Haying Season, Part Three:
From Horses to Engines
Come the end of June, the country air fills with the sweet smell of freshly cut hay. In the days before tractors, farmers depended on horses to pull the machines needed to cut and stack hay and, as historian Pat Myers explains, hay wasn't just meant for the horses on the farm.
Horses, of course, pulled odd delivery wagons for businesses. They worked in coalmines and lumber camps, in the railway, road and dam building industries and other industries requiring excavation. These industries, of course, needed large quantities of hay for their feed.
Now, if farmers had a bit of extra hay that they wanted to sell, they could haul it into town in wagons to hay markets. But, for shipping, for example, to the mines of the Crowsnest Pass, hay had to be baled and hay presses were used for this operation.
The Depression during the "Dirty Thirties" delayed the switch from horsepower to engine power but, after World War Two, there was more money around and farmers quickly turned in their horses for tractors.
Some implements could be adapted from being used with horses to being used with tractors fairly easily. The pole on the hay mower, for example, could simply be shortened and attached to the tractor's draw bar.
Sweep rakes, on the other hand, were mounted on the front of the tractor, rather than pulled behind it as they were with horses, and their name changed to hay sweeps.
A combination hay sweep and stacker greatly reduced the manpower and time needed to put up hay. The sweep picked up the hay then a system of winches and cables lifted it up to the top of the stack and deposited it in one operation. Now, this combination hay sweep and stacker was in turn quickly replaced by the hydraulic-powered sweep stacker. Other developments included the pick up baler that baled hay directly from the swath and then the automatic baler that did NOT need a man to stand on the platform and fork the hay into the baling chamber the way the pick up baler did (the automatic baler used mechanical forks.)
Automatic balers worked well with the Bradshaw bale booster, which was an Alberta invention, that essentially was a conveyor belt that raised the finished bales up to make a long stack.
And, so, by the end of the 1950s the age of horsepower was over and most hay in Alberta was put up by gas or diesel powered tractors.
On the Heritage Trail,
I'm Cheryl Croucher.