The Mowing Machines

By John D. Fogg

'Recollections Of A Salt Marsh Farmer'

Edited by Eric N. Small -- 1983

Section 3

I have heard the folks tell what happened in around 1880 to 1898. Farmers were getting prosperous, buying horses to take the place of oxen; help wasn't so plentiful, they could get better jobs in the near cities and towns where the industries were having more business, like the carriage and wagon shops, harness shops, boat, and many others. With horses, the farmers could get along with less help. Some had already stopped cutting the salt marsh hay when using scythes, getting older, help leaving, etc. They would try to get along without the hay.

Now, when someone got the idea of doing the marsh mowing with horses - well! "That did it." Most of all those who had stopped cutting with scythes came right back all enthused about it again, for they needed the salt marsh hay just as much or more than before, for the horses were consuming so much of the English hay. One horse would eat three tons or more of hay in a year's time. Horses wouldn't be turned out to pasture when not being used, like oxen.

This now was about 1902 or before when it seemed like everyone was making or buying bog shoes for one of their horses. There were two kinds of shoes Dodge and the Randall shoes. Joseph D. Dodge, Esq., of Rowley, Massachusetts, invented a bog shoe having a cast iron clamp the shape of the horse's feet, bolted onto a round board, having thin iron bars across to keep the board from splitting. They were adjustable for different size feet.

George A. Randall of Newbury, Massachusetts, invented the Randall kind which we used and most farmers the same, with the hole cut the size to fit the horse's foot with a bar across the bottom to stand on with the loops and straps to hold them on by their own shoe nailed to the hoof. These seemed to be easier on the horses. These also were made at home.

My father made a small set for the first horse, "Poney." A short time later it was "Brownie," a small brown mare. She took the same shoes - always had six shoes, two spares. This is 1903, our first time mowing on the marsh with a horse-drawn mowing machine - a Deering make machine. David F. Batchelder of Hampton Falls was the agent for these mowers. They seemed lighter in weight but were made rugged to last. We put in all new parts on the cutting bar, chafe plates on the fingers, new sections or knives - the same every year before going mowing on the marsh, making it as easy going as possible for the horse. That grass was so very thick, it took the best knives like the scythes to cut easily.

No more going by boat from the Seabrook Rocks Dock. It was now from Healey's Island, down the path (outlined on the map) past the Great Stake on Stephen Brown's marsh, turning there passing the Ox Bow Creek, south to our 6 acres on that Steep Banks that I have been telling so much about when that time father and Jake Merrill were camping and mowing with scythes. Now, with the horse, we didn't need Jake -- Father kept him on his paint job. It was just father, Chester and myself. We had good luck mowing that first day. Father led the horse the first time around. When we were starting another place, I drove, then to finish the pieces. We mowed the 3-acre piece first. It had no ditches, just the drain-off ditch that went past the end of Ralph Fish's three-acre piece, then into the Browns River west. The 2-acres were ditched but had good wide beds. Father and Chester would mow the headlands with scythes so I could turn without treading the grass down. In mowing those beds, we started in the center of the bed and went back and forth from the center out.

I found out some years later when mowing for others that in mowing a piece that had no ditches, it was faster to mow like it was bedded - just mow a good headland first, then go back and forth mowing from the center out.

It was a sight to see so many others mowing with their own horse or mare. I'll name some.

Ralph Fish had two pieces joining ours, 2-1/ 2 acres on the west and a 5-acre piece on the north. He mowed with a bay horse. On the east, 4 acres were being mowed for George Merrill and Ben Elkins called the Godfrey marsh. 6 acres were mowed by Clarence F. Brown with a bay mare on Joseph Chase marsh. Frank Locke had 6-1 /4 acres, not mowed. Porter Brown cut John Allan Brown's 19 acres with a black mare, John W. Locke's 13 acres was being mowed by Charlie Bragg with one horse. There was a man from Salisbury, Mass. who came to cut George Philbrick's 5 acres - this was out to the very point of the Steep Banks marsh. He had a black mare, good sized. He had shafts in a two-horse mower with a five-foot cutter bar. David Brown cut 6 acres north-east from us. He was mowing with a horse called "Jim,"a fire engine horse from Amesbury, Mass. Jim was wind broken so couldn't stand the long hauls out of town, but made a good farm horse. Also on the east, John Thayer Batchelder had 7 acres and Frank Poor had 6 acres, both not mowed. Ralph Fish had another 7-acre piece of marsh up around the Ox Bow Creek.

