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Sicklebar Mowers

Somewhere close beneath the moldboard plow, which is tops on my list of favorite farm implements, is the sickle-bar mower. Like the plow, it leaves a signature on the land of how skilled its operator was. Like a well plowed field, a rolling hayfield that has been thoroughly manicured with a sickle bar is a minor masterpiece that is satisfying to gaze upon. While mowing usually goes a lot faster than plowing, there is still time to see and smell what's going on. You sure can hear it.  If the sickle is in good shape, the sound is not bothersome, and alfalfa or even tall grass falling over the bar as it's cut is mesmerizing. You get to see more critters when you're cutting down their cover, and though you occasionally might nail a small rabbit or a snake without wanting to, most just move on somewhere else. The mowers rattle up such a racket that they give plenty of warning. I'm sure that while Meadowlarks and other ground nesting birds would be happy in a world rid of mowers, they usually build their nests below cutting level. 

Now while I like working with sickles, they do have a bad habit of eating fingers. As I am right fond of mine, I always treat every sickle like it is just waiting to maim me without warning. Don't know how many times I have seen a knife fall a few inches suddenly in a bar that's long been secured upright and maybe even been over the road a piece. Because of such dangers, the sicklebar mower is not a tool to use or allow around youngsters, pets or the careless. 

One great advantage of this mower over rotaries is that it's great for cleaning up under trees. My seven footer used to reach under low limbs of even the biggest. But a neighbor that had a small apple orchard and hired me to mow it a couple of times had some kind of grass under his trees that played the devil with sickle sections. I used to call it wire grass, because it would make even a sharp knife in the mower hammer a bit. It would jam things up in a second unless you just barely moved through it with the knife going high speed. A dull knife would not cut three feet into it. The strange thing about it was that it looked thin and harmless when you walked around in it. 

Other than hidden rocks and wire, the biggest natural enemy of the sickle bar is the gopher. When gophers throw up their mounds in a hayfield, they so clog up the cutting action that you eventually get to jumping up and down off the tractor like a kid's puppet, cleaning and recleaning until you get mad and lose your religion. If Job had owned a tractor and one of these mowers, his fields would have been filled with gopher mounds.   

The small rotary knife mowers from Europe seem to have caught on well, and I am guessing that sickle bars do a far less percentage of hay cutting now. But if you take the time to keep the knife sharpened and rock guards tightened down (sickles vibrate and shed bolts like old Harleys), the old timey mowers are mighty fine for keeping the homestead neatly trimmed and creating pride in your work.


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