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Bill Gill

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  1:58:43 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

My wife grew up on an Eastern horse farm where she frequently helped load bales of hay onto the back of a truck in the field. Once she even cut hay with a horse drawn mow when the grass was too dense for a tractor to cut. It was hot, itchy, tiring work. She remembers their baler could be set for two different lengths of hay bales. The ones they handled were usually about 40 lbs.

If you search hay online you will find a number of criteria used to determine bale sizes. Weight is often cited. If bales were loaded manually, the weight a farmhand could heft was important. If you bought hay, the weight of a bale, more than its size, gave a better measure of its value (very wet hay excluded). But the more you search, the more variations you can find depending on location, tine period, traditions and other factors. What this means for modelers is there is a lot of fudge room for adjusting the sizes of bales to fit an allotted space.

The hay bales I made were roughly based on a “standard”, approximately 16 in. x 18 in. x 36 in. bale which weighed between 40-100 lbs. That small size seemed to unambiguously fit the early 1950s era of the NEB&W layout, a time when mechanized pick up balers first saw common use. Square bales, bales as large as 15 in. x 22 in. x 44 in. are also found. Bales as long as 48 in. and more are listed as well. Again, there is a lot of fudge room to fit what you need. Giant round bales are a whole ‘nother topic. Those are usually left in the field.

There were many false starts for what is apparently such a simple detail. Those are omitted to keep you from falling asleep, but if your first efforts stumble along, you are not alone and you may discover better materials, or methods than what is presented here.

New York State was number one in growing timothy hay, high quality hay with a pale greenish color. That’s the type of hay I wanted to model for the layout, which is set in upstate New York and Vermont. Woodland Scenics field grass in “Natural Straw” and “Pale Green” matched the color very well.

Country: USA | Posts: 3241

Bill Gill

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  2:02:37 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

A small clump of the field grass was held in one hand and cut with a sharp pair of scissors as short as I could manage. Some errant strands that were longer slipped in, but they did not matter. Roughly equal amounts of each color were cut up and mixed together in a small plastic dish.

(These pieces are reject bales that have some grass still stuck to them, but you get the core idea here.)

The core of these bales is 3/16 in. square balsa stock that I had on hand. That is a little bigger than 16 in. in HO, but that was taken care of later. The strips were cut 3 scale ft long. Each was skewered with a straight pin and painted on all sides with acrylic craft paints mixed to match the mixed field grass color. This paint layer did two things: sealed the balsa and masked any small areas not eventually covered by the field grass.

Wellbond glue was used to stick the field grass to the balsa. Why? I had it, it dries clear, it’s waterproof when dry, and it gets thick and tacky quickly when squirted into a small dish. Other clear tacky glues will work as well.

Edited by - Bill Gill on 01/04/2015 2:06:03 PM

Country: USA | Posts: 3241 Go to Top of Page

Bill Gill

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  2:12:31 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

The balsa cores were stacked in the back of the truck to see how many would fit. 5 across, 4 along the side and 3 deep worked here. This is a very small load. You can find some fantastic photos of improbable looking tall, cantilevered loads of hay bales that would be great fun to model. However, this small load is not implausible. A modeler pointed out that the orientation of the layers would have alternated, either long or short side out, like laying bricks, to stabilize the load. But my wife saved me from tearing the load apart by remembering occasionally they stacked small loads like this for a short ride to the barn, whew!

When the balsa was unloaded from the truck each core had its non-visible sides marked with a penciled “X”. To allow for tighter packing, only the visible sides were covered with the chopped field grass. (It would have helped to also number the bottoms of the balsa to aide when restacking them, but didn’t think of that until now).

Once everything was ready, here’s how the bales were made: A skewered balsa core was liberally brushed with a thick coat of straight Wellbond on all of its visible sides. Next it was held over the dish of chopped grass while grass was HEAPED onto the glue as much as could be piled. Next the pin was momentarily stabbed into a scrap of Styrofoam to allow the glue to partially set and another piece of balsa or two were coated with glue and grass and stabbed into the foam. After several bales were coated, the first was picked up and squeezed in the jaws of a slack jawed pair of pliers. Don’t omit this step. It not only compresses the fibers which looks more like booked baled hay, but also reduces the overall size of the finished bale and helps them pack tightly together. Some bales might need a second application of glue and chopped grass to cover the balsa. I used a thinner Wellbond mixed with water for this.

When all the bales were well covered and dry, they were restacked on the truck to check the fit. The load was a little wide and long for the bed. This was easily adjusted by squeezing the bales with the pliers again until everything fit. The final step was to bale the pieces with twine. A ship modeler had given me some 00000 natural color silk thread for a different project. I had some of it left, but small as it is, it looked like rope instead of twine. It was three strands, so I unraveled it and used single strands to tie the bales. The thread is no longer available from the supplier the ship modeler used, but you may be able to find something similar.

