By ED MERRIMAN
Baker City Herald
When Baker City's Bootsma brothers, Tom and John, saw perfectly good swathing machines put out to pasture just because the mowing heads wore out, they invented the world's first forward-operating hay rake.
andquot;We make something that is unique to the industry,andquot; said Tom Bootsma. andquot;We take a swather that has a worn out mower and replace the mower with our hay rake.andquot;
Besides the practical advantage of being able andquot;to see what you are doing,andquot; and the environmental and financial benefits of recycling what had become a useless piece of iron, Bootsma said their swather-mounted hay rake uses half the fuel of a traditional hay rake pulled behind a tractor.
This isn't the first time the Bootsma brothers have done well with what they see as essentially a steel recycling project
Before moving to Baker County 20 years ago, the Bootsmas took over a landfill of used and outdated welding rods and made enough money recycling the steel rods to start a motorcycle helmet and accessory manufacturing business in California called American Sports Co., which they sold when production hit 400,000 helmets a year.
John used part of the proceeds to buy the Connie Allen ranch in Baker County and launch the brothers' latest venture manufacturing forward-operating hay rakes, as well as a new hay bale loader, with Robbins Farm Equipment of Baker City.
andquot;The old method is comparable to driving a car backwards and craning your neck back to see what you are doing,andquot; Tom Bootsma said. andquot;Talk about a neck ache. Try doing that 10 or 12 hours a day all summer.andquot;
andquot;The biggest advantage of our rake is you have the work in front of you, so you can see what you are doing,andquot; Bootsma said.
Bootsma said he and John built their first forward-operating hay rake in the farm shop to breathe new life into their old swather, which they found had no trade-in value on a new swather even though the only thing wrong with it was that the hay mowing head mounted on the front had worn out.
Since then, the Bootsmas have perfected their design with a universal mount so their forward-operating hay rake can be easily attached to the front of a John Deere, Hesston, New Holland, Case IH and other major brands of swathers.
Tom Bootsma said he and a couple of employees have been building two or three forward-operating hay rakes in their manufacturing shop at 2300 Windmill Road in Baker City.
andquot;We have hay rakes in all the northwest states,andquot; Bootsma said.
Now that they are manufacturing and selling two or three of their hay rakes a year, the Bootsmas are looking for investors who can help them take their invention to the next level.
andquot;The potential is huge when you think how many farms produce hay across the country,andquot; Bootsma said.
andquot;Our rakes take hay laying on the field after it is cut and dried, and puts it into what is called a windrow,andquot; Bootsma said. andquot;Once the hay is raked into windrows, baling machines are used to pick up the hay and compact it into bales.
andquot;For the past 50 to 60 years the only hay rakes available were pulled behind a $40,000 tractor,andquot; Bootsma said. andquot;We're going green. We do it with a used swather that uses half the fuel.andquot;
The Boostmas sell the forward-operating hay rake for $23,000 for a 10-foot-wide model or $27,000 for their new 12-foot-wide model.
The Bootsma forward-operating hay rake can be mounted on a new or used swather, which run at 1,400 to 1,500 rpm, compared to 2,400 rpm for a tractor and the traditional pull-behind hay rake.
andquot;Just pull the head off (the swather) and mount our rake onto it,andquot; Boostma said.
Bootsma said just about every ranch in Baker County, and across the country for that matter, has one or more used swathers sitting around rusting in their fields simply because the mowers attached to the front drive shaft wore out.
Besides the obvious advantage with the Bootsma hay rake of being able to keep on eye on your work without craning your neck around to look back, Tom said swathers are more fuel efficient than the higher-horsepower tractors required to pull all of the traditional rear-operating hay rakes.
While John Bootsma is the financial wizard and idea man behind the family farm and equipment-manufacturing business, Tom enjoys building things and he has the technical skills and knowledge to turn dreams and ideas into working machines.
In addition to the forward-operating hay rakes, Tom Bootsma also helped refine the design and is building hay loaders for Robbins Farm Equipment in Baker City.
He said the hay loaders are designed to make feeding cattle from large hay bales a one-man job instead of a two- or three-person job.
In the first year building the hay loaders with Robbins Farm Equipment, more than 30 have already been sold, including 20 to ranches around Baker County and 10 to ranchers in other areas, Bootsma said.
andquot;In the summer we make hay rakes and in the winter we make bale feeders,andquot; Bootsma said.
The bale feeders feed bales automatically into loops that separate the bale into flakes. The entire operation is operated hydraulically from the cab of a truck pulling the bale loader, Bootsma said.