Usually I try to study the weather and cut hay when there is a 3-day window of calm conditions.  In this unusually wet spring and summer when there are no 3-day windows, I’ve changed my habits and have tried to cut the day before a rain, hoping that it will dry enough in the 2-day window that follows in order to bale before the next rain.

Such was the case with my last field when I mowed on Friday and it rained on Saturday. But, unfortunately, the 2-day dry period was delayed when it rained again on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.  Wednesday was dry, so I ran a tedder through the winrows.  It was the first time in my life that I had to lock the tractor in 4-wheel drive just to pull a hay tedder!  Thursday was just as dry and I raked the hay early that morning (still needing 4-wheel drive).  By that afternoon, the hay was as dry as gun powder on top, but the bottom was still a bit damp. I figured it would keep since the forecast was for more heavy rain on Friday the 13th.
It was tough baling, with wet clumps here and there that tended to plug the pickup occasionally.  I was trying my best to keep an eye on things, but as I turned a corner and picked up a larger-than-normal chunk of damp hay, the pickup clogged and belts began to slip, smoke, and overheat.  In the blink of an eye, the dry hay on top ignited before I could get the PTO shut off.  Even though I thought it stupid at the time, I had purchased the fire extinguisher option on this baler and jumped out and started spraying.  I emptied the entire contents on the flaming fodder.  It ALMOST put the fire out, but as soon as I was out of fire extinguisher material, the fire took off again—with a vengeance.
I quickly hopped back on the  tractor and backed out of the winrow while emptying the half-formed bale.  The fire was raging and I was a long way from any water.  In a panic, I jumped out and disconnected the baler and the hydraulic hoses.  I should have disconnected the monitor cable and the PTO drive line, but I figured they would break away as I pulled out—and it was getting mighty hot at the rear of the tractor.  They did break as I pulled the tractor a hundred feet away and called 911.  It took both volunteer fire departments about 25 minutes to get to the remote location, but the baler had been a goner since about the five-minute mark.  It was a total loss, but I couldn’t help but feel fortunate that I had saved the tractor and I wasn’t lying in the burn unit of the local hospital.  The only thing I dreaded now was the shame of admitting what happened to my friends.
Calls started coming in as soon as the news spread.  The teasing and ridicule I expected were replaced with comments like, “I know how it feels, I lost a baler back in the eighties,” or  “mine caught fire last year, but I was able to fix it back up kind of normal.” Without exception, every farming neighbor I have talked to since Thursday has had a fire in their round baler that either destroyed or did major damage to their machine.  
However, every one of those neighbors that consoled me with their own personal story of fire in their round baler each had a very similar comment, also, “The insurance for farm equipment doesn’t seem so outlandish when something like this happens, though.”
Note to self:  Next time I’ll get the insurance option along with a larger fire extinguisher.
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University.  He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker.  To contact Jerry about his books or to arrange speaking engagements, you may contact him by calling 1-866-532-1960 or visiting and clicking on 'Contact Us.'


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