Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seeing the Details, Part 2

By: Christina Ely, Registrar for Plowline: Images of Rural New York

After writing my last blog post titled "Seeing the Details" about a 19th-century photograph in the Plowline: Images of Rural New York Collection, I received an email from Steve Kellogg, Supervisor at the Field Blacksmith Shop at The Farmers' Museum. The email was very enlightening and conveyed some great information regarding pressed hay in the 19th century that I thought I would share with you.

Detail, 19th Century Farm Scene, 1880-1890, by W.H. Bell, F0003.2011.  Plowline: Image of Rural New York.  The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York.
As it turns out the two "sleds" that I noted in the foreground (seen in the detail above) are the "bobs" to a farm bobsled. Steve notes in his email that the bobsleds were used in winter for farm hauling and, in this case, were probably used to haul pressed hay.

Most notable from his email is the following information, which really sheds some light on why farmers in the image were pressing hay in the winter months: 
"The hay was cut in mid-summer and had been in the barn for months. Why are they baling it when it clearly was already stored in the haymow loose? Judging by the A-frame, chain, and hay hook the baled hay is very hard to move by hand."
Detail, 19th Century Farm Scene. F0003.2011.

Steve also notes the following about how the pressed hay was used:
"You pressed the hay to ship it by Canal or Train to NYC. Rectangular bales fit efficiently into a rail car. New York City had a lot of livestock, and a voracious appetite for good hay in midwinter. You would make more money selling it in winter than you could selling it in the summer. Therefore pressed hay was an excellent crop to sell in midwinter. The photo not only documents the farm family using expensive equipment, but also producing a high-value export at the same time."
I found this information very helpful in explaining why this type of work would be done in winter as opposed to summer, and I hope you find it an interesting comment on hay pressing and sales in the late 19th century as well.

Many thanks to Steve Kellogg - who also has a blog - for the follow-up email and information!

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