Saturday, September 17, 2005

Farming's Form of Torture

On the drive back home from the Twin Cities this morning I made the mistake of trying to take highway 52 all the way down to highway 14.  Since they’re trying extra hard to make sure all of the 52 construction is done on time, it was down to one lane on each side, which didn’t exactly make for smooth flowing traffic.

As I was driving at the blisteringly fast clip of about 3.2 miles per hour with my windows down blasting some classic Soilwork, I was overcome with the smell of straw.  Looking around, I saw that the construction workers were covering the open pieces of ground around the exit ramps with it in order to help keep weeds from coming up.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve actually smelled straw and as I did, much like I have every fall since leaving the farm, I was immediately whisked away into reverie, thinking about everything I miss about the farm.  This time I was mainly remembering my days bailing straw and hay for my dad and for my neighbors.

For all you town kids out there, or even the farm kids who never had to bail hay, you’ll never know the unique form of torture it is.  Imagine for a minute a hot, muggy, still day in the middle of summer—one of those days where you’d do anything to stay indoors where it’s air conditioned.

Now imagine a field stretching out in front of you with hundreds of windrows of hay laid out.  You’re standing on a hay rack that’s attached to the back of a bailer that’s attached to the back of a tractor.  You get driven around the field as the bailer grabs the rows of hay, packs it into tight squares about the size of body-building midget.  It spits the rectangles of itchy, scratchy, abrasive, compact hay out the back at which point you grab them, stack them on the rack, and repeat until the rack is full.

Now I don’t know exactly what was worse, the bails themselves or the farmers that would want you to stack as many on a rack as humanly possible before stopping.  These bails were never very light.  Straw bails would be, but hay bails were rock solid.  Depending upon the farmer they could weight anywhere from 40 lbs to maybe 80 or 90 if they were damp and really compact.  

Now imagine taking an average bail, stacking five across to make a row, then stacking six or more rows high, then repeating from the back of the rack to the front.  You’d think it would get better the closer to the front you got since you wouldn’t have to drag them as far, but you would be very wrong.  You see, the closer to the front you got, the less room you had to work with the bails themselves.  Instead of using momentum to swing them up into the upper rows, you’d have to use brute arm strength to lift them up and stack them.

To make things worse, once you got to the point where there was only one small, human sized area left open at the front of the rack, you were often expected to fill it.  This was always a precarious and interesting thing to try to accomplish.  First, you’d stack one bail next to you, leave only a single bail empty area on the rack.  Then you’d stand up on the bail you just laid down, grab the next one and lay it in the open space. You could then repeat this for a couple of rows, but soon it’d be impossible to reach down far enough to grab the bails coming out of the bailer and haul them up without falling off of your little bail hill you created.  This was usually the time you were done with the rack, at which point you’d unhook the full rack and hook on an empty one and start over.

Imagine doing this for an entire day.  Often I’d only do it for an afternoon instead of a full day because I have really sensitive eyes and because of all the dust created during the bailing process I couldn’t last much longer than six hours without my eyeballs wanting to jump out of my face and run away.

I’d often look like I came in from a bar fight when a day of bailing was over.  My eyes would be completely bloodshot.  I looked like I had no energy whatsoever in my body.  And to top it off my arms were usually torn apart.  Even if you wore a long sleeve shirt, hay is pointy enough that it would rip through your clothes, or at least poke through, and scratch you up making it look like you just received a hundred lashings from 25 different people on each arm.  Sometimes my stomach and thighs would be tore up as well.

After a day of this, you’d appreciate any free time you have.  Now as terrible as bailing hay sounds, I’m glad I did it and had the experience because it helps me to realize how easy my current job is.  It also helped to instill a good work ethic in me that has helped to get me where I am today.  If it were up to me, I’d take every whiny, lazy, ungrateful little kid / teen / 20-something /whatever out there and make them bail hay for a week so that they know they don’t have it so bad working at McDonald’s or Barnes & Noble or wherever they work that is “so terrible”.  

Everyone should work on a farm at least once in their life to know what it’s like.  So many people today are spoiled rotten and expect everything given to them instead of earning it.  Give these brats a dose of real work and see what happens to them.  I’m sure their attitudes would change, if even just a tiny bit.

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