Cottonwood seeds covered the headlands in soft white, and the shade the trees provided it was ideal for a quick nap after round after round sitting on a slow-moving tractor’s seat.
Dad worried that the cornfield and others would suffer acute iron poisoning from a sleepy cultivator operator, but naps weren’t encouraged. His goal was to cultivate corn four times, and maybe more if time allowed and weed populations warranted. My goal was for the corn to grow quickly so time could be spent on better pursuits.
Hay baling was one of those. Dad had gotten rid of the International baler in return for a New Holland equipped with a Wisconsin engine. Wisconsin engines were durable and strong with one bad habit — they were stubborn starters when the engine was hot.
Dad said the trouble was vapor lock, and a treatment was a cold shower for the engine. The sure cure was letting the engine cool naturally, but there wasn’t time for that. The New Holland seldom misfired tying bales, but when two heavy windrows were thrown together, it struggled with sheer pins. The toolbox, although it was well-stocked with sheer pins at the start of the season, was empty when one was needed. Nothing was more frustrating, when storm clouds gathered in the west, than to wait while somebody fetched sheer pins from the dealer.
Each person who stacked behind the baler had their own styles. Some showed off their strength by stacking five rows high. One-hundred-and-ten bales on a sturdy Minnesota-built wagon was a reason for pride, although it made it more difficult for the person who set the bale fork.
I was, by reputation and perhaps fact, a sloppy stacker, which often led to me to the hay mow. If it was 85 degrees and humid outside, the temperature topped 100 in the mow where pigeons cooed and made their messes.
Stacking alfalfa behind the baler was a relative breeze when compared to doing the same when it involved slew hay. It was much more slippery and thus demanded more precision, which was beyond my capability.
A load that toppled 5 miles home on the gravel road was more than a mess, it earned a lecture about stacking skills.
The lack of said skills earned another responsibility — milking and doing chores. Unlike my brothers, I liked milking. About half of the herd were dried off when June flipped to July, so the bulk tank never reached its full capacity.
For a reason that has been forgotten, I was left with the herd over three days on the July 4 weekend. The responsibility was a breeze — at least it was until the Fourth. The cooling unit failed, and the milk in the tank had soured into cottage cheese because the outside temperature reached near 100 degrees.
Finding a repairman to pump new freon into the system and to make needed repairs was impossible on the Fourth, which left me with a beggar’s choice. Skipping a milking or two was a possibility, but horror stories about herds coming down with mastitis outbreaks were plentiful.
The other option was to milk, feed as much milk as possible to calves and dump the rest. I had just settled on the latter route when the repair man’s truck pulled up to the milk house.
A half-hour later, the bulk tank was back to good working order. When the rest of the family returned, I assured them that everything had gone well. They learned things hadn’t gone so well when they received the repairman’s bill in the mail and when the milk check was smaller than thought possible.
The summer, which remained hot until fall, ended with the mow filled with hay and straw. It also concluded with a boy’s better understanding that sometimes things go wrong with no one to blame.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.