Read the current Progressive Forage digital edition
advertisement

A bit about hay carriers

Dennis McGrew and Doug DeShazer Published on 28 March 2012
harvesting hay

Getting the hay crop in the mow
Putting up hay in the mid-1800s was both time and labor-intensive. When the crop was in blossom at its peak food value, it would be cut by men swinging giant swaths with their scythes.

After drying in the sun it would be raked by hand into small piles or gathered into haycocks by “sweeps” pulled by horses. From there it was forked onto a wagon and then forked again into the barn loft.

With the advent of horse-drawn mowers – cutting a swath of usually three or four, sometimes up to six feet at a time – haymaking took a big turn. Hay loaders were developed by the 1870s and dump rakes dragged the hay into crude windrows.

Horses pulling a wagon with the loader behind would straddle a row. The loader elevated the hay onto the wagon where it had to be forked into layers making a uniform load.

Early hay “handling systems” in the barn were pretty basic; often consisting of an over-sized pitchfork fastened to a draft line running through a pulley made up to a rafter in the barn roof. Experimentation evolved with simple “carriers” made of wood which were pulled along a 4 x 4 wooden track in the peak of the barn.

These designs had no locking mechanism which required the horse team to hold the load on the draft rope to keep it suspended as it traveled on the track.

The hay carrier

The hay carrier
Company records indicate William Louden received a U.S. patent for the world’s first hay carrier on September 24, 1867. In 1868 the first cast iron hay carrier appeared.

The development of malleable iron, as opposed to cast, eventually led to all metal hay carrier designs that were stronger and longer lasting. A brake was designed in the carrier which would hold the load; taking the weight off the draft rope and the horses.

Hay carriers of the 1880s limited the farmer to only one draw along the barn. He would have to climb to the top of the barn and reverse the carrier and/or the draft rope. Introduction of the Swivel Car and Swivel Reversible models resolved this problem.

A design common by 1885 used a ring separating the trolley mechanism from the car. Eventually various styles of steel track, were introduced making the carrier system much easier to operate.

Carriers needed to be simple, dependable and strong enough to support the loads. Downtime with a valuable crop on the ground could quickly result in a disastrous loss.

Jim Moffet and his wife, Pat, have accomplished extensive patent research. They’ve provided the hobby with access to a myriad of background information on hay carriers and their inventors and manufacturers.

A “bridge index” has been made available whereby the user need only plug a hay carrier patent number into the U.S. Patent Office website to access info on each individual carrier. The following are some interesting observations made by Mr. Moffet as a result of his research:

“The era of the hay carrier would run some 80 or 90 years; however, by 1910 most of the technology had leveled off. There were perhaps as many as 50 companies manufacturing carriers but it is widely accepted that about 60 percent of the market was produced by about eight companies.

"There were some 335 patents registered; but it appears only around 180 were actually produced. While wood track was dominant in the beginning, and some rod and cable carriers were built for mostly outdoor applications, by 1905 to 1910 most carriers were built for steel track of various configurations.

After review of over 8,000 different types/brands of hay carriers, the following conclusions are made:
1. Rare trolleys (if there is such a thing) were the poor designs. If they didn’t work well, not many were sold.

2. Early inventors were from the East.

3. Later inventors were from the Midwest.

4. Companies located in the Midwest dominated the market in its 'hay days.'

5. If you plot the number of patents by year, the fertile inventive period was 1880-1910.

6. The horizon for the hay carrier market, from infancy to maturity, was 1865-1942.”

Hay fork

Evolution of the Hay Fork
Patents for horse hay forks to “grasp” the hay from the wagon were first issued in 1854 and would total over 600 during the course of the loose hay handling era. The Jackson Fork was a design popular for many decades. An early description of its use is provided:

“Made by the Jackson Farm Implement Co., these forks were commonly used by farmers from the mid-1800s onward. A wagon of loose hay was driven under the roof overhang gable.

"The fork is attached to a "trolley" riding on a track which extends the length of the barn. A rope runs from outside the barn front, through a pulley to the fork, then through a second pulley and out the rear of the barn and hitched to a horse.

"Once the fork is set into the hay, the horse pulls the fork up to the trolley, thence into the hay loft to the desired spot. The man there pulls a "trip" rope attached to the fork which lets the tines fall to vertical, dumping the hay.

"The horse is then backed and the rope in front is pulled, returning the fork and trolley to the overhang where the fork is unlatched from the trolley and is lowered again to the wagon.”

Mechanical hay forks and other apparatus used to lift and hold the hay from the wagon as it was suspended into the loft evolved from rather crude blacksmith forged single “prongs” into some quite efficient styles.

Personal preference as well as the type of hay or bundle being lifted off the wagon dictated popularity of the various forks. One early style in widespread use was Sprout’s Shear Fork.

