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Township Roads- The annual 4-H hayride

Fri, Nov 1st, 2002
Posted in Columnists

Soon after we got our new fifty-two-year-old tractor, I threatened our sons with a hayride. I suggested that they could invite all their friends over and we would hitch the Farmall to our sheep trailer and go for a hayride over the pasture and through the woods. They didnt seem to think too much of that idea. Hayrides just dont seem to be the thing for teenage boys these days.

I was a 4-H member in my youth. Although Im sure I gained much crop and livestock knowledge from the experience, I believe some of my most enduring memories are of our 4-H clubs annual Halloween hayride. It was a much-loved tradition that I looked forward to every fall.

Our club met at eight p.m. on the third Saturday night of each month. The October meeting was the Halloween party and the entertainment was a hayride. Actually, we never had a real hayride because the wagons were always loaded with straw bales. Hay is not a good choice for sitting on. There is too much dust and too many leaves to make for comfortable riding. Hay is a bit more expensive and, as I will relate, not all the seating material was returned in its original state.

I am pleased to say that I am too young to have ever been on a hayride powered by horses. Our "chariots-of-dead-grass" were pulled by tractors. We often needed several wagons to haul all our 4-H members and attending parents. When that happened we might have three tractors of different colors each pulling a wagon. This automatically created a competition among the boys as to which tractor could pull the most people and do it with the least apparent effort.

Our club leaders didnt even try to have a business meeting before the hayrides. As people arrived, the kids picked out their places on the wagons. When all the 4-H members were present and accounted for, the hayride wagon train hit the trail. The best wagon to be riding on, as far as I was concerned, was the last one in the procession. Being last in line meant that there would be no tractor lights shining on us as we conducted what we considered the fun part of the hayride. My friends and I were not so interested in riding as we were intent upon reeking havoc on each other. We tried to discourage little kids and girls from riding our wagon as we intended to get a bit rough and didnt want them in the way to get hurt or to tattle on us.

As soon as the wagons left the yard we went into action. If a guy got too close to the edge of the wagon he would surely get pushed off into the cornstalks. If a guy sat on the edge of the hayrack, someone would likely appear out of the darkness and jerk him off the wagon by the feet. If a guy stayed in the middle of the wagon to avoid trouble, trouble would soon come to him in the form of two or three thugs who would grab him and throw him off. As a guy ran back to get on the wagon after being thrown off, the best trick was to throw a big handful of straw in his face. When a guy got back on the wagon, he might have been met by a gang who would stuff the back of his pants with straw. This may sound dangerous and I think now that it was. We were doing all this to our friends. I can only imagine what it would have been like if we hadnt liked each other. We would never have acted so wild in the daylight, but under the cover of darkness, it seemed like the thing to do.

Our hayride returned to the farmyard where it had begun. The straw bales that provided seating at the start of the ride were gone, scattered along the trail and down our necks. My friends and I were exhausted from running behind, beside and ahead of the wagons. We probably covered more distance on foot than the wagons had traveled if we counted our side trips into the standing corn to hide or to run ahead to set up ambushes.

A bonfire was waiting for us to enjoy. We toasted marshmallows on willow sticks. I ate mine charred black because I was too impatient to toast them carefully over the coals. We drank hot chocolate made with whole milk from the farms bulk tank.

After that, we had recovered enough energy for chase-each-other-in-the-dark time. There was no rhyme or reason to that game. It seemed like we did this foolishness long into the autumn night. Finally, when our parents were ready to go, we climbed into the car for the short trip home. It was only then that the evenings exercise after a days work set in. A day spent picking corn, cutting firewood and milking cows could wear me down, but never enough to keep me from enjoying the annual 4-H hay ride.

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