When I was a little boy Dad used to work for Old Tom Ayers, one of the last farmers in Cambridgeshire to use a reaper and binder. I remember seeing Mr Ayers, dressed in his farmer's smock, inspecting the sheaves being brought in on the trailer. But I was more interested in what was going on in the field next to our bungalow, for two combines had entered by the gap near the big oak tree and were progressing slowly around the headlands. One, going at a little under walking pace, said Massey Ferguson on the side, while the other, going even slower, was a Massey Harris; you could just make it out through the dust and rust.
My brother and I sat all morning at the side of the field watching the coming and going of tractors and trailers. Later that week we saw the field near Highfield Farm being cut using a combine which was operated by two men, one driving and one filling the sacks with grain and sliding them down a chute. Meanwhile, back in the other field, the baler was in use. A man drove the tractor and a young boy stood on the sledge behind the baler, stacking bales into heaps then pushing them off the back. The next afternoon men came with pitchforks and loaded the bales onto a trailer, secured them with ropes and carted them away.
By the time I was old enough to join in things had changed a bit. The combines were a little larger and faster, some even had cabs. The sledge behind the baler now had a gate on the back which was operated by means of a cord by the tractor driver and simply dumped the bales in rough heaps around the field. I got the job of stacking the bales up tidily till they could be collected.
Improvements happened every few years. The farm where I now worked in the school holidays bought a bale elevator which was a great improvement on pitching the bales up by hand. Red plastic string was now used to tie the bales. We tried plastic sheeting to cover the straw stacks but it was not a success; the sheets used to split and the rainwater poured into the middle of the stack ruining many bales. Then we got a "flat-eight" loader, which meant that the bales could be loaded with a tractor rather than man power. A huge straw barn was built, which kept the straw dry but it was extremely hot, dusty, unpleasant work to stack bales up under the roof. Yes, I'd stacked the bales in the field so tidily that I'd now graduated to stacking in the barn!
In the early days the boss used to bring us bottles of beer during the afternoon. Later it changed to a jug of tea, which was just as welcome. Dad and I always got a little extra in our pay packet at the end of harvest "for making a good job of the stacks".
Al that ended twenty years ago when Dad retired and I decided to try a different kind of work. I can't say I miss the work at all and I'd much rather watch someone else doing it.
Some interesting comparisons: