One of the first things I saw when I entered the Hancock County Agricultural Museum on the Hancock County Fairgrounds near Britt, Iowa, was a mammoth New Holland hay baler. It was still in its working clothes, hooked to a skillfully restored 1942 Oliver 60 tractor.
Information provided near the baler indicated it was purchased in the mid-1940s and used on farms in the rural county in north-central Iowa. This model produced wire-tied bales and required two men riding on the rear of the baler. One person poked the wires through, and the other made sure the tying process happened smoothly. One wooden seat was attached, ready for a rider.
The Oliver 60 could have pulled the baler, since it wasn’t providing power to operate the machine. Instead, the baler was equipped with a Wisconsin hand-crank engine. However, during most of its working days, this baler was pulled by a 1938 model John Deere A.
Tom J. Bechman
EASY PULL: This 1942 Oliver 60 would have had no problems pulling the New Holland baler because the baler was powered by its own engine.
Why did the baler catch my eye? Because growing up, I heard stories about my mother and uncle custom-baling hay for pennies a bale all over south-central Indiana. It was the late 1940s, and they lived in Bartholomew County on two rented farms, both owned by the same family. It was the first farming venture for both my parents, Robert and Virginia, and my Uncle Roy and Aunt Bernice after World War II.
As the story goes, my mom pulled the baler with a Willys Jeep. This New Holland baler was also powered by a gas engine. It only required one rider. So my mom, who never could sweat properly her entire life, drove the jeep while my uncle endured sticky hay chaff.
I wasn’t born yet, but I know the story is true. Another uncle, Harry Wilds, visited one afternoon and snapped a photo with an early slide camera. I later converted the slide to a picture, and it sits in my office. My mom is somewhere up ahead in the dusty jeep. My uncle is smiling, Lord knows why, sitting on the board seat on the baler.
He was probably smiling because he enjoyed his work, and sitting behind the baler was a giant step forward compared to the days when he and my dad grew up.
Tom J. Bechman
CHEAP SEATS: My uncle spent day after day riding a wooden seat like this one attached to the rear side of the baler while my mother pulled it with a Willys Jeep.
The greatest generation was also one of the hardest-working generations. They were doing what many young farmers recently told us they’re doing today — pounding out a little extra income for cash flow.
The memory of my family using the baler is real, even though I wasn’t there to see it. Seeing the old New Holland helped me imagine what it must have been like. There’s no doubt that generation was passionate about farming too. Why else would they have done it?
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