Homesteading Photos

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About This Site

Hay Camp near Buffalo, Wyoming. Photo by Thomas Dalgleish, approx. 1890

With the advent of homesteading, irrigation and dry farming, the era of giant ranches relying on open range came to an end. The ranchman's year was no longer marked by riding line in the winter, spring roundup, fall roundup, but instead with a greater reliance upon alfalfa and winter feed and the planting of other crops such as wheat, oats, and sugar beets, the year turned to the more to the more prosaic planting, mowing, and stacking the hay for winter. There were, of course, the reminders of the older ways. General roundups were gone. Instead, there was the small roundup for a single ranch such as illustrated by Charles Belden on the Pitchfork. Short cattle drives to a railroad yard to ship the cattle off to Chicago remained. But the life of the cowboy as it was in the imagination was gone. Indeed, the writer went out with his boys for a ride one day, and the writer noted that the older of the two boys was not as skillful on his horse as one might hope. "I thought you helped out on a ranch up in Chugwater." "Yes, Dad, but we rode around in pickup trucks," was the reply.

Cutting alfalfa, approx. 1909, near Worland.

At the haycamp, first the hay would be cut with a mowing machine drawn by a team of horses. The driver sat on a small metal seat mounted on the frame. The seat was similar to that on olderJohn Deere or Farmall tractors. The wheels were connected to a sawtooth blade by gears so that as the mower was pulled through the hayfield, the blade would move back and forth and cut a swath about four or five feet wide. Because of the danger, only older boys, usually at least age 10, were permitted to drive the mower.

Hayrake, 1936

Following the mower, would be a hay rake pulled by one or two horses. The rake would pile the hay into piles about six feet long. By hand the six-foot piles would be turned onto itself to created a shorter pile about 2 feet height. The hay was then left in the field for several days to dry. When dry, the hay was placed with pitchforks onto a hayrack and then taken to where the hay was to be stacked for the winter.

Stacking hay with a Mormon haystacker or derrick, 1898.

Haystackers were usually homemade affairs and used a central pole rigged so that it could rotate on its base. By means of pulleys and a single tree attached to a one-horse hookup, the loading fork could be raised. As it was raised it would rotate over the haystack. When tripped, the hay would drop onto the stack. Men on top of the stack would arrange the hay. The stack was so stacked that it would shed water so that the hay would cure rather than rot. The horse as then packed up, the fork pulled back with the tripping rope, and reloaded for the operation to be continued. When the hay was released from the loading fork it might come down fairly rapidly and there was a danger of getting caught up in the ropes. Additionally, another nasty surprise could occur. Occasionally rattlesnakes might be hiding in the hay and provide a surprise for those on the grounds loading the fork or for those on top of the hay pile when the fork was tripped.

Mormon haystacker or derrick near Dubois, 1936.

By the beginning of World War II, hay would generally be bailed or put into long rolls and haystackers fell into disuse. As indicated in the photos, horses remained in general use on farms until World War II.

Potato digger, 1909. Photo by J. E. Stimson.

Steam Traction Engine pulling plow near Douglas, undated.

Although in the early years of the Twentieth Century steam tractors or traction engines came into general use on the great plains for plowing, their use was comparatively rare in most of Wyoming. In the Star Valley, as an example, in the 1920's there was only one steam tractor which was available for thrashing on a contract basis. In areas where sugar beets were grown and plowing on a large scale was necessary they were more common. The Meeteetse Mercantile sold Case steam tractors. George W. Black in Basin also sold steam tractors.


New Giant Steam Traction Engine near Worland, undated.

The New Giant Steam Traction engines were built by the Northwest Thresher Co. of Stillwater, Minn. The engine had a 20 or 25 hp. engine dependent upon the steam pressure. The tractors were equipped with a 40 inch flywheel and 100 gallon water tank. The company was acquired by the Advance-Rumely Company in 1912. Wilth the Great Depression the company fell on hard times and was acquired for its dealer network by Allis-Chalmers in 1931. It was necessary to start firing up the engine about 3:30 in the morning in order start threshing by 6:00 a.m. Steam traction engines could use a variety of fuel including wood, oil, and straw.

Horses for lighter equipment gave way when light gasoline tractors such as Farmall and John Deere became available. Farmers would save money by starting a tractor with gasoline and after the engine started switching to kerosene. The lighter tractors were available in both a tricycle configuration; that is with a single front wheel or two front wheels with a wider stance. The advantage of the tricycle tractor was that it had a much sharper turning radius. Thus, with the tricyle configuration one could harrow or mow to the very edge of a field. The narrow tractor was much more dangerous in that it could be easily overturned, crushing the operator.

Next page Johnson County War.