Haymaking in the 1950s
By Dr Iain Glen
Nowadays, the gathering of winter fodder for cattle is highly mechanised with hay hopefully cut during a good settled spell and once sufficiently dried in the sun, converted into large, round, plastic-covered bales.
Alternatively, it is often carted in high-sided trailers, filled using a second tractor with a forage harvester, to make silage.
My recollections of haymaking at Parkhouse in the early 1950s go back to the era when hay was made into ricks in the field and a few weeks later, ricklifters were used to cart the ricks into the farm stack yard, where large hay stacks were built.
My father’s early career involved giving advice to farmers on soil improvement and manuring meaning when he came to farm himself, the result was usually a heavy hay crop which took a lot of drying.
Although it might be turned two or three times, we often had to go up and down the swathes shaking out bigger clumps with a hay fork. Once sufficiently dry, a multi-pronged sweep was attached to the front of the tractor to gather the hay in for rick building.
This equipment superseded the Tumblin Tam that my uncle John Sillars at Cairnfield used with a horse for a similar function. To build a rick, a circular layer of hay was made and then three 6ft to 8ft poles were tied together with a twisted roll of hay to make a supporting tripod and placed in the centre.
Hay was then forked around and on top of this tripod to build a rick which would be about 6ft wide and about 10ft high. As a youngster, my job, once the rick had been completed, was to ‘pook’ all around the base, pulling out handfuls of hay to prevent waste as the rick settled down over time. The hay that was removed went into the next rick.
When it came time to bring the ricks in, the Corriecravie community worked together bringing our ricklifters with us. Ricklifters were purpose built trailers which could be tipped up and reversed into the base of a rick.
Two stout ropes were pulled from the rollers at the front and attached to each other with metal clasps behind the rick. A handle was attached to a geared winding wheel linked to the rollers at the front and the rick gradually pulled onto the ricklifter which clicked flat again as the weight came forward.
As youngsters, we liked to ensure the rick was far enough forward for us to hop on the back for the ride to the stack yard and our preference was for Donald Craig or Don Brown as they drove a bit faster than father or James Brown.
At the stack yard, the ricklifter was tipped up again to slide off the rick for the stack builders and returned to the field for the next rick.
At Corriecravie House, Jack Brown arranged for the construction of a horse fork for the work of the stack builders. This had a tall central pole supported by stays. A rope attached to a grapple fork passed through pulleys at the end of a derrick and was led to another pulley at the base of the pole.
From here the rope was passed along the ground and attached to a horse’s harness. The grapple fork when tensioned gathered a great bunch of hay and as the horse was led forward this was raised and when above the level of the stack being built, pulling a trip chord caused the load to be deposited on the stack. All the metal work for the horse fork was made by Mr Stewart, the Sliddery blacksmith, who was an excellent craftsman.
I would have been about 14 when father acquired a static baler and for a year or two we still built ricks but fed them into the baler in the field before carting the bales into our hay shed.
My job was to sit on a bale on one side of the baler as the compressed hay was emerging. Two lines of baler twine were fed up from the other side. These were caught with the upturned ends of a U-shaped steel bracket pushed through from my side and retrieved in the gaps between the thrusts of the piston compressing the hay. The twine was cut and tied in a reef knot to the loose end remaining from the previous bale.
This same baler was being used to bale straw in the hay shed when a fire started which destroyed everything in the stack yard, the tractor and the hayshed.
I was a pupil at Keil School at the time but can confirm from Hamilton Brothers’ records that father ordered a new tractor on November 6 1956. I also heard that a son of one of the firemen in attendance said this fire was better than the usual November 5 bonfire!
About this time, balers which could pick up hay directly from the swathe, appeared. We still had to get the hay dry enough to be baled but, from then on, the spectacle of a row of tidy ricks disappeared from hay fields.
Written with assistance from Dr Donald Brown who still bears a scar, the result of catching a finger between a rope and roller on a ricklifter.
Photo taken about 1955 of Iain, second from right, working at hay time with the Craig family from the Corries with Donald Craig on the left, John and their father Peter on the right.