loader. They became the basis of our operation.
I do not remember when it was that we converted the Cockshutt to a rig that could be towed by some sort of machinery but I do remember the conversion was done by Wes Alcorn, a blacksmithing genius in Belleisle Creek, NB, who, as far as I could ever determine, could do anything and do it by eye.
He had had some experience no doubt in the conversion of horse-drawn equipment to tractor-drawn in the years before we had appeared on the scene, and seemed to know by instinct just how to make the transition. As far as I remember he never laughed at us or our methods, which were based, as others had done before us, on using what we had.
After we converted the Cockshutt we had to find a way to pull it. We didn't have horses, so we propelled it with an army truck we had bought from Gordon Bickerton, and named 'Brutus.' Brutus's virtue was that he could motor, in low range and low gear, at a speed our old equipment could stand, but Brutus was hardly light upon his feet. His turning radius was just slightly under half a football field and, with the Cockshutt hooked behind, the driver could only tell whether all was still well by a slight vibration of the cab. Get the vibration just right and the Cockshutt ran smoothly but if the one who was riding the mower wished to communicate with the engineer in the cab it was necessary to have a relay interpreter in the box of the truck who could shout directions in through the cab window.
We had a good crew in those days and we needed every one of them. One person rode the mower (usually my wife), one person kept Brutus on some kind of straight path (usually me), while the kids shouted instructions, warnings, and encouragement both from the box of the truck and from alongside this odd example of beating swords into ploughshares.
How well I remember the way cars on the road would come to a virtual halt when they caught sight of Brutus, the mower, and the great cloud of witnesses who accompanied him about the field. No one ever drove off the road while gazing in astonishment but I think that was more good luck than good management.
If the sight of Brutus pulling the little mower was wondrous, the sight of our picking up the hay was equally wondrous. Here again Brutus was the star of the show, this time hauling the old rope hayloader while one or two children tramped the hay as it fell into the box and others clustered around making sure that the hay that Brutus missed because of his turning ratio got picked up and put on the loader.
The box on the army truck was not large, so many trips were required to pick up all the loose hay and transport it to the barn. The kids used to vie to see who could get the most hay stuffed into the box and once the back window of Brutus's cab was covered there was no way for crew to communicate with driver, except by pounding on the roof of the cab. One thump meant stop and two thumps meant carry on or maybe it was the other way around.
At the barn our methods were equally unorthodox. We had acquired a hay pitcher and rope from an elderly neighbour. The hay pitcher was a great labour-saving device once we got it strung up on the pulleys which still hung in the peak of the barn roof. A borrowed tractor pulled the rope that lifted the clamshell-like device into the hay-mow and here again numbers of workers were needed to effect the transfer, one to dig the clamshell into the hay in the box of the truck, one up on the opposite girt from the mow being filled (this was usually one of the younger children who enjoyed the thrill of tripping the load and letting it fall into the mow), another responsible worker to stand at the barn door to let the tractor driver know when he had pulled the load out of the truck and into the mow.
It certainly wasn't orthodox. But it worked. What's more, the children still remember those summers warmly.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.