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By Jack McCall

It goes by many names – hay baler twine, baler twine, grass string. Any farm boy (or girl) knows its feel with their eyes closed, and is familiar with its many uses on a farm.

I grew up calling it grass string. As I was considering writing about it in this column, I wondered if the term “grass string” had a common usage or if that is just what we called it on our farm.

I asked my friend Jim Coley, a veteran feeder of hay, if he used the phrase “grass sting” when he was growing up. Jim explained to me that until it came out of the hay baler, and while it was still on the hay bale, it was called baler twine. But as soon as it was cut and removed from the hay bale, it became a grass string.

Across the Miles
Jack McCall

That made perfect sense to me because, in fact, that’s the way it was on our farm. Now that I have that issue straightened out, I can proceed to consider both baler twine and grass string.

Speaking with Jim also reminded me of how his late Uncle Clyde insisted the baler twine be cut at the knot when bales were being “busted” and fed to their fine Horned Hereford cattle back in the day.

My first experience with baler twine took place in the hay fields of Smith County. I’m not sure how old I was, but I was big enough to roll a bale of hay up on a wagon. Taut baler twine has a unique feel about it. Handling hundreds of bales of hay over many days makes for strong hands and fingers. If the hay was baled heavy and tight, the twine seemed to cut into your fingers like baling wire.

Speaking of baling wire, my father used to say that you could fix almost any problem that came up with a Model T Ford if you had three things: an air pump, a box of inner tube patches, and a piece of baling wire. That brings me back to grass strings. There are a thousand uses of grass string on a farm, and there were always plenty of grass strings to use when I was a boy.

I marvel at how many stable doors, crib doors, and gates have been made secure with a doubled grass string. My father was known to keep one or two grass strings in the hip pocket of his overalls. You never know when something will need to be tied up.

My grandfather, Herod Brim, was a master at weaving ropes with grass strings. He called them “plaided ropes.” He could weave them with three or four grass stings. He had grass string ropes that were 10 and 20 feet long. And they were strong. One of those ropes, tied around the horns of a big billy goat, would stop him in his tracks

I remember one rope in particular. It had a closed loop in the end that made for a perfect lasso. That lasso played a part in one of my most cherished childhood memories.

In the summer, I would spend weeks at a time with my grandparents Herod and Lena Brim in the Brim Hollow. My grandfather had a routine every morning. He would leave the house early and tend to his chores. Then, “up in the morning,” he would come back to the house to see what I was doing.

I would be lying in wait for him with a cleverly designed trap. Just inside the kitchen door, I would spread the open end of the lasso into a large loop on the floor. Then, I would hide under the kitchen table and wait. When he came through the door he stepped right in the middle of the noose. I would pull hard on my end of the rope and tighten the rope around his leg.

He would squall out like he had stepped into a bear trap. “Whoa, Lena!” he would bellow. “Whoa, Lena! Come here quick.  Something’s got me!”

I would roll on by back and laugh out loud as I held on to the rope.

Then he, acting like he had finally come to his senses, would mockingly begin to chastise me. “Why you!” he would scold, “Come here to me and I’ll skin your head.”

I would always get away without getting my head skinned. And he would always step right in the center of that noose the next time I set the trap.

Sometimes I hear his booming voice echoing in my memory, and I can still feel the end of that grass string rope in my hands.