The single strands were all kinky after being unraveled, but they straightened out when I stretched them around the top and ends of each bale. The twine was pulled tight enough to indent the edges of the bales. Silk stretches a bit, it was tied in a knot on the bottom of the bale and when both pieces of twine were tied around a bale, the knots were pushed up into the balsa with a blunt toothpick and further secured with a dot of Wellbond. This assured nice tight twine around the bales.

Finally the bales were brushed with Wellbond on their non-visible sides and assembled on the back of the truck. A very light application of a very pale yellow acrylic paint was drybrushed on the bales to enhance the color. That’s how they were done. Aren’t you glad the missteps were included!

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Premium Member

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  2:14:26 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Nice SBS, Bill! Thanks for the hints and tips, too! The green in there is a very nice touch.

Now I need to "make hay while the sun shines!"

Oh. Wait. It's snowing....

in Michigan

Country: USA | Posts: 7533 Go to Top of Page

Bill Gill

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  2:31:18 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hi Pete, thanks for waiting, had to find leftovers to photograph for this SBS.

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George D

Premium Member

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  2:36:55 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Great looking load. Thanks for the tutorial, Bill.


Fly Army

Country: USA | Posts: 16799 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 01/04/2015 :  2:37:32 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hay, Bill. Uhhh, that is, Hey Bill.

Very nicely done, indeed. After reading your technique for hay bales, it would seem logical, I think, the same technique would work equally well for cotton bales. Substituting fine, white, flower-grade foam for the field grass and covering with a burlap-like material(?) would seem to do the trick.


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Posted - 01/04/2015 :  2:54:07 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Bill, thanks for the hay bale making lesson!
I will definitely have to try making some of these, they look fantastic!

Greg Shinnie

Country: Canada | Posts: 9053 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  3:05:56 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
HAY BILL'' Excellent hay and and truck to match.
The realistic look was worth the extra work involved. Love it'...


Country: USA | Posts: 6186 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  4:11:44 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Super Job! Those hay bales look terrific Bill. BTW, if the little missus was chucking hay bales, I'm sure you have the 'Yes, Dear' down to perfection! Thanks for the tutorial as well.

Take the red pill

Country: USA | Posts: 6182 Go to Top of Page

Bill Gill

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  4:33:33 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
George, Thanks!

Hay Steve :) Somewhere I saw some very good cotton bales, I'll search for where that might have been. Also saw some made out of cigarette filters tied with thread, but the size and filter wrapping weren't quite right.

Thanks, Greg Post what you make. What are common types of hay and bales there up North?

Thanks, Ted.

Thanks, Burley Jim :)

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Posted - 01/04/2015 :  4:38:47 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Another great detail. Thanks for posting.

Country: South Africa | Posts: 2831 Go to Top of Page

Bill Gill

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  4:53:51 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks, Wes. How is hay baled/stored there? Any photos?

Edited by - Bill Gill on 01/05/2015 08:02:50 AM

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Premium Member

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  5:37:59 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
That is amazing great job and how to.


"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln

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Premium Member

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  6:50:21 PM  Show Profile  Visit jbvb's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I make several hundred 'small square bales' every year and these are a good representation of them as they come from the field. During their first few weeks in the barn, they get yellower as the dried grass ages.

Possible bale types and sizes vary with the era and area. Before string knotters were perfected in 1936, bales were tied with wire. 'Small square' bales were common where the hay was cut on or near the farm that would use it, because they were easy for one man to carry. 'Large square' bales were common where the hay was to be shipped long distances; they've always been tied with wire (sometimes 3 wires) because twine isn't strong enough. Round bales didn't appear till Allis Chalmers introduced the Roto-Baler in 1947. Their 1st generation machine produced 36" wide by up to 44" diameter bales, tied with twine. Round bales reached present dimensions in the 1960s, but bale nets and bale shrink wrapping weren't common until the 1980s and 1990s.

A given type of baler can only produce one kind of bale (though the length of "small square" bales can vary). So if you're going to build one of GHQ's HO scale 'green' balers, anything in sight of it should be 'small square'.

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Premium Member

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  7:45:42 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
James, this is the sort of additional information that makes these Forums really valuable to me. Many thanks to you and Bill!

Since I'm allergic to hay, barns, etc. I've avoided the up-close stuff. Now I can model it without issues.

<edit: to add material interrupted by the phone>

in Michigan

Edited by - Orionvp17 on 01/04/2015 10:02:01 PM

Country: USA | Posts: 7533 Go to Top of Page
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