A fun fall tradition

September 28, 2021

Autumn seems to be a season of traditions which celebrate our rural and agricultural heritage. There’s just something about shuffling through a carpet of red, gold, and orange leaves or sipping a cup of apple cider on a blustery day.

One uniquely North American tradition which has been enjoyed for generations now is a hayride. I turn to the Infallible Wikipedia for a more in depth history:

“Hayrides traditionally have been held as celebratory activities, usually in connection to celebration of the autumn harvest. Hayrides originated with farmhands and working farm children riding loaded hay wagons back to the barn for unloading, which was one of the few times during the day one could stop to rest during the frenetic days of the haying season. By the late 19th century and the spread of the railroads, tourism and summer vacations in the country had become popular with urban families, many of whom had read idealized accounts of hayrides in children’s books.

Red Tail Farm in Leavenworth offers hayrides in the autumn.

To capitalize on the demand, local farmers began offering ‘genuine hayrides’ on wagons loaded with hay, since one could make more cash income selling rides to ‘summer people’ than by selling the same wagon-load of hay (although most farmers did both). During this era, farming was transforming from a subsistence system to a cash system, and there were few options for bringing real money into the average farm.

Over time the hayride became a real tradition, although the original concept of riding on top of a load of hay was gradually replaced with a simple ride in a wagon sitting on a layer of hay intended to cushion the ride. This was considered far safer than (if not as fun as) riding perched 15-20 feet on top of a slippery pile of hay on a moving vehicle.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, in her book The Long Winter, describes the work of loading a hay wagon and her ‘ride’ from the fields back to the barn:

“There Pa walked beside the wagon and drove the horses between the rows of haycocks. At every haycock he stopped the horses and pitched the hay up into the hayrack. It came tumbling loosely over the high edge and Laura trampled it down. Up and down and back and forth she trampled the loose hay with all the might of her legs, while the forkfuls kept coming over and falling, and she went on trampling while the wagon jolted on to the next haycock. Then Pa pitched more hay in from the other side.

Under her feet the hay climbed higher, trampled down as solid as hay can be. Up and down, fast and hard, her legs kept going, the length of the hayrack and back, and across the middle. The sunshine was hotter and the smell of the hay rose up sweet and strong. Under her feet it bounced and over the edges of the hayrack it kept coming.

All the time she was rising higher on the trampled-down hay. Her head rose above the edges of the rack and she could have looked at the prairie, if she could have stopped trampling. Then the rack was full of hay and still more came flying up from Pa’s pitchfork.

The illustration of Laura in the haywagon from The Long Winter

Laura was very high up now and the slippery hay was sloping downward around her. She went on trampling carefully. Her face and her neck were wet with sweat and sweat trickled down her back. Her sunbonnet hung by its strings and her braids had come undone. Her long brown hair blew loose in the wind.

Then Pa stepped up on the whiffletrees. He rested one foot on David’s broad hip and clambered up onto the load of hay.

‘You’ve done a good job, Laura,’ he said. ‘You tramped the hay down so well that we’ve got a big load on the wagon.’

Laura rested in the prickly warm hay while Pa drove near to the stable. Then she slid down and sat in the shade of the wagon. Pa pitched down some hay, then climbed down and spread it evenly to make the big, round bottom of a stack. He climbed onto the load and pitched more hay, then climbed down and leveled it on the stack and trampled it down.”

For Laura, that ride on top of the hay wagon was a well deserved and needed break from hard physical labor.

Those of us who grew up in urban or suburban settings will never know how difficult life was for farmers.

For me, a hayride conjures up memories from when I was 14 and 15 years old and the Rainbow Girls – along with the members of the boy’s group DeMolay – looked forward to that day each fall when we met at a farm and all piled into the back of a large farm truck for a ‘hayride.’

Unlike Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘hayride,’ ours consisted of bales of hay and a layer of straw on which to sit. We were well enclosed by the sides of the truck and squished together as the vehicle lumbered down the dark back roads of the Yakima Valley. By late September or October, the temperatures in the evenings were down into the 40’s – sometime’s the 30’s – and we were all bundled up in coats, hats, and gloves.

Three things which I most remember about the hayrides:

  • Constant jostling
  • Singing
  • The bonfire and hot dog roast when we arrived at our destination

Sadly, despite keeping a diary for several years as a teenager, the only thing I wrote for 1972 about this event was “Tonight was the hayride. It was fun.” A peek at the weather that day informs us that the high was 63 degrees but the overnight temperature was in the low 30’s. So nice and crisp, exactly how I remember. For a young teenager it was the ultimate fall activity.

Nowadays, being jostled about in the bed of a truck and sitting on hay is, perhaps, not the most fun thing to do on a brisk autumn Saturday night. But if you happen to get a hankering to go on a hayride, there’s a helpful website appropriately named hayride.com to fulfill that desire. Enjoy!

The links:



2 thoughts on “Hayride!

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