Bill’s dad, (Bill Mehaffey Sr.,) convinced Louises’s father Harrison Tenney in the mid-1940’s to buy the farm’s first tractor, a practically new 1940 Allis Chalmer’s “B.” Bill Sr. started working here as a hired hand when he was 16 (Louise, 11 at the time, eventually grew old enough to notice the handsome, young, and very shy farmhand, and fortunately for us, the rest is history…)
Bill Sr., like many young men of that time, was something of a “gear head…” fascinated by the possibilities of the internal combustion engine. Obviously, the automobile had been around for some time already, and the family had owned and driven cars for years. In fact, Harrison used a work truck, a 1930 1.5 ton Model AA flatbed he purchased with only 300 miles on it, that’s still on the farm.
But when Bill Sr. first came to work here, all the haying, and tilling of the soil was still being done with the farm’s two draft horses: Dick and Dan. Bill was something of a mechanical genius. He converted all the old horse-drawn implements for use with that first tractor and fabricated some equipment from scratch. Soon after, another tractor was purchased, a 1939 Allis “B.” Much could be done with two tractors that saved them time. With two machines, each tractor could be left set up for various operations. The 1939 model was used mostly for haying with the sickle bar, towing trailers, harrowing, plowing and using the manure spreader. They fitted the 1940 with a home-built snowplow, tire chains and a weight box they filled with sand. Now, they could plow the 700-foot driveway after a big snow to get the milk out for delivery, something in earlier years they did on a sled called a “pung,” which rode over the snow. It was difficult for the horses when the snow got deep, and involved much shoveling by hand. This “newer” tractor could also be fitted with the large cordwood saw to cut up the huge wood supply needed to heat the farmhouse.
Using the tractors was a huge time saver, but also meant the end of an era. Isabel, Harrison’s wife, used to tell how she drove the team of workhorses loaded down with salt hay across town from the Mather Lot, a piece of salt marsh the family owned on Stackyard Road. Farmers outfitted their horses with marsh shoes, which kept them from sinking into the sometimes muddy areas on the marsh. They often built haystacks right there on the marsh up on “hay staddles,” which were short cedar posts driven into the marsh that kept the hay above the flood tides before being loaded onto the wagon. You may have seen these as they’ve been re-enacted on the marsh along Route 1. Bill Sr. and Harrison would cut the grass with the horses pulling the mower that was adapted later to be pulled by the tractor. They used this mower until they purchased a new belly sickle mower that mounted right on the tractor. They raked it up into windrows with a dump rake, and then drove the horses and wagon along, carefully “building a load” with pitchforks into a towering stack on the wagon. In order to get it safely across town, the load had to be built just so, layering it one way, and then the other. It was a lost art which Bill Sr. often told of with the pride of one who knew how to do a thing well.
On the way home from a day of haying on the marsh, Isabel also told of stopping in at MacIntyre’s for a box of fried clams at the corner of Route 1 and 133, where the new Institution for Savings Bank now sits. Once home, she would help by leading one of the horses back and forth across the yard to unload the hay into the huge barn loft. The horse was tethered to the huge hay fork on a long rope that was fed through the pulley attached to a rafter in the barn. Back and forth she’d walk with the horse, as the men pulled the hay in and laid it carefully in the upper reaches of the barn.
All of the old equipment is now in service once again. Bill Sr. always kept the tractors running, and each engine has been rebuilt numerous times. Bill and Ross and Michael inherited their mechanical skills from their father and grandfather and are keeping that tradition alive today. They rebuilt the 1940 “B” last year, and again it runs like new.
We bought a “new to us” 1956 Allis Chalmers WD45 two years ago. It came with a bucket loader, chains and a 2-bottom plow. We just purchased a 3-point conversion kit that will allow us to upgrade to some newer implements we have our eye on that require a power take-off, such as a bedder, and a reciprocating tiller.
Our most modern piece of equipment is a Kubota excavator, which we’ve been lucky enough to have use of, and will purchase this year.
And here we are, still using all the equipment and implements that have been around here for a very long time!