Story Hour is a collection of short, auto-biographical stories written by my father, about his childhood memories growing up on a farm in Upstate New York.
The hay wagon had an A-shaped load retainer on the front and a square frame on the back which prevented the slippery hay from falling off. It helped too if the loaders with their pitchforks knew how to place a haycock properly and build the load so it stayed together.
The hay had been raked into straight rows and then separated into fork-full piles called haycocks. The idea being that a fork would get most of the hay with one jab and not loose too many scatterings. The driver kept the wagon between the rows so that one man on each side of the wagon didn’t have to carry the hay very far. Jab the hay with the pitchfork and with one smooth sweeping motion, lift and toss so the hay fell close to where it was intended to be. The wagon load man made sure the hay was evenly distributed and not in danger of falling back off.
Dugal would stand on the back of the wagon with a pitchfork arranging the hay as it was thrown on by Jack and Dick. When I got to be a little bigger, I was assigned to driving the horses. I remember one particular time I was driving Tom and Jerry and we were doing quite well.
Now there are horses, and then there are horses from hell. Ours were from the hot place. Somewhere out west. Half broke, wild eyed, branded on the flank and loved to run like the wind. It did not matter one bit what was hooked up behind them. When the notion took them, a fluttering leaf entered their field of vision suddenly, or a loud sound startled them, they were off and running.
Well, all of a sudden one of the horses let out a giant snort with flaring nostrils, eyes rolling, head thrashing back and forth his feet doing a little dance of sorts. Dugal was gone. Even before the wagon started moving he was off that damn wagon and on solid ground.
I was paralyzed with fear…literally. By the time I realized what was going on it had gone from 0 MPH to tail and manes flying, hooves flailing in a dead run straight ahead. This was actually a good thing because if they kept going straight it was only ¾ of a mile to a hedge row that was thick enough to stop them.
The reins had long been dropped as I grasped for something to hang onto. The A-frame gave me support as long as the wagon stayed upright. The load of hay was of course scattered the full distance when they crashed into the small trees and thick brush. By the time the wagon lodged itself in the branches and stopped, the horses realized they were done. The fun was over.
With heads hanging down, as if in shame, greedily gulping air they waited for someone to extricate them from their predicament, I looked behind me and saw Dugal lying on the ground. Dick was walking towards the barn and Jack was headed towards the wagon where the horses and I were. I found out later Dugal was not hurt but rolling on the ground laughing. Dick had gone to get the light team, Babe and Elmer. They were nicer, gentler horses.
Jack proceeded to unhitch the horses from the wagon then lead each one through the brushy entanglement to clear their harnesses. By this time my brothers had arrived with Babe and Elmer, Dick riding Babe, the Morgan Mare and Dugal astride Elmer, a mixed breed gelding.
“Nice Ride?” inquired Dugal. Of course no answer was needed. One look at my snot nosed, teary-eyed face with quivering lips said it all. I was kind of a blubber brat, cry-baby.
There was no hay left on the wagon so Dick quickly hooked Babe and Elmer to the back of the wagon with a chain and proceeded to tug and wrestle the wagon out of the hedge row. This done, it was then time to re-harness Tom and Jerry to the wagon once again.
Jack and Dick each took control of one of the horses and talked in a soothing manner to them as they guided them into position. Once in place the hook up was quickly accomplished. Jack, who was somewhat of a wise guy looked at me and asked if I wanted to drive them back to the barn. I declined, saying I would just as soon walk.
I headed for the house. I was hot, thirsty and totally fed up with farming. I had recently learned to read and that was what I wanted to do….get a book and forget about the world.
Mom was in the kitchen. I suspect she had observed the whole event from start to finish. “Well,” she said, “that was quite a ride you had, Are you OK?” I mumbled a”Yeah” and washed my face in the cold water when I looked at her again there was that half smile and a wink.”They won’t get away from you again.”