Having a horse to haul the drag, we could bring a ladder easier now, then when we came with a small boat with all those tools. On the second day mowing we loaded it with a 40-qt. jug of water for the horse with 5 qts. of oats for his lunch. And our lunch, too. Those corned beef sandwiches, apple pies with all the other good things. Now that drink father mixed up with a cup of oatmeal then molasses and ginger in the can of water. We kept that can in a ditch where it would be cool all day - if it lasted all day! Anyhow, we didn't have to worry about getting out of water like in the days of scythe mowing, for now there was that40-qt, jug, not full, but there would be some or enough for a drink,"if it was warm." It was a bad place to be without water. I used to eat that oatmeal after the drink was all gone.

Before leaving for home after taking the mower knife out, we would stand the cutter bar up so to oil those chafe plates, then wrap a canvas around the bar so a rain would not wash off the oil.

I mentioned how Hampton Falls had so many one-horse mowing machines. Now in Seabrook it was just the opposite, two-horse machines. They came from Salisbury and Amesbury, Massachusetts, and from South Hampton, Kensington, Hampton Falls and all those from Seabrook. They cut the area of marsh south of Hunt's Creek toward the Massachusetts line in Salisbury.

When mowing with two horses, they had a man walk ahead the first time around to lay out the first piece to be mowed. I was mowing one time with Dollie on the north side of the George Weare marsh when Paul Batchelder came down on the south side with a pair of mules to cut Frank Mace's marsh of Kensington. The marsh bordered on the creek then to Beckman's Island in Seabrook. Paul had Otis McQuillan to walk ahead, then do the trim.

There was a Seabrook team I would like to mention, owned by William Bragg and driven by Frank Ordway. The nigh horse was a small black mare called "Winnie." She was clever and had an elephant's memory. The off one was a chubby white horse. Ordway said, once they understood the bounds of marsh to be mowed, there would be no need of anyone walking ahead, for Winnie would take care of those grassed-over salt ponds, holes, or any other bad places. Ordway said he believed Winnie could smell those places and she could jump and put that machine pole over on chub so quick he could hardly see what happened.

They say that sometime in the past, someone had poked Winnie with sticks to see her kick. After they got her, if someone came round holding a stick, they had better not get too near her heels. But if she knew you there was no trouble. You could pat her or pick up a hind foot.

I'll mention some mowing we saw on our way down the path on the second day - starting on Healey's Island. The first from the island would be Grant B. Sanhorn on Fred P. Sanborn's 8.5 acres. David F. Batchelder was doing the mowing with a twohorse mower. Paul E. Batchelder would be with him if only twelve years old.

On the south side of the path was Frank Pevear mowing with one horse - he had shafts in a two-horse five-foot cutting bar. I can see him now. He was walking behind the machine. Warren H. Batchelder doing the mowing with a two-horse mower on Laurence Wadleigh's 33 acres. John N. Sanborn mowing his 23 acres with his own red roan horse. He walked back of the machine. Then, Stephen Brown mowing his own I I acres. We could count around 30 horses and 60 men sometimes. Then in about two days or more when mowing was finished, there would be just a few horses but around 100 men and boys, raking and stacking. There were lots more over toward the Hampton River and up west, back of the trees toward the Hampton Falls dock. In the September season it was the same thing but not so many boys.

Jake Merrill was telling one time how my father would say "We will get up early and mow all we can while the grass is wet, then we will take it easy." Jake said that sounded good - it must be a second breakfast and perhaps a nap, but it didn't turn out that way. He said they got a lot mowed by ten o'clock when father said we will take a break. They went in the tent and had a cup of coffee with a bite to eat; now in a few minutes father said, "Let's go spread those swaths." Jake said he must have thought spreading swaths was a break from mowing!

Jake had one of those lunch pails with trays. The one on the top was narrow and was for dessert. The deeper one was for the main course, with drink in the bottom of the pail. When he ate the lunch he started at the top and went right down through. I have heard say that's the proper way, for the sugar in desserts upsets or hurts the natural acids that aid digestion. After the first day, he stayed down all the time while mowing, so he ate what mother put up for us all.