History of Balers has Farmer Making Hay

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OXFORD ó The saying goes that you make hay when the sun shines.

So, come this Saturday and Sunday, whether itís 80 degrees or 100, Bill Stockman of rural Oxford who owns 19 vintage hay balers invites you to come make hay with him.

"Itís a fun day," says Bill, 65, who hosts his fourth annual "hay days" from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. "We can sit around and shoot the breeze. If you want to rack hay, come out. I suggest you bring a pair of gloves."

And wear long pants. And be prepared to sweat. And expect to get scratched up because baling hay is rough work.

"I used to think it would be grandpa bringing the kids, but itís the other way around," Bill says. "The kids have heard grandpaís stories."

And the kids will be gung-ho to show what they can do, until theyíve lifted a few of those 50 to 55-pound bales.

"Itís amazing," Bill says. "They bail out, but at least they can say that they did it."

I caught up with Bill at his farm north of Oxford just north of Highway 6 (1580 Upper Old Highway 6 NW) on a day after temperatures hit the high 90s.

"A day like yesterday," Bill says, "you made hay because itís just what you done."

As a kid, Bill baled plenty of hay for his father, Merle Stockman, who died two years ago at 93. But Merleís interest in hay balers translated to his son long before that.

"My dad had the first New Holland baler in Johnson County," Bill says proudly. "Donít ask me what year."

Suffice to say that it was an improvement on the old ways when hay was gathered in piles to be tied by hand. By the 1930s, automatic balers made the process simpler, but the machine had to be taken to those piles of hay, Bill says. But, along came the automatic hay baler pulled behind a tractor that spit out ready-made "square" bales onto the ground and, with later modifications, onto a flatbed trailer behind the baler. (Modern "round" balers are a different animal.)

"You get into a rhythm and you do it," Bill says about standing on the flatbed to stack emerging bales. "If one person handles 500 bales in a day, thatís 25,000 pounds, 12 1/2 tons, and thatís not a particularly busy day."

Since square bales are still popular with horse owners because they make regulating feed easier, itís not particularly hard to find old square balers. Itís just that Bill has certain kinds he likes to collect, meaning heís bought them from Malin, Ore., to Waverly, NY, to just six miles away.

While heís partial to New Holland, Bill owns John Deere, Oliver and Massey-Harris brands. His oldest is a 1944 Minneapolis-Moline "Bale-O-Matic" which he demonstrates by starting its gasoline engine and engaging the clutch.

The machine creaks to life. The sharp tines rotate to pick hay off the ground. Wicked-looking forks grasp for hay on the inclined platform. The plunger cycles up and down like an oil field pump to compact the hay into a bale. Gears twirl and a large spool releases wire to tie the bale as neatly as wrapping a Christmas present.

"Itís kind of a weird hobby," Bill admits, "but I love to watch them work."


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