There were two irrigated fields, adjacent to one another, and totally 25 to 30 acres. With only a couple of minor mechanical adjustments we mowed pretty much uninterrupted (except for water breaks and photo ops) and finished the job in under 3 hours. (For those of you who are interested in the applied math: These outfits can cover 9 to 10 acres each in one day. Using 9 as an average that means these 5 mowers can drop 135 acres of hay in three days.) Mike told me that when the hay was ready Nick would spend a six hour day with forecart and rake just ahead of the baler.
It is my opinion that mowing hay, on the horse drawn farm, is one of the more pleasant jobs to be done there! You wait for a period of fair weather and when it comes there is often bright blue sky, high moving clouds and a small breeze stirring the tall grasses as you enter the field! The mowing, when using ground driven equipment, is a relatively quiet affair. There is the subdued noise of harness and chain, the deep breathing of the animals at work, the snick snick of the cutter bar in the hay, the murmur of gears and cogs meshing in the gearbox and the flow of the cut hay across the cutter bar as the mower advances. For me there is the pleasure of watching the play of muscles across a broad rump and the rise and fall of hocks and hooves on a strong pulling horse! I like the feel of the leather in my hands and the ebb and flow of contact with the horse’s mouth as we move across the field.
Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.
The prospect of clipping pastures and cutting hay with the mower was satisfying, but I wondered how I might take advantage of a sickle mower in my primary crop of grapes. The problem is, my grape rows are about 9 feet apart, and the haymower is well over 10 feet wide. I decided to reexamine the past, as many of us do in our unconventional agricultural pursuits. I set off with the task of reversing the bar and guards to lay across the front path of the machine’s wheels.
When touring Tony and Fran McQuail’s horsepowered farm outside of Lucknow, Ontario, we noticed something strikingly different about their horsedrawn mower. Every other knife section was upside-down! Following the example of their Amish neighbors, Tony had converted the sicklebar mower to the SCH EasyCut system manufactured by S.I. Distributing. He explained that the alternating face-up/face-down sections balanced pressure on the knife, preventing it from bending or breaking. More importantly, the heavy duty enclosed guards maintain the critical scissor-like action for smooth, carefree mowing without the need for constant adjustment.
From reading the Small Farmers Journal, I knew that some people are equally happy with either model, but because McCormick Deering had gone to the trouble of developing the No. 9, it suggests they could see that there were improvements to be made on the No. 7. Even if the improvement was small, with a single horse any improvement was likely to increase my chance of success.
When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.
The great advantage of the rotary disc mower over the reciprocating cutter-bar (sickle bar) mower is that it will keep cutting without blocking up even in bad conditions of laid and tangled crop and in grass which is thick and wet in the bottom. This is why nobody uses anything other than high-speed rotary mowers in the maritime areas of western Europe.
I & J Mfg. started importing ESM sickle bar components which dramatically improved the basic hay mowers’ performance. Smoother operation meant less draft requirement which in turn led to a revolutionary new self-contained ground-drive mower made available in 2011. This was to be the first such successful design since the mid-twentieth century. I & J Mfg. offers kits to retrofit other mowers with their excellent sickle bar system.
If you are in a position to choose which make and model of mower you might wish to work on might I put in my vote for either the McD/Internationals #7 & #9 or the John Deere Big Four. These were the last and most plentiful models made and some parts are still available with a fair measure of aftermarket cutter bar parts which are interchangeable.
From time immemorial farmers in our region attended the 4th of July festivities and began cutting hay the next day. And it is truly amazing how our weather pattern does noticeably shift right around the first week of July: out with June gloom, in with actual summer. This year was different. June started off hot and dry with none of the usually persistent marine cloud layer in sight. I wondered if I should start cutting hay early. I hesitated, not trusting the sun. Finally my cautious reluctance melted away and I had to join my neighbors and begin dropping some hay. Once I started I didn’t stop until the whole crop was tucked away in the barn. I finished this year before I would have usually even started.
I was mowing a thistly, gnarly patch of pasture last August on a rubber tired number 9 mower that, despite a new seal was leaking oil like tears from a widow’s eyes. The Waterfall field is irregular in shape with one corner that comes to a point, necessitating at each pass a hard swing gee in order to come around on the other tack. At this juncture, on one particular pass, the cutter bar pinched in a slight depression in the ground. The mower began to fold up at the inner shoe as we came around. The bar was solidly wedged and was not responding to my pressure on the foot lever. Meanwhile the horses were doing exactly what they knew to do — swing gee and go. Everything hung in the balance for a bit less than a nanosecond, but something had to give, and suddenly, give it did — crack! the tongue burst in two.
