No vacation for the kids, but hard work and family

When the temperatures rise and the sun makes an occasional appearance, and the calendar turns to July, there are two thoughts that cross my mind.

The first is the old song “In the Good Old Summertime”, which conjures up images of fun in the sun, walks along the beaches, recreation and so many traditional images that summer conjures up.

The other is Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out for Summer,” which is a much tougher, but timely, musical journey through the summer months.

For me, summer, while inviting, conjures up perhaps less traditional images. Yes, there are ads for air conditioners or children swimming in a pool.

A NYSEG advertisement promoting the purchase of air conditioners in the early 1960s.

As a farmer’s child, summer was hay season. In my early teens, I used to wear thick long-sleeved shirts, long jeans, a hat and gloves while the whole family worked to bring hay from my father’s cows to a barn that was in less than perfect condition.

My mother drove the tractor a little jerkily, while my father and my brother threw me the bales of hay on a cart with big holes in its floor that had to be avoided. I stacked the bales so that the cart full of scooped hay could be taken back to the barn and unloaded. We didn’t have machines to unload the hay – no, everything was done by hand.

At the end of each of those hot, dry summer days, we would have drank from coolers full of water and removed slivers of hay stuck in our wrists while blowing black hay dust from our noses.

Farmers work to bring hay in rural Broome County during the summer, circa 1915.

If this picture doesn’t look glamorous, it wasn’t. It was hot, hard work. I’m not sure the cows really enjoyed the work. It was a scene, however, that was repeated countless times in our region, as farms large and small, with varying levels of automation, relied on family workers and hired hands to cut hay. , bale it (in old traditional rectangular bales), and pile them inside barns for use during the winter months.

Speaking of automation, I mentioned my father’s tractor. Our younger generations think that every farm would have a tractor, but tractors are a more recent technological introduction to the agricultural world. While the use of tractors was discovered in the 1920s, the cost of this new device and its capabilities kept sales low for the first two decades.

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It was not uncommon to see horse-drawn agricultural machinery until the end of World War II. In 1943, workers from Link Aviation assisted the Gracemore Farms haymaking operation near Harpursville, as many local men had gone off to war. There are images of a team of horses pulling the big wagon while the hay was planted on the pile. Althea Burrow, daughter of owner, George Burrows, used a team of horses to pull the hay rake. In agriculture, it was everyone’s job to pitch in.

Althea Burrows uses horses to pull the hay rake at Gracemore Farms in July 1943.

The only photo I have of my paternal grandfather from the early 1930s, he’s running the farm horse team. My family’s first tractors wouldn’t arrive until the 1940s. My father learned to drive a team of horses, as well as to drive a tractor in his late teens. This was the trend in this field, and the scene of the transition from horses to tractors could be seen in every haymaking season.

So while others were enjoying that pool or sitting by the air conditioner, local farm kids were switching from their horses to tractors to more automated equipment. I am amazed by the new tractors with air conditioning and sound systems. Time and equipment have evolved over the decades.

Link Aviation men take the day off to help bring hay back to Gracemore Farms in July 1943.

For me, even if I could complain about the hard work and the lack of real summer vacations in the 1960s, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was the time when all four of us worked in the house as one. Hello summer!

Gerald Smith is a former Broome County historian. Email him at

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