Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Trips down memory lane....

Today, I'm going to recollect something that I used to do back in High School..

During the summer months, when school was out, I'd get a plane ticket, and travel to Minnesota to help out my uncle on his farm.

This was done each and every year since I started High School, for the fact that my uncle paid me to come work there, and they also paid for me to fly out there as well. (My folks didn't have the cash for the ticket, and were more than willing to get me out of their hair for a couple of months on someone else's tab!)

Out on the farm, I'd get the honor of slopping hogs, feeding chickens, milking cows, foddering horses, goats and sheep, baling hay, and running the combine at harvest.

Near the end of my time, there would be a big "slaughter fest" where my uncle would butcher the year's meat. This would usually entail about 1000 chickens, 10 cows, 50 lambs, and 100 pigs. I'd also get to help with shearing each year as well.

One main event that I remember from my first year at the farm had to do with baling hay.

For those of you who have never done this, it's a dirty job. Hay sticks EVERYWHERE. You get scratches from the dead stuff, it weighs a bunch early in the morning while the dew is still settling in it, and it itches like MAD.

Sometimes we'd catch a break, and my uncle would pony up the cash for a guy to come out with his 1/2 ton baler, and we'd roll up 1000 pounds of hay into HUGE rolls that we would then take to season with the tractor. Others, we'd break out the two tractors, one with two empty wagons, and one with the baler and one empty wagon behind it.

The drive of the baler tractor would then follow the line of hay, which would feed into the baler. This would bundle the hay into that compact shape we all know about, and then fasten two wire ties around the bundle. the bundled bale would then travel to a small spring-loaded catapult which would flip the bale into the empty wagon being towed behind. There were two of us that would be in the wagon, stacking the bales into neat rows. Once the wagon was full, the lead tractor would stop, we'd unhitch the full wagon, and leave it where it sat. We'd then get the other tractor with the two empty trailers, unhitch one empty, and hook it behind the baler. Then we'd swap the other empty trailer and hitch it to the back of the full trailer, and set off to bundle more hay.

Once all three trailers were full, we'd take a trip to the barn, and the hayloft (or haymow, as my uncle called it). Two of us would climb up on the conveyor belt that would be raised to the opening at the top of the barn, and we'd get ready to stack bales as the others would start loading the conveyor with the bales from the trailers. My uncle would start the conveyor, and we'd ride to the top of the haymow, turn on a light (mainly because it'd be dark in there, and we needed to see where to stack the bales), and get ready for some fast hard work. By the time we would have our first barn run, it would be about 6am. (we'd usually start about 4:30 in the morning) so it wasn't too bad at first. The bales themselves weigh about 50-75 pounds each, depending on what type of hay, so the work isn't difficult, but it's very repetative and exhausting after a while. We'd then stack this out to the roof of the barn, my uncle would shut off the conveyor, and we'd ride it back down to the tractors, and go back for the next set of bales.

This particular day, we were working with the alfalfa bales. For early in the morning, this was a MAJOR downer, as these bales when wet tended to weigh about 80 pounds. We'd worked up a good sweat, and it took longer than normal for the first run to get done. Mainly because of the baler breaking down, and taking about two hours to fix.

Once we got the first full set of trailers done, we rode back to the barn to stack. I was with my cousin, and we were going to be the lucky two up in the haymow stacking. We got there, my uncle turned on the conveyor, and we rode up to the loft. I turned on the light, and we looked over the older stacks. There were a couple of broken-down bales that we moved to one side to use, but for the most part, everything was looking good. Then the bales started coming. We grabbed each one, walked it about five steps, and slammed it down on the bales to set it in. As we did this, we each noticed something. There was one section of the loft that was warmer and darker than the others, and there was a humming noise coming from that area as well.

Knowing how well my uncle repaired stuff, my cousin and I assumed that there was a faulty wire or breaker under the floorboards over there, so we resolved to try and leave that area for last, since we didn't want to run the risk of being shocked so early in the morning.

The three trailers were emptied, we scrambled down the conveyor, got a quick drink, and hopped back on the tractors for round two. By now, it was getting close to midday, and the sun was out in all of it's glory. We sweated, cursed, and got the second batch done. We then headed back to the barns to stack the next batch. My cousin and I rode the conveyor back up, and seeing the stacks, shrugged and made the decision to work on the side where we'd heard the nasty humming.

As the first bale hit the stack, the humming got a bit more intense. By the third bale, it got darker in the loft. He and I looked at each other, and then ducked and ran.

Unknown to us, a nest of hornets had set up camp in the hay bales there, and we'd just crushed over half of the nest.

Now I don't know about you, but I HATE hornets. They sting more than once, and those stings HURT LIKE HELL.

My uncle and cousins didn't know what was going on when they saw us scrambling down the conveyor, but they figured it out really quickly when the angry cloud of hornets filled the sky behind us. We ran for the irrigation sluices, and dove for the mud and water. We hid there for about an hour, until the mad things gave up and flew away.

My cousin and I both had a few stings from that close call, and we had to call a professional exterminator to clear out the nest. He said it was one of the biggest hornet nests he'd ever seen.

Since that time, I've really had a problem going up into dark dimly-lit barns. And I really get jumpy if I hear humming or buzzing noises.

But hell, can you really blame me?

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