School's out and Grandad is cutting hay. Those hot summer days are here again. The first job is to get the old iron two-horse mowing machine out from the rear of the wagon shed where it has been gathering dust and rust all winter. A little oil and grease here and there will soon have it in good shape. The long cutting blade is taken down from the rafters where it has been stored in its wooden case. Broken or worn knives are replaced with new ones ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and delivered by the R.F.D. My first job, besides getting in the way, was to turn the old hand grindstone, occasionally adding a drop of water, as Grandad sharpened all the knives to a sharp cutting edge. The mowing machine was painted red with a bright blue trim and was used the twenty years that I was growing up. When Dad was a boy though, all the mowing was done by hand. Even the meadows along Clinton Brook were cut for hay in those days.
While Grandad was alive and farming and even a few years after, everything was still done on our farm and that of the Webbs, the Vreelands, and Uncle Ike's by horse, but the Eckardts switched to tractor before World War II and we bought some of their horse-drawn machinery. The Newark Watershed still cut hay on a lot of their fields with horse patrols until the war or mid-forties. "Fiddler" Van Orden of New City had a beautiful pair of horses and he did all the mowing and heavy team work for the Watershed. I believe we bought his team or at least one of his horses after he suffered a highway accident with them. I remember each week when he came around collecting garbage for the Watershed he would go into the barn to see the horses while the others loaded our garbage. The Watershed collected our garbage then in an open dump truck. Fred Rude drove while Fiddler and a thin-faced fellow tossed the garbage. This was back when the garbage was burned on the Green Pond Road in the old Oil Station Ruins.
Well, having gotten the knives all sharp and the mower in order, Grandad would start to mow in the morning, after the other chores are done and the dew dried. Grandad and my Uncle Mart farmed together and each owned a horse. Prince was Grandad's and Lady was Uncle Mart's. Lady's predecessor, name forgotten now, dropped dead in his harness. Uncle Buck lived here then and, with my brother and me as passengers, was hauling a load of manure up to the gardens by Aunt Bete's when the horse just up and died in his tracks along the road by Art Post's. This was about 1935. I don't remember how we got the wagon back to the barn with only Prince. The Theobald Company was called and came to pick up the dead horse for glue.
Uncle Mart usually drove the team for mowing while Grandad went ahead with a hand scythe and stick to cut around the large rocks that might be hit by the mower. If the mower hit a rock, usually the wooden drive shaft broke or cracked so that it had to be replaced. This shaft was about 2.5 ft in length and made out of a piece of ash. About 1.5 inches square, it was the first thing to break. Sometimes we broke three or four a year. It was a winter job to make a supply of these shafts, splitting them out of an ash log, shaping to the right size in a vise, with a draw knife, and then letting them season for the next year's use.
Usually, a couple of copperheads would be killed during the haying season each year. They would lie along the stone walls that separated most of the fields. The fields were three to four acres in size and we mowed one field at a time. If the weather was right, the hay dried enough so that we could mow in the morning, rake and cock after dinner, and have most of it in the barn before dark.
Grandad raked with the horse-drawn rake while Uncle Mart put the hay up in cocks. It was the kids' job to hand rake around the cocks.
The flatbed wagon would have had its box removed and the hay racks put on. Uncle Mart drove and placed the hay as Grandad pitched it up to him. It was a beautiful sight. My brother and I had our jobs also, as we followed along raking up any fallen or windblown hay. Grandad liked clean, clear fields. Our reward was a ride to the barn on top of the hay load and a glass of Grandma's fresh, cold, lemonade.
At the barn, the hay was pitched off over the cow loft through an outside hay door or else the wagon was driven in through the big double doors and the hay pitched into the loft. Our job was to pack the hay down in the loft. A hot, dusty, and sweaty job!
We always had more hay than the barn would hold so my uncle in Smith Mills would get two or three truckloads. In bountiful years there was some left to sell or stack outside the barn. Besides the fields of my Grandad's, we cut two fields of Uncle Mart's and the fields around Aunt Bete's house. Some years a field would be plowed in the spring and planted with field corn followed by oats and seeded down for hay again the second year, to improve the hay crop.
Often a late afternoon thundershower would come in over Bearfort Mountain and we would make a mad dash for the barn with our load of hay! The next morning whatever hay got wet in the field would have to be turned over and spread out to dry completely before being recocked and hauled to the barn. If it got we twice or more, it was stacked separately and used for bedding in the horse stalls.
Hay is a slippery item and if not loaded property on the hay rack would sometimes slide when the wagon made a sharp curve coming up the steep hill from the pond. Once off, it was always a problem to reload. I remember one time when we were almost to the barn, coming along by the gardens with a load of hay topped by a load of kids, when the top third of the load slid off, throwing kids, hay, and all into the potato patch.
The field across the pond, which we called the Long Streak, was usually used for year-round pasture. One year, when I was small, Grandad planted it with corn and raised some of the best melons and pumpkins between the corn ever raised on our farm. That field had a very sandy soil and enjoyed plenty of morning dew from the brook and the pond.
The old farm road ran from the barn down over the hill along the side of the Center Lot and thru the Little Meadow Lot to the pond dam. It crossed over the dam and followed along the edge of the pond and the Long Streak Lot to the Old House Lot and the Maple Sugar Grove.
Along the pond, in the bank, was a sand pit. Each year Dad would take the dump cart with the team and get us a load of sand to play in all summer. The dump cart was always behind the barn under the Bellflower Apple tree. This cart had two small front wheels and two six-foot rear wheels. Grandad also used the cart to haul gravel to fix the farm roadways every year after any heavy rains.
After Grandad's death in 1944, Uncle Mart, Dad, and we boys carried on the general farming for a few years more. The early fifties saw the tractor and truck replace the horse and wagon and a way of life that had changed very little in five generations came to an end.
The Old House Lot was the lot between the woods and the end of the pond. It was always called the Old House Lot because when Grandad was a boy there was an old house there in ruins. By 1890 only the cellar hole remained. The well had been filled so that the cows would not fall into it. In the cellar hole was a huge black walnut tree, about 30 inches across, where, when I was a lad we gathered a feed bag full of nuts. Grandma made a delicious black walnut cake but it was our job to first crack the nuts on the old 'iron goose." What Grandma called the 'iron goose' was a flat iron about 12 inches long and about 2 inches wide and high. A pressing iron for some special purpose, but the only use I ever saw for it was to crack nuts on.
The old house was supposed to have been Aunt Myra Hopler's house. Her husband, Sam, went west in the gold rush days of '49. He went by schooner, sailing around Cape Horn and all the way up the west coast of South America, instead of across the continent in a covered wagon. Sam was a wheelwright by trade and built the waterwheels for Clinton Furnace. Aunt Myra is supposed to have been Grandad's aunt, but I don't know for certain. Later the Hopler's lived on LaRue Road next to Chillian LaRue, this was just beyond the Cross Road intersection.
The farm is gone now, houses dot the fields where once we gathered hay, the pond remains, thanks to neighbor Paul Ross, a reminder of a better day.
by Leslie L. Post