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Before I Knew What Was Happening

By John H. Cooley

Editor's note: From May 2006 to January 2007, my cousin Dan Cooley edited a blog called The Cooley Farm, where he and other family members started the writing project that would eventually lead to several published memoirs. The following post was written by John, the youngest of Harry and Gertrude's five children. —Sara Tucker


Stuart Phillips driving Jerry and Ned.

I've pretty much forgotten how to add my comments to a blog, so I'm just going to assume that if I type it in this space, it will, through the mystery of the computer, find it's rightful place.

Charlie Cooley, my brother, has already given a pretty complete account of how haying got done when we were kids. My own experiences were not exactly the same as his, but they occurred within the same general framework. Being the youngest of the boys that spent very much time around the farm, I was the last to get involved in anything that would be called work—that is, what "the men" did. I didn't know enough to appreciate how much hard, dirty work I was spared. I think I can remember doing just about all the jobs that Charles wrote about, only a little later.

He mentioned that I was "good" with horses and, if I was, it was because I genuinely liked them. Our farm horses seemed to me to be gentle giants. Some of my fondest memories are of the times I got to work with them. I recall driving the "team" when "the men" were pitching on hay. There wasn't much to it except to stay as close as possible to the tumbles that were being pitched on. Sometimes it was necessary to turn the wagon 90 degrees or even 180, and that could not be done too abruptly. Whoever was loading the hay would be close at hand and always seemed to know before I got into too much trouble.

Charles's account of a near tragedy when he fell of the dump rake reminded me of a somewhat similar incident that happened to me. It was after we started using a hay loader, which was a machine that hitched behind the wagon to lift the hay out of the windrows and deposit it on the wagon. Usually there were two men loading and someone to guide the horses along the windrow. On this occasion we were working in a field that had a wet area. I was driving and we had passed through this wet area before with no problem. This time, however, the wagon was almost fully loaded, and the iron-rimmed wheels started cutting through the sod and sinking in the mud. Whoever was loading yelled at me to keep going, so I urged the horses to greater exertion. They leaned into the harness with a will. Then the evener snapped. I was standing on top of the load. When the evener let go, the horses lurched forward a few steps before they realized that they no longer had a load behind them. After all, I had been quite vociferous in urging them on. Before I knew what was happening, the reins jerked me off the load, and I landed on my face in the mud that the horses had churned up in their efforts. Fortunately, I missed the wagon tongue so was not hurt. I remember being so fixated on keeping the horses under control that I kept hold of the reins while scraping the mud out of my eyes.

In case you haven't already figured it out, the evener is a heavy piece that is pinned to the wagon tongue just behind the horses. At each end is a somewhat lighter, shorter piece that the tugs, or traces, are hooked to. In front of the horses there is a neck yoke that holds up the front of the wagon tongue and keeps the wagon from overrunning the horses when it is going downhill. The evener that I am referring to was made of wood, and it took a lot of force to break it. Ned and Jerry were big boys and when they leaned into the harness together, they could exert a lot of force.

More later. We are having a picnic this evening so I have to go start a fire.


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