Sprout’s Shear Fork

Another popular style was the trip handle Single Harpoon style of which the trigger trip version designed by Nellis was in use for many decades.

Various versions of the lever action double harpoon were used throughout the era of loose hay handling and there was even a triple harpoon version.

Grapple-style forks enjoyed a long-lived popularity and numerous patents for four and six-tine versions were issued.

A more modern and quite popular improvement was the design of a “loose” grapple that had two pair of tines which could be set into the load for a larger bite.

Slings as an option
Another popular means of unloading loose hay from the wagon with a hay carrier was used in some form nearly from the beginning of trolley use – the hay sling. Slings are made up of lengths of rope, sometimes chain; spread apart by 2 x 2 sticks usually about four to five feet wide.

A quick release latch either in the center or at one end is operated by a tagline. At either end of the sling is a steel ring. The sling is laid out on the hayrack with the rings usually looped onto a stake at either end of the wagon.

Loose hay is distributed evenly across the sling usually to a depth of two or three feet; depending on weight considerations. Then another sling is laid out. Generally three slings are used per wagonload.

Back at the barn a pair of sling pulleys are lowered from the hay carrier and attached to the loop at each end of the sling. As the draft rope is pulled up, the sling forms a round bundle transported to the mow.

With experience the man in the mow can trip the sling and lay out the hay onto the stack just the way it was loaded on the wagon. Often farmers who preferred forks would still use a sling on the first layer of the wagon as, especially, harpoon forks would not clean the rack.

Hay trolley

A Hay trolley by any other name
Old-timers and even collectors today, tend to refer to trolleys by various other names such as Hay Car, Hay Carrier, Horse Hay Carrier, Hay Conveyor, Sheaf Lifter, Sling Car, Swivel Carrier, Hay Elevator and Carrier, and Pitching Machine.

The hay carrier was perhaps the single-most important laborsaving device invented for use in the barn. Increasingly, larger quantities of hay for winter feed could be stored in the barn as new types of construction for hay storage were adopted.

By 1900, most farmers recognized the value of a good hay crop to their success and no modern barn was complete without a hay carrier system.

Eliminating the Horse – The Friction Windlass Hay Winch
The ad reads:
No Team on the Draft Rope –
That Saves a Team;
No Man to Drive it – That Saves a Man.
Hay Unloaded Quick – That Saves Time;
Time Will Save You the Hay Harvest!


The windlass could be used with hay carriers and forks, or slings, or with any other conveyors, for handling other kinds of material. It replaced the requirement of a team and appealed to all who preferred power for hoisting hay into the mow.

The hay winch, when partnered with appropriate steam or gas propelled engine, would elevate the load and run the carrier to the desired position on the track. The operator could trip the fork at will and return the carrier to the load – all using the same rope, fork and trolley formerly used in connection with the horse.

It could be used in the barn, in the field with a stacking rig or a cable outfit. From four to seven and a half horsepower was required according to weight of load and desired speed.

windlass

The windlass could be used with hay carriers and forks, or slings, or with any other conveyors, for handling other kinds of material. It replaced the requirement of a team and appealed to all who preferred power for hoisting hay into the mow.

The hay winch, when partnered with appropriate steam or gas propelled engine, would elevate the load and run the carrier to the desired position on the track.

The operator could trip the fork at will and return the carrier to the load – all using the same rope, fork and trolley formerly used in connection with the horse. It could be used in the barn, in the field with a stacking rig or a cable outfit. From four to seven and a half horsepower was required according to weight of load and desired speed.

The machine was composed of two drums, one for the hoisting rope and the other for the trip and return rope. The drums, riding on ball bearing thrust collars, were fitted with automatic brakes under full control of the operator at all times.

The Nelson manufactured machine advertised drum capacity of 150’ for 5/8” manila rope with a safe operating load of 1,000 lbs. Porter offered a unit with drum capacity of 250’ of 3/4” manila and a safe load up to 2,000 lbs. requiring six horsepower.

Litter carriers
Litter carriers were also common to many large dairy barns in the Midwest by 1900. They operated on an overhead track system made up of right angle curves, switches and other configurations.

Sometimes the track system served double duty to carry a feed car as well, although most were used to carry manure exclusively. Some feed systems used a separate track. Manure track systems extended outdoors where the 10 to 20 bushel capacity tubs were dumped into a manure spreader or onto a pile for later disposition.

For a Forage Folks column on the North American Hay Tool Collectors Association, click hereFG

—From North American Hay Tool Collectors Association newsletter, Vol. 2 No. 4, November 2010

Figures courtesy of North American Hay Tool Collectors Association.

Before commenting on our articles, please note our Terms for Commenting.

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS