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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Hayfields I Have Known
Newport, Nebraska: Hay Town
Horse-drawn Hay Rake
Horse-drawn Hay Sweep-Rake