Baling wire. One of the handiest farm inventions ever. Haven’t handled any for probably fifty years, but I still find need for it on a regular basis. Store bought wire on a spool just isn’t as handy as a wadded hank of used baling wire.
A heavy wooden box, about three feet square and three deep sat against the rock bank wall of barn’s feed room. Box’s sole purpose was to hold those hanks of used wire until they were needed or disposed of. Rock wall behind the box served as bank board just as in basketball. A quick accurate flip from stable door, across feed room to that wall landed wire in the box ready for it’s next life.
Early hay balers used light gauge steel wire to bind compacted bales. First stationary balers used hand fed, cut and twisted wires. Reymann Memorial Farm, (the State Farm) had one in their machine shed, but I never saw it work. Pap and the crew told me about it. In use, the baler was set stationary, a tractor was belted to it with an endless belt. Hay was hauled loose from field to barn where it was hand forked to baler.
Later portable or mobile balers used same wire only machine cut and twisted. We never owned one, Pap contracted with owners to custom bale for us. Harlan Leatherman might have been first one called on.
Most balers tied squared bales fourteen by eighteen by thirty six inches. Fourteen and eighteen were fixed height and width, while length varied depending on adjustments. Thirty six to forty inches was normal. Two strands of wire ten to twelve feet long were required for each bale.
A thirty six inch bale of dry hay weighed about fifty pounds. Old and strong enough to handle one well, meant more feeding chores of sheep and cattle. Those days, right big coat pocket of my chore coat held a pair of side cutting pliers.
Fast and messy way to handle wire tied bales was to ease first wire off over a corner. then turn the bale and yank up on center of other wire. That yank loosened and scattered bale’s contents. That’s the method I used, especially for straw when scattering it for stable bedding, or when feeding hay outside on pasture. Neat way to handle those bales was to lay bale flat then use wire cutters next to the knot. Feeding sheep hay in racks was easier if hay could be picked up and distributed in separate patties.
Either method left wire to be disposed of. We wadded it up into hanks about ten to twelve inches long, wrapped a loose end around the bundle and tossed them into the feed room wire box.
Good strong useful steel wire, maybe twelve gauge, strong but pliable. Every tool box mounted on every farm machine held at least one bundle. Pap’s car and truck had bundles tucked away. More then once he came home from a back road veterinary call with his muffler wired up after being knocked loose on a high rock. I once finished mowing a small field of hay with the mower pitman rod wired together. Pitman rod was essential part which translated circular motion into horizontal motion which slid cutting knife back and forth over fixed toothed guards. Baling wire repaired holes in fences and secured both ends of many swinging gates.
When wire box filled to overflowing, we’d bundle a couple armloads of bundles and haul them to town dump with other trash. The switch to twine tied bales ruined our source of wire. I remember being sent to the feed room for a bundle and finding the wire box empty. I remember the down feeling of “what are we going to do now.”
Last week, going through another box of old farm “junk” I found a pair of my side cutters I remembered from those old days. I oiled them up, worked them loose, cut off a piece of spooled wire, then set them aside for next generation to wonder about.