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Memories of summer on the ranch

By Kate MacKenzie

Special to Okanogan Living

Spring quickly turned into the unrelenting heat of summer - no air conditioning in homes or vehicles. When driving, we’d roll down the windows, drive fast as possible and watch the dust. It was miserable.

Summer was also haying season.

It was hot, dusty and labor-intensive work. No fancy swathers, or harrowbeds. The hay was cut with a side mower, raked into windrows and, in the pre-baler days, were made into haycocks to dry. (Otherwise the improperly dried hay could heat and catch fire in the large haystacks in the fields - or worse, still in the barns.)

The people haying were at the mercy of the sun, dust and bugs. Picking up bales was the work of teenage boys; they were sure in shape by the end of summer.

The town blacksmith, Rod Chisolm, created a two-wheeled A-frame machine which was hooked to the jeep and could pick up the haycoks. They maneuvered the jeep with care as it was a struggle to keep all the wheels on the ground when the load was too heavy and/or the center of gravity was too high. Physics in the hay field!

When the balers came on the scene, folks would run around the field picking up the “small square bales’’ as currently known.

If it rained, much of the hay was turned into silage (that is the fermented grass that cows love).

Back then there was no such thing as big round white plastic covered bales, silage was put into pits and tramped down with a tractor. It didn’t smell too bad then but, in the winter when they cracked these pits open to feed, the smell was pretty potent. To this day I cannot eat alfalfa sprouts.

In order to get a “second or third cutting”, the fields were irrigated using small 2” and 3” 20-foot aluminium pipes which had to be hand carried from position to position. If left lying idle in the hot sun the pipes got very hot, so gloves had to be worn, along with rubber boots and short shorts. Not the fashion one would see on the pages of "GQ."

A hazard in some fields was the mobile electric fence which occasionally got too close to the aluminium pipes; yep aluminum does conduct electricity!

Summer was also a time to learn about gardening, weeding and keeping the plants healthy.

Everyone had a large garden where vegetables were canned, frozen or put in the root cellar.

This was the time to prepare for winter. No chance of just running to the store.

I remember my mom and grandma canning – hot like you wouldn’t believe. You quickly learned to never say you were bored. There was always weeding or some other chore to do.

One summer I learned to drive. No fancy vehicle on paved roads. The vehicle was the old war surplus Willys Jeep. Just like the ones on the TV show “M*A*S*H.” The same vehicle that was outfitted with the hay apparatus as needed. Gear shifting was an art. If one could drive this jeep over rough gravel roads, you could drive anything. I was so proud of myself when I mastered it and my dad said “good job.”

On those hot days we would head for the swimming hole. I remember it was deep, shaded and cool. It was lots of fun and a welcome respite from the summer heat. There was a tree with branches leaning out over the water. We’d climb up and jump into the refreshing water. It was a great way to get rid of the itchy dust and cool off. The fellows who were picking up the hay looked forward to a nice cool dip in the evening.

At night, we could get some really strong thunderstorms. The thunderstorms here remind me of those scary storms. I remember one in particular that was so ferocious that my dad, mom and I sat it out in the car. That was the safest place to be – rubber tires were good insulation. It is funny the things that you remember, and that a thunderstorm now brings that memory front and center.

I learned that there was a cycle that was the rhythm of our life. The winter and all that went into survival and the fun that one could have. Spring, cattle drives and gardens. Summer, preparing for fall and winter. It was a completely different way of life.

I want to thank my cousin Noel Genier for his help with this article. He is older than I and remembers the haying and some of the details better.

Stay posted for memories of autumn and Christmas. If you remember times past, please send them in to me. I would love to incorporate your remembrances. We need to remember and pass our history down to the younger generations.

— This article was submitted by Omak resident Kate MacKenzie. She can be reached via email at You can also send your memories to Okanogan Living,

PO Box 992, Tonasket, WA 98855.



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