Hay Feeder Dream – Bob’s Farm Stories

“I have a dream that, one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

These famous words were spoken by Martin Luther King Jr., on the steps of the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC, United States of America, in 1963. It was in the spring several years later that I found myself at a machinery sale. It was and  exciting time to be living in, the Russians had just put a man in space, you could fly from here to London in under 30 hours, and wool prices had doubled since the war, as had the return on livestock.

The stock and station agents like Pyne, Gould and Guinness, Dalgety’s, National Loan Company, and Wrightsons had a lean time in the spring. Wool sales were over and sheep sales hadn’t started yet so there wasn’t much to do, and somebody had a bright idea.

“Let’s have a farm machinery sale, like a clearing sale but in a central location, and farmers can bring in anything they want to get rid of from tractors, trucks, and trailers to chicken coops and working dogs, and we’ll see how it goes.”

It went like wild fire and each spring became bigger and bigger, and this year I found myself at the machinery sale with a truck and hay feeder for sale.

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During the winter, I had about 2500 ewes from the hill country part of our farming operation down on the 500-acre farm where the winter feed was grown and about 500 bales of hay made the previous spring and summer. During wet weather, throwing hay on the ground off the back of a 4×4 truck for the sheep to eat, urinate on, defecate on, tramp into the ground, and generally waste about half of it, was not a good idea.

There was too much backbreaking work, cutting, raking, and baling, carting and stacking hay into the hay barn, for it to be wasted like that, so something had to be done. Some years before, I had purchased an electric welder and gas cutting and bending gear, a well as a drill press and grinder, in other words, a pretty good workshop for repairing and modifying farm implements.

I had taught myself to weld with both machines and had made myself into a pretty good engineer. One day while driving past my neighbour’s place, I noticed that he had a brand new hay feeder in his yard that looked pretty good to me so I went in and had a yarn to him about it. I liked what I saw. I asked him if I could take some measurements of it so I could build one at home, but he said: “Take it home Bob, it would make it easier to copy.”

The Hay Feeder

So I did. I worked out roughly how much steel of different thicknesses and shapes I’d need, timber for the floor and corrugated iron for the roof, went to town and got enough to make three feeders. We built the first one exactly the same as my neighbour’s one and then returned it, did some modifications to the next one, and further modifications to the one after. These were built in the workshop on wet days, which seemed to me to be more profitable and much warmer than being outside fencing or driving a tractor.

I found that the sheep only wasted about 5% using the hay feeders instead of the 50% wasted on the ground, and over the years built about a dozen of them. One day, in the middle of winter, the hay was fed out and also barley to the hoggets and it was raining and cold as hell. There was quite a lot of steel left in the steel racks so I decided to make another hay feeder and sell it.

The hay feeder was the ‘mark 5′ model with all the bells and whistles on it, bigger to hold more hay, splash boards to catch the hay the sheep dropped just outside the feeder, wider skids for ease of moving the thing, towing hitches either end, and a larger lifting roof that lifted higher for ease of putting in the hay, and keeping out the rain.

It also had a lift-off gate at one end, so the feeder could be used as a mothering-up pen for ewes and lambs in the spring. It had a flash coat of red paint and the name of the farm ‘Camden” stencilled on the roof in green spray paint.

I had gone to the local show grounds where the sale was being held, early, and parked the truck near the gate of the car park and about 50 yards from the selling ring where everyone could see it as they went in.

My wife Margaret had come later in the car to help with the afternoon tea and, after she had taken the goodies out of the car, she parked it in front of the truck and went back to the dining room to help prepare and serve the sandwiches, pieces of cake, and one of Millie Brown’s famous scones with a cup of tea. Millie’s scones were so light and fluffy that if she hadn’t put a dab of butter and a dob of homemade raspberry jam on top they would have floated away. I digress!

The sale was in progress and big Jack Armstrong, who lived up to his name and was as strong as a bull, had suggested that we carry the feeder into the ring when the time came. I got Cameron Powell to help at my end so it was all organized. We took the ropes off and big Jack reached over the deck and pulled the feeder to the back to make it easier to get off.


Lanz Bulldog Tractor

At that stage of the proceedings, there were shouts of laughter coming from the selling ring so we went over to see what was going on and it was Noel Cartwright, who was the local contractor, trying to start his Lanz Bulldog tractor. He had lit the blow lamp to heat the hot bulb, put the steering wheel in the side, which is the way you started the bull dog, gave it a turn, and a huge cloud of black smoke almost enveloped the whole thing but nothing else happened.

