Haying, 18801940s: The Mower
World War II, most of Alberta's hay was put up using a combination of
horse powered machinery and human muscle. Hand sickles or scythes and hay rakes
were used, but only on small areas of very wet or rough lands. The horse-drawn
mower cut hay in most types of haying operations. Practical horse-drawn mowers
had been developed as early as the mid-1840s by William F. Ketchum of Buffalo,
New York, and designs had become standardized by the 1880s. The mower consisted
of a two-wheeled cart with an attached cutter bar. A system of gears and pitman
shaft transformed the rotary action of the cart axle into a reciprocating
action, driving a serrated knife back and forth through slotted guards attached
to the cutter bar.
manufacturers, each with their own gear system, sold mowers in Alberta. The most
common were two-horse mowers with five- to seven-foot cutter bars. One-horse
mowers with three- to four-foot cutter bars, although much less common, could
also be found.
constant care. The sections of the knife on the cutter bar had to be kept sharp.
A mower with a dull knife clogged and often stopped completely. It over-burdened
the horses and could cause the pitman to malfunction. Consequently, the knife
had to be sharpened at least once a day. Each section of the knife had to be
laboriously ground by hand using a file, water grindstone or special bevel
surprisingly, mowers were difficult to run and frequently broke down. Conditions
on recently cleared land in the Peace River area made mowing a nightmare:
will bring up against one of these infernal stumps with a crunch that nearly
jerks the breath out of the horses. It's no wonder that everything gets
broken. It's a terrible strain on a person...It's so roughfull of holes and
bumps that jar the very eye teeth loose.
The need for
vigilance and caution may explain the odd stance seen in old photographs of men
operating mowers: head cocked to the right and eyes riveted on the cutter bar in
an attempt to see through the tall grass. Hitting even a small hidden object
could seriously damage the knife. Training horses to pull the mower also could
be difficult. The ominous whirring behind their heels made many of them nervous,
jumpy and difficult to control.
only be done once the morning dew had dried, for damp grass jammed the knife.
Warm dry days were quickly seized, and the haying crew speedily assembled. Once
mowed, the hay lay in the swath and took about two days to cure in ideal
conditions of warm sunshine and brisk breezes. The purpose was to lower the
hay's moisture content enough to allow stacking, and every farmer had his own
way of estimating the moisture level. Some twisted the hay into a rope to see if
it would break, others felt the hay on the ground or chewed the stems. Those
that lacked the knack watched their neighbours!
Judy Larmour. Making Hay While the Sun Shone: Haying in Alberta Before 1955. n.p.: Friends of
Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
of the Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society.