From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Hayfield Water Jug

Cool water in a hot place


My dad prepared thoroughly for the haying season. He overhauled all the tractors and hay-making machinery and got each component into the best working order possible. He stockpiled sickle sections and guards, rake teeth, sweep teeth, belts, hoses, tractor gas, oil and grease, hydraulic fluid, and so on. In the back of one of the pickups, he mounted the gas tank for fueling the tractors. He also mounted the wooden carrier that held the big Igloo water cooler where a thirsty hay hand could get a drink.

I didn't participate in the pre-season work in my father's machine shop, but I did make a new hayfield water jug every year. In the hayfield, I worked separately, away from the group that was putting up the cured hay. I was on the mowing machine at the edge of the uncut grass. I needed a personal water jug so I didn't have to travel far to get a drink.

Here's how I made my hayfield jug. I raided Mama's collection of jars and acquired a big glass vinegar or cider bottle. Then, I raided her cloth scraps and acquired some rags and pieces of old jeans.  I wrapped several layers of rags around the bottle, fitting the cloth to the curves, and I tacked the layers in place with enough stitches to hold them together.

Then, I enclosed the bottle in a layer of denim that I cut from the old jeans. I made some  tucks and folds so the denim would fit the bottle's shape, and I sewed it in place as neatly, tightly, and firmly as I could.

I didn't invent this method of making a hayfield jug. I watched my mother make them when I was a little child.

Every day, before I went to the hayfield, I filled my jug with cold water, and I also saturated its cloth shell. When I got to the hayfield, I found a shady place to stash it. The evaporation of the moisture from the cloth wrapper helped keep the water in the jug cool.

In the hayfield on a summer day, the hay crew got hot and dirty. We didn't have air-conditioned cabs on our tractors. The only shade was from our hats. Dust and pollen and chaff stuck to our sweat-dampened skin  and clothing. Sometimes we got off our machinery and worked up an extra sweat by moving hay around by hand or fixing something that was broken. The hottest work of all,  in my experience, was to lie in the prickly grass stubble under my windrower and pull a hot, wet, sappy clog of hay out of the crimper.

Sunbaked, gummy with sweat and dust, my arms green with grass juice after a crimper episode -- then, how sweet it was to pull my still-damp jug from its shady nook and drink deeply. If cool water ran down my face and soaked my shirt as I tipped the jug, it was a well-earned bonus.

By the end of the hay season, the denim cover of the water jug showed hard use. It had been damp to some degree all summer. It had lain on the ground and rolled around on the grimy floor of the pickup truck, day after day. The stitching had come loose in places, releasing odd folds of cloth, and threads had raveled where the cut edges of the denim were exposed. It didn't matter. By then, the water jug had served its purpose.

I would make a new jug next summer, as we prepared again to go to the hayfield.

Thanks for reading this memory of my childhood in the Nebraska Sandhills.

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Related:
Hayfields I Have Known
The Hayfield
Newport, Nebraska: Hay Town
Bull Stories
Horse-drawn Hay Rake
Horse-drawn Hay Sweep-Rake

9 comments:

Collagemama said...

Thanks for sharing this story for all of us moaning about the heat.

Stitchy Mc Floss said...

I love reading about your childhood...I think you should write a book. Everyone loves reading the Little House books, you could start your own series. :)

Genevieve said...

Collagemama, trust me, I am moaning right along with everyone else about the heat!

Stitchy, I was thinking about you just the other day and wondering if you had moved yet. One of these days, I'm going to collect what I've written about my childhood and put it together in a document of some sort for my kids. I don't think it will be a series, though. :)

Mike Schubert said...

Just yesterday I was thinking of that very type of jug my Gramdma use to make for us for the hay-field. I,m sure the work we did helped prepare us for what was to come.....

Genevieve said...

Hi, Mike. I suppose this sort of water jug was used by many country folks before the plastic gallon thermos was invented. I read this article about Ozark water jugs made the same way.

I worked hard enough in the hayfield as a teenager, but I didn't start as young as a lot of ranch kids did. I was 13 the first summer that I mowed. And yes, it was probably good for me.

Genevieve said...

Another record of the homemade insulated water jug, that I found in a Model T Ford forum:
"My grandfather used to wrap burlap around glass Clorox bottles and use them for water bottles on the farm. He'd attach the burlap with hog rings. You would splash a little water on the burlap when you took a drink and had cool water the next time."

Betsy Cross said...

Genevieve,
I know you don't know mw from a hole in the wal, but...I feel like I can hear you speaking. You're an expert story teller! Made me feel like I was there and like I want to make myself one of those homemade bottles. I'm going to Google an image of a finished one. I'm very curious to see one.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Betsy. It's nice to hear from you, and I hope you'll visit often. For an image, go to the link about the Ozark water jugs and scroll down to the bottom of the page. That's pretty much how they looked.

Mike Schubert said...

That's the way Grandma made them, seems like it took all summer to get the taste of Clorox out! I was nine when I had the privilege to start mowing with a F20 Farmall pulling a no.5 JD mower with a 9ft. bar. Uncle Albert wired a 4 by 4 on the clutch so I could reach it. I hope I will never forget those days, thanks for sharing and I hope some "younger" folks appreciate your memories.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.