Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last Haying

DAVID PLOWDEN: "It seems I have made a career of being one step ahead of the wrecking ball. I have been beset with a sense of urgency to record those parts of our heritage which seem to be receding as quickly as the view from the rear of a speeding train. I fear that we are eradicating the evidence of our past accomplishments so quickly that in time we may well lose the sense of who we are."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The hay that feeds the cattle through the winter comes from fields adjacent to where the beef cattle graze. Mike has already filled the first wagon and towed it to the lower field. Driving a loaded hay wagon down the hill, he must be careful to cut across the slope at the right angle. Too gentle a descent, and the hay wagon may tip sideways, spilling its load; too steep a descent, and the new load will propel the tractor on an uncertain ride. I've watched Mike plot a "switchback course," and bring a train of three raggéd, hay wagons down a steep hill safely behind his tractor.

On the hillside above him he's already cut the hay and raked it into furrows. Behind the tractor is a baler. As it runs along the furrows it gathers the hay and stuffs it into a metal duct which extrudes bales. Periodically the baler catapults a newly baled block of hay into the wagon at the back. On this particular day the catapult is giving him trouble, and after each bale he stops the tractor, gets down from his high seat, and resets the catapult arm. There has been too much rain, and some of the hay is not dry yet, but he won't even finish baling the dry hay this evening.

Each year there are fewer working farms in New England. When I first photographed at Twin Elm in 2007 they were growing corn here, but harvesting the corn became more work than they could handle. The equipment used to harvest corn is entirely different from that used to harvest hay. Today the corn harvesters lie abandoned in the fields over the wall where the herd grazes.

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Many thanks to Mike, Ralph and their family for continuing permission to shoot at Twin Elm. Similar thanks to so many others who have given permission over the past three years for me to walk their lands and photograph. I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving filled with laughter and loved ones.