The Wilson Story


Dirty Jobs – The hand baler

    Mike Rowe, the star of the TV Show “Dirty Jobs” is fun to watch, when the job is not too dirty.  One of my early jobs would fit for a “Dirty Jobs” segment and that was the hand operated hay baler.  One of the major labor intensive farm jobs in Utah was the harvesting of alfalfa and grass hay.  The hay was used to feed large herbivorous animals such as cows, horses, goats, and sheep.  

In my grand fathers era all hay was handled with pitch forks and large boom forks.  The hay would be mowed by a horse pulled mowing machine. Then raked with a large bunch rake into piles that were allowed to air dry. Then using a team and wagons two men would fork the hay onto the wagon and a third or fourth worker would ride on the wagon and arrange and tramp the hay down. The tramper was usually a younger child or two.   The hay collected from the field was taken to the stacking area where a large boom with large fork was used to move the hay from the wagon to the stack.  According to Dad the standard stack would have a forty by forty foot base and as hay was added to the stack it would get higher and wider, maybe fifty by fifty.  A finished stack would have a shape like a loaf of home made bread in that the stack was significantly wider at half height than at the base. I explain this because Dad pointed out that grandpa Roy could calculate how many tons of hay was in the stack by making two measurements in addition to the standard base measurement.  He would measure the distance from the base on one side over the top to the other side and do this on the other pair of sides.  With a formula using these measurements and a density factor they could estimate the tonnage of hay in the stack.  They had one factor for freshly stacked hay and one for settled hay after the winter. The hay was more dense in the spring than in the fall when it was fresh.  What amazed my Dad was that grandpa had only gone to school until the eight grade yet he could work this real world problem that Dad nor I could work. 

    Removing the hay from the stack was very difficult if one just used a fork because it was hard to get forkfuls that you could handle.  To get the hay in usable size it was cut or better sawed with a large hay knife into sections or slabs that could be easily handled.  Thus, a hay stack that was partially fed would have this cliff like surface where the knife had cut the hay and the worker had removed a section.

    One day Glenn Ray and I were walking down the road and this stranger came up and asked us if we wanted a job and we said of course.  We went down to his field and he had us tramp hay until late at night.  It was dark when he dropped us off at my house.  He said that he would give us an ice cream cone if we could catch him up town sometime.  We had worked in good faith all day and this total stranger did not pay us.  Our parents were sick hunting for and calling for us.  I am certain that the parents went out and called us and when we didn't answer they started to get mad and then to panic.  I had not worried about my parents because I knew that they would be proud of my new job. When I told dad the story he asked who did you help and we didn't know he was a stranger.  Dad busted out laughing and said so you work all day for “Stingy Stoyle Stevenson. You weren’t the first.” There was only one man in town that dishonest. He had pulled this trick on every kid. He never gave me my ice cream.  When I grew up I always wanted to catch him up town and drag him into the ice cream parlor and collect my cone with interest but I never did.  Never again would I work for a perfect stranger expecting pay, without a handshake.