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Tales of a Hay Hauler: From typewriters to balers

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 11 July 2018

Flack. Harassment. Annoyance. Utter disbelief. Face-making accompanied by head-scratching. Occasional profanity. Threats of bodily harm.

These were just a few of the reactions over the years to my best attempts at penmanship. You know, using some form of sharp stick to change thoughts, ideas and directions from thought into decipherable characters another person can make sense of – or should be able to.

I remember the displeasure my mother expressed when, as an excuse for my sloppy signature, I quipped no one would be able to forge my signature.

When my family moved from the farm to town, and became the proud owners of a small motel, one of the items the previous owners left behind was a typewriter. It was a huge black monster with letters that moved on long levers and struck the paper exposed. We all tinkered with it from time to time, but no one got serious about getting proficient with it – that is, until halfway through high school, when the verbal abuse I was getting due to my increasingly illegible scrawl became overly annoying.

I took a typing class at high school. I don’t remember the brand of the old typewriter, nor the issues it had (probably just needed a cleaning and a few drops of oil), but I ended up buying my first-ever German import, an Olympia brand portable typewriter, full manual and no power cord needed.

I remember winning the argument with the office store staff. They insisted I needed an electric model. I told them I might need to use it when a current bush (electrical outlet) was not in the area. It has served me well.

It now resides in the back seat of my office pickup. The girls in the office love it. When I type up a contract for the purchase of a stack of hay, they can read it (that’s as opposed to the hand-written contracts of my contemporaries).

It often happens a fellow will spy me using it and burst out with, “Wow! Where did you ever find that antique?” I reply, “What antique? I bought that brand-new. In 1962.”

It works without Wi-Fi, a power cord or batteries. And since it became mine in 1962, every single time I’ve pushed the “A” key, it has printed an “A.”

It does make things very literal because when you need to “cut and paste” something in a document to a different location, you really do cut it apart with scissors and paste it in where you want it to go. In fact, the early Tales of a Hay Hauler articles were written with this “antique” and from time to time submitted “cut and pasted.”

A word processor followed – and finally a machine that would put a “tale” on a floppy disc. Now it seems like it’s been forever since I submitted anything other than by email.

Other technology has also advanced. One fellow I worked for in high school had a John Deere tractor started by hand. It had no electric starter. Compression release petcocks on each of the two cylinders were opened, the throttle set, and then the exposed flywheel was spun by hand and, after three or four tries, the engine would fire. At that point the operator would quickly close the petcocks, which were blowing fire with each power stroke of the engine.

Cummins (and probably other diesel engines) used a compression release as a cold starting aid. A lever inside the cab was pulled, which held the valves of each cylinder of the engine open, allowing it to spin freely rather than compressing any air on the compression stroke. When the electric starter had the engine spinning at a good clip, the compression release lever was released, and the flywheel carried enough momentum to compress the air in at least one cylinder to a temperature hot enough to ignite the spray of diesel fuel and start the engine.

(Diesel engines, in case you didn’t know, are “compression ignition.” Atmospheric air heats as it is compressed and, at the circa 16-to-21 compression ratios of diesel engines, the air at the top of the engine’s compression stroke is well above the temperature at which diesel fuel will burn. At this point, the diesel is atomized as it is sprayed into the super-heated air and burns rapidly, creating the rapid expansion that forces the piston down on the power stroke.)

Current technology, using a combination of more robust electric starters plus computer-operated fuel injectors and heated intake air makes starting a diesel engine a simple task down well below freezing temperatures.

Then there is baling hay. At 8 years old, I drove the SC model Case tractor that pulled Dad’s baler. A V-4 Wisconsin air-cooled engine powered the baler. Dad sat on one side of the bale chamber feeding the pre-cut baling wires, which had a loop in one end, into the “needles” that pushed the wires through to the other side of the bale. My mother sat there threading the free end through the eye and securing it. I remember her going through multiple sets of gloves each day we baled hay.

My, how technology has changed. …  end mark