By George Bordi as told to Mary
For two summers in the early 1940s I helped Joe Zanoni on his dairy in La Honda to bring in his hay. Joe was renting one of the ranches that make up what is now known as the Driscoll Ranch. At that time it was four different ranches. Going up Sears Ranch Road (past where La Honda elementary is now located) the first two ranches were owned by the Guerras, who were brothers I believe. The first of these was then rented by Manuel Alexander, who ran a dairy. I worked on the next ranch, rented by Joe Zanoni. The Zanoni family had once owned the third ranch that is further in (now sometimes called the Wool Ranch). Joe and his brothers and sisters had grown up there. But the family had sold it and the Fabers, who owned it as well as a commercial dairy in Palo Alto, grew hay and pastured their dry stock there. Joe Zanoni now farmed and ran a dairy on the second Guerra ranch. The other ranch that makes up what is now the Driscoll Ranch, near today’s Driscoll Event Center on Highway 84, was owned by Robbie Silva.
During the war, manpower was in short supply on ranch and farm. Up in the Alpine, where I live, my dad was farming the Bartley Ranch and we needed someone to bind and thresh our grain. Joe Zanoni had the equipment to do this but he also needed help to bring in the hay for his dairy cattle. So, as a trade off I went to work for him and he came up our way with his Model M tractor and equipment to thresh Pop's grain.
The dairy business was big in San Mateo county in those days. By milking 15 or 20 cows and shipping the cream in five and ten gallon cans for butter, a family could make enough to buy those things they couldn’t produce themselves. You’d bucket feed the calves and feed the excess skim milk to a few pigs. Some folks, like the Zanoni’s, milked 50 or more cows and made a real business of it.
It was natural to grow as much of your own feed as possible so they planted red oats for hay as well as for feed grain and seed for next year’s crop of hay. Most ranches around here had big redwood barns: a horse barn with stalls and room for their feed. A cow barn with stanchions for milking and an area for hay storage. Perhaps you'd also have a thick walled dairy house to process and store the cream if that wasn’t done in the barn. And a stoutly built granary to store the heavy sacks of barley for feed and the seed oats for your next crop of hay.
In the morning, before driving Pop’s Chevy pickup the eight miles to Zanoni’s in La Honda, I’d have to do the chores at home. This meant milking the cows and feeding the calves and pigs if no one else was available to do it.
When I arrived at work we took Joe’s Model A Ford flatbed truck to the fields to haul in the loose hay. The field had been mowed and the hay raked into windows and those pushed into shocks of hay. This allowed the hay to cure without becoming too dry. This country raised some of the best oat hay because we were far enough inland to escape a lot of the coastal fog yet the weather didn’t get too hot. Our hay was short and sweet because our rolling hills were not the fertile bottom land that produces tall, coarse hay.
Two of us would fork the hay from the shock to one man on the truck who would carefully place it so that the load did not slide off on the way to the barn. At the barn we pulled up to the center door. I was in charge of the team of horses that ran the Jackson fork. This fork ran on a trolly on a track in the peak of the roof of the barn. Two men would be inside the barn stacking the loose hay. Guided by a man on the ground, the Jackson fork would grab a load of loose hay from the truck. Then I’d urge the horses forward which would pull the forkful of hay up and lock it on the trolly and down the track it went. When it was in position over the stack, one of the men on inside the barn would yell, “Let her go!” and the one outside would pull the rope that tripped the release and the hay would fall from the fork. Then the fork was pulled back out to the truck and the process begun again.
At noon we’d break for lunch. Usually we’d have bread and salami and cheese, coffee and all the milk you could drink. Occasionally, if they’d done some butchering, we’d have meat. We’d never stop for more than and an hour and soon we’d be heading back to the field for another load of hay. We'd usually take another short break in the mid afternoon.
We’d quit around 5 PM because Zanoni’s had to get on with the evening milking and I had to get home to the Alpine do my evening feeding, and milking, too.