The horse drawn mowing machine is a marvel of engineering. Imagine a pair of horses turning the energy of their walking into a reciprocal cutting motion able to drop acres of forage at a time without ever burning a drop of fossil fuel. And then consider that the forage being cut will fuel the horses that will in turn cut next year’s crop. What a beautiful concept! Since I’ve been mowing some everyday I’ve had lots of time to think about the workings of these marvelous machines.
Making do is an honored tradition in farming. Making do… with quirky horses, ancient machines, and fields with wrinkles and dents. I think that for seat-of-the-pants style making do, nothing beats the blending of flesh to iron to earth that occurs on a mowing machine. The wide sky, the horse sweat, hot leather, warm oil, hay sap, and sun-baked iron swirl together in a mix of making do and getting it done that few outside of workhorse circles can ever hope to experience.
McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.
Agriculturists throughout the world have long placed well-merited confidence in the McCormick line of mowers. Excellent material, combined with perfect design and splendid construction, make the McCormick mowers not only light in draft, but also exceedingly durable machines. In the following pages the different McCormick mowers are shown complete and in detail, accompanied by a brief description of each machine and its constituent parts.
Instructions for Setting Up and Operating the McCORMICK-DEERING No. 7 VERTICAL LIFT TWO-HORSE MOWERS — Instructions pour le Montage et le Fonctionnement des FAUCHEUSES A DEUX CHEVAUX McCORMICK-DEERING No. 7 À RELEVAGE VERTICAL
In 1945 McCormick-Deering International published their Blue Ribbon Service Training Course “Serviceman’s Guide” for Hay Machines. Included in this excellent booklet is a section entitled “Horse-Drawn Mowers.” The material in this chapter section is all on their Number 9 High Gear Mower and offers some exceptional information presentations which are somewhat different from the operators manual. We reprint here, unedited, the complete contents of this section. Hope you find this material as useful as we have.
About 10 years ago, I began hearing about the German ESM “Busatis bidux” cutterbar sold by I & J Mfg. It seemed that everyone was impressed by the double acting sickle bar and I couldn’t help wondering if it would improve the mowing action of my ground drive mower in my soggy, fine-but-wiry summer grass.
We have a double standard for planting density in the bio-extensive market garden. We plant all the vegetables in widely spaced rows to insure plenty of moisture, fertility and air circulation for each plant. For the cover crops in the fallow lands, we take just the opposite approach, seeding at a high density to quickly provide ground cover, weed suppression, and biomass. One reason we have been slow to adopt cover crop cocktails is the very low recommended seeding rate — sometimes as little as 30 lbs per acre — in order to give all of the different species in these diverse mixes lots of room to grow. The mental shift to planting cover crops at a density comparable to our widely spaced vegetables has not come easily.
This summer, Kristi Gilman-Miller took half a hundred photos of partner Ed Joseph and I using McCormick-Deering #9 mowers to cut down Triticale grass mix hay. The crop would have been much better if we hadn’t been visited night-time by as many as 300 Elk looking for water and green feed. We planted in seven acre lands a quarter of a mile wide as we were recording variables in plantings for our research into the best future crop rotations. We were very impressed by the Triticale, a cross between Rye and Wheat, which makes a grain hay the cattle and horses love.
For proper operation the outer end of the cutter bar should lead the inner end when the machine is not in operation. After long use the cutter bar may lag back and if this happens it can be corrected by making adjustments on the cutter bar eccentric bushing as follows: First making sure that the pin and bolt in the hinge casting “A” Fig. 5 are tight and in good condition.
How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.
The project for the winter of 2010 was a Champion No. 4 mower made sometime around 1878 by the Champion Machine Works of Springfield, Ohio. The machine was designed primarily as a mower yet for an additional charge a reaping attachment could be added. The mower was in remarkably good condition for its age. After cleaning dirt from gears and oiling, we put the machine on blocks and found that none of the parts were frozen and everything moved.
Within true horse-power circles, where natural partnerships with working animals are embraced and cherished, the family unit is paramount. Tools are being designed today so that a husband and wife with two to four work animals can see their work done. Scale is a defining aspect, going forward and backward. It is liberating and it is enlivening. Elegant even. And for us, we see the evidence both from afar and up close. Now to focus on what 25 years has taught us.
A hallmark of the Pioneer Equipment system has been their superb, field-tested engineering coupled with production-line planning which has resulted, repeatedly, in affordable, durable implements sold now ‘round the world. But I must hazard to offer that ahead of even that, has been vision. Wayne saw a need and a possibility when many, back then in the 70’s and 80’s, saw little or none.