Forage: History repeats itself: 90-year old slide stacker is back in the field
This story begins with former Blaine County resident Marvin Sierks.
“Marv” as he is known, sold his haying equipment on his ranch auction, 10 miles east of Dunning, August 19, 1999–a date he says he will remember the rest of his life.
Rancher Max Fay of Purdum bought the slide stacker offered in the sale. He moved it over rural gravel and oil roads approximately 30 miles. It took him a couple of days to get that far. As darkness approached one of the days, he left it beside the Hawley Flats road on “Roseberry’s corner” in northern Blaine County near the North Loup River.
Fay didn’t get back to complete the remaining 20 mile journey to his ranch. He passed away.
The stacker was already 60 years old at that time and sat at Roseberry’s corner for the next 20 years. It fell into disrepair as old boards rotted and the oak and hickory teeth “disappeared.”
Last June, Sierks returned to Blaine County for fencing jobs. He had been living near Gilner, where he owned and operated Sandhills Fencing Nebraska, since leaving the ranch.
He contacted Karen Fay, Max’s widow, and purchased the stacker from her.
“I dreamed of getting that slide stacker back and using it again, ever since the day I sold it.”
The history of the slide stacker began in the early 1900s. The Beaverhead County Slide Stacker was named after its place of origin, the Big Hole Valley in Beaverhead County, Montana. Later the stacker became known as the “Beaverslide.”
Marv knew that it would be a challenge to restore and make it usable. He began working on the stacker on his late father’s birthday, June 11.
The first step was to move the dilapidated equipment away from yuccas and volunteer red cedars that had grown inside and around the cage.
He aired up the back tires and, surprisingly, they held up.
Oria Davis of Dunning had forge-welded the stacker in the 1930s and the front wheels were made of steel used from some ancient piece of farm machinery. So they were good to go.
It took several weeks to refurbish the stacker.
He bought new boards for the backstop. The four pullies–one at the top and bottom of each 33-foot 4-inch arm–still worked. The cables were still usable. Two new single-row, double-sealed, deep-groove ball bearings were found on a dusty self of a business in Grand Island.
Goose Creek rancher Johnny Klein, 30 miles away, heard that Marv was in need of teeth for the head. He had oak teeth stored in a hay mow and offered them to Marv. It took 10 to rebuild the head.
The slide, also known has the deck, had to be completely resurfaced with new boards.
Finally the stacker was ready to be moved.
Marv made arrangements with Dan Carson near Elsmere, for the stacker to be moved to and kept in a stack yard on his ranch.
June 25, 2019—just two months short of exactly 20 years after the day he sold it–history repeated itself. Marv’s John Deere 3020, pulling a 90-year old slide stacker headed across the prairie. They cut fences as the stacker moved through, and repaired the fences behind him. The 14-foot wide slide crossed the North Loup River and Goose Creek bridges. The previously used route encountered power lines, so a path was carefully chosen because of the 21-foot, 6-inch span from the tip of slanted arms and pullies straight down to the ground. Another concern was getting up the The Big Hill in north Blaine County. The gravel road was muddy from a recent rain but the John Deere 3020 made it.
Near the end of the journey the stacker sunk in soft sand coming out of a pasture. A neighbor brought a larger tractor and hooked on, freeing the equipment.
Finally Marv pulled into a stack yard everyone involved with the journey celebrated the accomplishment. The trip of 12 miles had taken seven hours, including a short lunch break.
According to the local Natural Resource District at Thedford, 34” of moisture fell in southern Cherry and Brown Counties in central Nebraska during the spring and summer of 2019.
The precipitation meant the hay meadows were soft—too soft for the Massey Ferguson 7620 Dan Carson stacks with to not damage the fragile soil, leaving large ruts.
Sierks put his fencing business on hold and broke the old machinery out of retirement. He stacked 95 seven-ton stacks that summer, with a crew of three mowers, one straight/scatter rake and two sweeps.
Carson Ranch has a long history of feeding hay stacks to their cattle. In a normal haying season Carson builds free-standing 8-ton stacks with 20 loads of hay in each. Dan Carson says he prefers stacked hay. “It’s better hay. I can move it easily with my hay sleds. No hydraulic hoses and bale wrap to mess with. My cattle do better on loose hay.”
Carson does use a stack mover and gets the hay stacks into yards soon after it’s put up.
He feeds with a grapple fork on the loader mounted to his Massy 7620.
Only a few Nebraska ranchers, beside Carsons still stack their hay. One is Don Licking of North Platte, who not only uses the old equipment, but he powers it with a team of horses. It’s quite a sight for tourists traveling north on Highway 83, many who stop and take photos. Buck Buckles of Gordon has gone to big round bales now but he too used a team of horses to stack hay not so long ago.
Marvin Sierks is living near Halsey now, back in his beloved Sandhills. He is currently writing a book on the history of mowers, straight rakes, slide stackers and stack movers. His old stacker is parked in a yard along Koshopah Road, waiting for the rain to come and prove that once again, sometimes it’s the old way that saves the day.