The Last Load

The Last Load is a pencil etching by Alice Standish Buell, 1939. I love this picture because it shows what a typical summer was like in Vermont in the 1930s on the many small farms in the state. Haying was a big deal after the Fourth of July. The reason for that date was that the grass had matured by then and had partially dried. 

“Last Load,” circa 1938, Vermont, by Alice Standish Buell

 Note the long-handled fork the fellow carries. You can’t buy one of these now even if you tried. The handle length was used so a load of hay could be built while standing on the ground. The hay on the wagon was no doubt cut by using a hand scythe or a cutter bar (called a mowing machine) that the horses also pulled. The dump rake pulled by the wagon in the picture was drawn by a single horse once in the hayfield. The hay was gathered in clumps and once the circular teeth were filled, a lever was pushed by the touch of a foot.

Speaking of dump rakes, young children in the farm family often drove the horse on the rake. In hilly Vermont there were many hayfields with steep slopes, so a child would find it difficult to stay in the seat without sliding forward and landing under the rake when heading downhill. There was at least one case where a young kid slid off the seat and was raked, rolling in the collected hay of the rake. At the bottom of the hill the horse stopped and the young child crawled out, shaken but thankfully otherwise unhurt.

The horses hitched to the load in the picture were the main power on most farms—they were not just animals, but much more. Usually well-trained, workhorses ranked as high or higher than the family’s favorite dog and most were as intelligent. In the picture, the horses know they have to hold that wagon and rake going down that steep hill. And the farmer holding the reins knows that too. Since the picture is of the last load, it tells the viewer that the horses had handled previous loads on that hill and so the beasts were up to the task.  

John’s father mowing with Frank & Maud, circa 1948. We see him clipping the pasture before the weeds go to seed.

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