On the next turn, with a loud bang like a clap of thunder, the single cylinder engine fired up. Unfortunately, it was running backwards, which the Lanz motor will do if you’re not careful, but Noel didn’t know that, and when he put it into top gear to drive around the ring and show it off, it shot backwards and nearly knocked the auctioneer off his stand.

Truck on the Move

I don’t know what it was that made me look around but when I did I saw that my truck, with the hay feeder on the back, was moving. I think it must have had something to do with Jack pulling the feeder back on the deck which changed the balance, or it might have been the explosion when Noels tractor started up, but moving it was. It may have been the noise of the truck running into the back of the car that made me look around, however they were both on the move.

When I was at high school many years before, I did a bit of running. I won the hundred yards once, but settled for longer distances, the ‘880’ and the mile, but didn’t have too many wins as Jack Lovelock of olympic fame was at Timaru Boys high school and was faster than me. However, I did play on the right wing for the local rugby team so was fairly fit. I digress!

I took off after the truck with the car in front which were heading down the hill through the car park towards the main gate into, or in this case out of, the showgrounds. I got to within ten yards of the back of the truck as it went through the gate and onto the road that ran down to the town but the tar sealed road and the slope was too much.

I asked myself for a ‘Marjory Jackson’ (a medal-winning sprint) but the truck, being heavier, was passing the car and heading into town like it was half past five and the pubs closed at six. Then, it had the left hand wheels up on the footpath and was heading straight towards the general store that had a veranda out the front.

As I passed it, the five posts that used to hold up the roof were hanging from it, broken off about half way up and at ground level, and swinging gently. The truck then scuttled the red post box, leaving enough bits of kindling wood and paper to light half a dozen fires. Then it veered to the other side of the road where the War Memorial Hall was located.

There was a pile of trestle tables stacked on the footpath with the trestles on top, ready for the flower show to be held the next day. The truck missed them completely, but the sign that said: ‘To our Glorious Dead 1914-1918,” was not so lucky. Only the middle part, which was bolted to the post, was still there. It had ‘Dead’ written on it, and so was the dog beside it.

The hitching post and rail outside the pub that had been there for at least 50 years had vanished completely. Then, the two vehicles, which were now side-by-side and taking up most of the road, started going up the rise towards the railway station and the rail crossing. The laws of gravity and momentum now had an argument and gravity won.

The truck slowed and the car, being lighter, took over the lead and I was a 120 yards behind, puffing like a train and tiring rapidly. I looked up and saw Roger Going coming down from the railway station. He was also in the local rugby team at halfback and could read the situation in a game before it happened and was always in the right place to take a pass at speed and dodge around the full back. I digress!

I was amazed to see Roger turn and start running away from the vehicles but, as he reached full speed, the car caught up with him. He reached out, grabbed the door handle, flung the door open, and leapt in all in one motion. He put his foot on the brakes and the car slowed, only to be rammed from behind again by the truck. The car, like all modern cars, had vacuum-assisted brakes but without the vacuum they are not much good, especially with a 4×4 truck pushing from behind.

Roger pushed in the clutch, jerked the gear lever into gear, and let out the clutch. There was an almighty squeal of tires as the wheels turned over the engine, got it up to speed, and created the required vacuum. He got the whole outfit stopped about five yards short of the railway crossing and, when I eventually got there, he was just getting some colour back in his face and the express train was blowing smoke and steam as it picked up speed to get up the incline past the show grounds, and onto Dunedin and Invercargill.

Roger drove the car back to the showgrounds and parked it in gear with the handbrake hard on and I followed in the truck. As I got close to the selling ring, I heard the auctioneer saying there were just two more lots to sell so I knew it was me. I backed the truck into the ring as he said: “This is one of Bob Rickman’s famous hay feeders, you’ve all heard of or seen them, what am I bid?”

“A 100 pounds? I’ll take 50!”

“50! 50! 60! 70!”

“70 bid, 70 got, 70 bid, 70 got,” and away the bidding went.

I noticed that my neighbour was bidding so I winked at him and said quietly that, if he bought it, I would deliver it tonight. It eventually sold for 180 pounds, 10 shillings, which was twice as much as I expected and three times as much as the material had cost. Then, the auctioneer called for the last lot.

“The Chevrolet 4×4 army truck you see before you!” I shouted out: “Withdrawn!”

He said: “Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your attendance and your spirited bidding.”

I had a dream… It was awful!

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