time kids like me.

As we pulled that baler away from its resting spot, I felt good knowing it wouldn’t be melted down for scrap, it won’t go unappreciated and sink into the sod, and it just might bring more people the joy and wonder I had as a kid in our pasture of old iron.

If I get to see it work just once, and get to share that experience with our kids and others, it’ll be well worth the donation. And, yes Dad, we’ll keep our fingers away from the cogs and gear teeth.

Editor’s Note: Ryan Taylor welcomes comments about his column. He can be reached at 1363 54th St. N.E., Towner, N.D. 58788; email: cowlogic@ndak.net. Taylor, who ranches near Towner, is a columnist for Agweek.

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