To unwind after a long, often-hectic, winter auction season – that’s always the goal of organizers of the long-standing, annual Hay Day celebration in Rock Valley, IA.

At center stage: Rock Valley Hay, one of the Midwest’s largest hay auctions. From November through May, it steps up its sale schedule from once to twice a week.

“It gets to be a pretty long grind for everybody involved – the people who work here, the buyers and sellers and the townspeople, too,” says auction owner Paul McGill, who notes that Hay Day dates back to the mid-1960s. “This gives everybody a chance to blow off a little steam and celebrate the end of winter.”

Hay Day activities, held the last Thursday of March each year, would be good grist for Norman Rockwell-type paintings. A strap-throwing contest invites each participant to accurately throw tie-downs over a trailer fully loaded with round bales. Three-person teams can enter a bale-rolling contest in which they’re timed as they push 750-lb round bales 100’.

Horseshoe-shaped medals, each tethered with a red, white and blue ribbon from Rock Valley Hay, are awarded. The auction also recognizes the people who sell the most hay, travel the greatest distance, have the load with the highest RFV, etc. “They post the winners’ names and pictures in the auction yard office every year,” says hay grower Gene “Pucky” Sandager of Hills Bros., Hills, MN. “It’s kind of fun to … see your name up on the wall. And it gives you some bragging rights with the other guys.”

“It’s something different,” adds Robert Rinkenberger, a Morris, MN, hay grower and seller who captured first place in this year’s strap-throwing contest. “It helps break up the day-to-day monotony that can go along with running a business.”

The event also provides good public relations for the auction company. “With the twice-a-week auctions during the winter, there’s a lot more truck traffic moving up and down the streets,” says McGill. “It can be kind of disruptive and cause some inconvenience. This is our way of saying thank you to the town.”

Local businesses reciprocate with Hay Day sales and specials while the Chamber of Commerce puts on an outdoor hamburger fry.

The regularly scheduled hay auction is conducted on Main Street that day. Pickup-trailer combinations and 18-wheelers, loaded with hay or straw, line up on surrounding streets and sales are made as the auctioneer and crowd move from load to load. This year’s auction attracted 64 loads.

“It’s good to have the auction right here on Main Street,” says Sandager. “It helps remind people in town of how important hay and agriculture in general are to the overall economy in this area.”

For more photos, visit Hay Marketing On Main Street – No Fooling!