All We Need’s More Rain
During the early 1950’s, we had a terrible drought across much of the United States. It almost matched the 1930 dust bowl days. It struck the Ozarks hard too, for a man in Madison County became so despondent when drilling for water for his cattle he struck oil and because of that he committed suicide. The oil never proved to be of much value, and I wasn’t here then but in Arizona as a teenager helping around a farm.
It was on that farm, at farmer Maynard’s I had my first experience with a twine baler. In the past a contractor brought his rig by and baled it. It was a pickup baler that required you hand tied the bales with wire. Both of that man’s teenage daughters ran that part. A little older than I was, they were attractive girls even covered in dry alfalfa leaves and dust, I thought them pretty neat. And I’d usually eat lunch with them when they were baling my boss’s hay. Their older brother fed the chamber off the pickup with a pitchfork and it was real hard work.
Maynard had some winter barley that year as wheat didn’t do good in Arizona. He’d grazed it all winter with some light calves and sold them for a profit. The price of barley wasn’t much so he decided to bale it. The Ferguson dealer showed him a new pickup baler that Ferguson just came out with that fit on the three point and tied with twine. A new kind of twine that was going to replace steel according to him. The barley would be ready before much alfalfa was cut and he wanted someone to experiment with it. So we were the guinea pig as it goes.
The barley was little mature to cut by the time they got the baler. That day there were factory men, mechanics and on the day of the baling lots of skeptical farmers standing around with their arms folded over their chest ready to see this operation fail. Maynard cranked up the tractor and let out the clutch. The bull wheel went to flying and the pickup teeth began to make a circuit. He went to feeding the windrow into the machine.
It made bales and tied them. But we quickly learned that you did not lift the bale by the strings and mentally weight it. They busted several doing that but Maynard was churning them out and beside the ones they broke, the tie operation was working well. The machine was what Ferguson said it was—the twine was a different story.
The twine had thin spots. Farmers who had shocked crops with twine pointed them out when a bale busted. The Ferguson dealer went to the farm house and called the home office – collect. Now just imagine; today we’d flip open a cell phone and call them.
One farmer later asked another, “How much you reckon that call cost? Calling them collect clear back there.”
The other one shook his head. “A bunch.”
Another complaint was the bales were smaller than wire tie and thus would cost more to handle. While the bales could have been bigger, Maynard and the dealer decided smaller bales might be a better bet until the new twine arrived. Incidentally the next shipment of twine was send by air—yes, the string that Ferguson sent by air to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport was hardly much better.
The Mexican boys that hauled in Maynard’s bales used hay hooks and loaded it in the field on a bob truck without a loader. They could toss an 80 pound bale of alfalfa on top of a load. Amazing. They broke some of these, but not many—we rebaled it and hauled it in ourselves. I must say the best young man on the hauling crew was a bulldog looking youth named Jesus. The next year Juan, the man who owned the truck, brought a hay loader. Maynard teased him, “I thought you didn’t need a hay loader.”
His reply in Spanish translated like this. “We ain’t got Jesus no more.”
But the hot Arizona sun was the worst enemy to the twine and in the tall stack, bales began to pop like capped home brew bottles.
Maynard went to the sale at south Phoenix and bought several thin young Hereford cows hauled in from Texas. They were so poor, their price at the sale didn’t pay the haul bill. Their voices were even gone from bawling so much.
I came in from school and he sent me to feed them.
“Alfalfa?” I asked.
“No, that barley hay. Alfalfa is too rich on their empty stomachs.”
I climbed on that stack and began to toss down the number of bales he’d instructed me to feed them. The cattle could reach in and get the hay through the rail fence and I'd fed like that before. So I scrambled down, got out my pocketknife to cut the strings and there was nothing there but those hungry white faces looking at me for more.
That scared me and I took off to find Maynard.
“And they ate it strings and all,” I said out of breath.
“Well, Doc," Maynard replied, "I don’t know how nutritious that twine is, but we sure won’t have to pick it up.”
Western novelist Dusty Richards and his wife Pat live on Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas. For more information about his books, call 1-866-532-1960 or email him at email@example.com.