October 19, 2008

Daft Laddies – The arrival of the baler

Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on.

By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg

An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact donaldclegg@btopenworld.com

It was hard for a North Tyne or Redesdale Daft Laddie to accept that all the skills he had acquired of rakin’, forkin’, sweepin’, kilin’-up, shekin’-oot, kilin-up again, pikin’, leadin’ and stackin’ hay, were about to be swept away by a new-fangled machine called the pick-up baler.
Massey Harris pick-up baler with auxiliary engine to drive the machine. The tractor only tows the machine. Later model Fordson Major tractor.

This machine pulled by the tractor went along the windrow and picked up the hay. They were either driven by the tractor’s power drive shaft or by an auxiliary engine on the baler. A ram then pushed the picked up hay into a chamber making it into an oblong, tied two strings aroond it and then pushed it oot the hint end. "Whey man! wad ye believe that? Aa wadn’t hev believed it if Aa hadn’t seen it for mesel?" These were typical comments when farmers got back from Hexham on the Tuesday bus having fed off the latest developments on the way.

The only balers we laddies had seen up to then were stationary balers that sometimes arrived with the threshing mill to bale straw. These were great steel monsters where you forked straw in the top and a vicious ram pounded it into a chamber. Two men (one on each side) put wooden spacers between each bale in the chamber and pushed wires through the sides of the pressed straw to each other for knotting. The result was a muckle greet bale that when ejected was a two-man lift.

And when you did shift them, the wires cut your hands. This bale wire had to be cut with pliers or the side of a file, and by heck, if ye left ony o’ that wire lyin’ arroond, ye got yor lugs chowed. So when the new pick-up balers arrived, they had to be viewed with great skepticism – as had all things new in the North Tyne and Redesdale of course.

The skeptics had a lang list of negative technical arguments in their armoury – and they used them all. First, there was the strong point that pikin’ was the only way to mek decent hay. “Balin’ hay off the field was asking for it te gan up i’ smoke as theor was nee way in the woorld ye cud put bales strite inti the hayshed! The only way was mebbe te build a bit stack in the corner o’ the field and leave it lang enuff to let the heat and stoor oot!”

So it went on. Sometimes these early bales were left out and set up in the hayfield like corn stooks to “cure” before leading them home. It was a disaster! What was forgotten was that a stook of corn will shed water whereas hay bales just absorbed it like a sponge. The bales were turned and shifted, wires were put up in the field to stand them against - all to no avail and in the end they went directly to make muck, rather than indirectly through the cattle.

All eyes watched this calamity and the old wise heeds said - "Aye, Aa teld ye!" And so they did. But things started to change as the skeptics saw "huw handy them bales wor for carryin’ and feedin". "Ye cud carry yen int’ the byor and then brek it up inte canny little biskits withoot the slaistor associated with carrying in armfu's or forkfu's of lowse hay”. A small battle had been won, but certainly not the war - yet.

The next stage in evolution for the doomsayers was to pike the hay, and then hire the baler to stand at each pike and swallow the hay forked into it. This was a really daft idea but bales of this “approved” fully-dry hay were then carted home on the trailer or hay bogey instead of in pikes. Note that the pike still remained supreme.

By now technology was really humming in the North Tyne and Rede. But the Daft Laddie had to watch his Ps and Qs when forking hay into the stationary pick up baleer to mek sure you shook oot each forkfu nice and canny so you didn't bowk the baler and smash a shear bolt. That nice bang quickly generated your full pedigree!

"And Aa'll tell ye summit else" said the hind trying to impress the boss - "Ye git a helluva lot mair hay inte the shed in them bales than ye dee when wi’ lowse hay!

Aye and another thing, ye divvn't need to build any stacks cos the whole damn'd lot’ll gan in the hayshed nuw!” Nuw this was real fighting taalk and change was cumin’ – just like a shooer doon the valley.

Photo shows conventional hay bale - 30kg

The final stage of evolution happened quite quickly, as more farmers got brave enough to bale hay directly from the windrow. And there were a few farmers who had bought a baler of their own by this time, and they were using the machine for what it was intended for - as a truly "pick-up" baler. Some bought a low-density Welgar (for square bales) or an Allis Chalmers baler (for round bales) as they thought this would reduce the chances of overheating. Both were hopeless. The bales were loose and impossible to stack. Rikerbys in Hexham got them all back over a very short time.

The Allis Chalmers round baler in the picture was a clever idea; It laid the foundation for today's round balers. The belts rolled the hay into a small loose sausage and then wrapped a string around it.

If there was any doot about the hay’s condition, then folk built a lowse stack of bales in the corner of the field and hoyed a sheet ower it for a few days to let the hay sweat a bit before taking it heme to the shed. You left a fork shank in the stack to test the internal heat if you were worried.

But farm technology in Tyne and Rede had taken a mammoth leap forward. Pikin hay and all the paraphernalia and skills that went with it had gone rapidly into history, never to return. There were few tears shed by hinds and Daft Laddies. It also coincided with the end of the horse era that had lasted for probably 500 years. What a celebration! Enuff te caaall for an encore of the Morpeth Rant at the Saturday night dance in the Toon Haall.

And a new material - baler twine-had arrived on the farm to become the universal fix-it. It was much thicker than binder twine and a lot more user-friendly than bale wire.

I wonder what the old 1950s skeptics would say now if they saw today’s monstrous wrapped bales of hay or silage adorning (many say spoiling) the countryside wrapped in their brightly-coloured plastic raincoats?

These bales must be protected from stock and disposal of the plastic is now an issue. Farmer's have been killed by their 400-800kg weight, and graffiti artists are finding them a great rural canvass for their messages.

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