Farmers lung is not a myth. Or at least the causes are real. Being under a haybarn roof on a super-hot summer day with dust and chaff saturating the air is not to be recommended. The red painted galvanised tin roof of the barn created an oven to work in.
Haymaking was a big event in my family’s year. My pocket money was earnt at haymaking time. My brothers and I did a lot for 25p an hour.
It was never entirely the same from year to year. That is, even if the work of cutting grass, drying it, baling it, stacking it, and hauling it back to the barn was the same. Weather made the biggest difference. Damp heavy bales or light dry bales are a world apart.
Each field presented a different test of our strength and endurance. They all had names. “Big Ground” was flat, wide, and open but wet at one end. “Pump Ground” sloped towards the small brook and had its own ruts and wet patches. “Goulds Farm Moor” was a far-off place, or it seemed to me, that was bounded by the River Cale. “Little Ground” was the easiest and its name says why.
Back to the big red barn. We refined stacking hay bales as if it was an artform. There were good practical reasons for taking care where hay bales were placed. They were building bricks. Like Lego. Stacking them alternately gave some stability. We learnt by making mistakes. If we didn’t stack them differently from layer to layer the whole construction would move alarmingly or present crevasses which were less than safe.
In the big red barn, at least the steel uprights gave some square corners and support. In a field, a hayrick had to be built with a sound foundation and skill otherwise it would not survive the winter.
Most of the summertime, it was too hot and sweaty to wear gloves. That wasn’t so bad when baler twine was made of sisal. As polythene baler twine came along it could be brutal on the hands.
As a 15-year-old, my ability to throw hay bales across a barn is not something I could match now. That is picking them off a much abused Lister bale elevator and then throwing them to whoever was staking, Dad or one of my brothers. We’d swap jobs from time to time. Staking was often the hardest job. Keeping up with the pace was tough.
As an aside the bale elevator itself was a story. Every year, Dad would grease and oil it to make sure the moving parts worked. Inevitably the winter took its toll on the mechanics and a fix had to be improvised. I use the word “improvised” but what I really mean is botched. Baler twine, coach bolts and nails have many uses.
Powering the whole contraption was a much-abused Briggs and Stratton petrol engine. It had a cord pull start. It was one where we often pulled endlessly in hope rather than and chance of getting it to start. When it did start, if the drive chain didn’t come off, it would warble away contently.
It’s droning sound moved up and down the scales as more or less bales were place on the elevator. If, usually my Mum, would put more than 4 bales on the conveyer it would all but stop. Slowly puffing away and straining to get the load to move. Most disturbing was the habit the engine had of leaking petrol. How we never came to burn down a hay barn or stack I will never know.
Looking back in time, the whole show was a health and safety nightmare. In 1975, that was not the overriding thought that went through anyone’s head. We live to tell the tale.