Hay tool collectors search high and low to find their pride and joy. High in the peaks of old barns, many of these priceless jewels hide for decades, but since most have been indoors for their entire lives, hay carriers remain in reasonably good condition. Low at barn floor level are carefully designed wooden and metal rope pulleys. Today, many old barns are in a perpetual state of disrepair, and going after those hay carriers can be dangerous work. Collectors need a buddy to help hold the rope, a lightweight 40-foot extension ladder, a battery-powered cutoff saw and nerves of steel: Climbing a good ladder propped tightly against the roof of a barn near the hay trolley takes a lot of nerve.
Most hay tools, though, are not found in barns, although some of the best carriers come from there. Collectors continually look to farm auctions, antique shops, flea markets and fellow enthusiasts for hay tools. They collect anything and everything related to putting up loose hay: hand and wood rakes, hay carriers, hayforks, hay pulleys, rope, track and all the hardware to hold it in place.
Members of the North American Hay Tool Collectors Assn. (NAHTCA) held their sixth annual show in April at the Ashland County Fairgrounds in Ashland, Ohio. Those attending were treated to a wonderful display of some one-of-a-kind hay carriers and hayforks. One example was Jim Gray’s new old stock (NOS) hay knife with the Ney name intact. A separate label identified it as the Blue Grass from the Belknap Hardware Co., Louisville, Ky.
Show feature: Ney Mfg. Co.
Ney hay tools were the show’s featured line. Ney had an unusual history. Two manufacturers were making hay tools in Canton, Ohio, by the early 1880s. Jacob Ney’s little carrier came out first. Soon after, V.L. Ney brought out a hay carrier. The result was a lawsuit. It is unclear who won the lawsuit or even if the two Neys were related. However, soon after filing the lawsuit, one company emerged to form Ney Mfg. Co.
Ney produced a complete line of barn items including hay carriers, hay carrier steel track and all the attaching hardware items, hayforks and pulleys, hay slings and attachments, merchandise carriers, Canton hoists, wire stretchers, hay knives, lawn mowers, automatic lawn rakes, barn door hangers and rails, and other hardware. In Ney catalog No. 19, the company lists hay carriers from No. 10 to No. 140. The company also manufactured hay carriers labeled with the names of their vendors, notably Bluegrass (Belknap Hardware, Louisville, Ky.) and Superior (Superior Drill Co., Springfield, Ohio).
Hay carriers were first patented in 1867 in New York. Manufacturing then moved progressively westward to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. There were as many different designs as there were designers. Some carriers worked well; some did not. The least effective soon disappeared from the marketplace. Consequently, these are among the most rare and most sought-after by collectors.
All barn hay carriers had a rail of some type fastened to the rafters at the peak of the barn roof. The carrier either rolled or slid along the track. Imagine the strain on the barn roof when a load of several hundred pounds of dried hay was lifted from the wagon and hoisted up to the track, then moved to a place in the haymow where the hay would be dropped and spread evenly.
One of the earliest designs seen at the show was a Hicks Hay Elevator patented March 26, 1867, and manufactured in Long Island, N.Y. It was owned and displayed by Rudy S. Beachy, Reedstown, Wis. A heavy wooden device, it nestled between two 2-by-8-inch planks connected in such a way as to allow the carrier to roll between the two planks. A different carrier quite like the Hicks but with a lifting weight to raise the load pulley rather than a rope lift was made by J.A. Cross, Fultonsville, N.Y. Jerry Kamp, Ashland, Ohio, displayed a J.A. Cross set-up.
Sliders, reversibles and cross-drafts
Among the earliest carriers were “sliders.” They had no wheels or rollers, but simply slid along a wooden track made of two 2-by-4s nailed together to make a solid 4-by-4-inch track. Since wood does not slide easily on wood, the tracks were lubricated, usually using lard. Show-goers agreed that although lard may have been an effective lubricant, the result would have been quite messy. Gideon Troyer, Baltic, Ohio, displayed both wood and metal slider carriers – without the lard on the track.
Some carriers, such as the Huber/King carrier, were designed to operate in only one direction. They were used primarily in barns with an open gable end. Hay was delivered at the end of the barn and traveled all the way through the barn to the appropriate site where it was dropped and spread.
Many other hay carriers were of a reversible design conceived specifically for drive-through barns. Hay could be delivered to either side of the barn by simply reversing the carrier’s travelers and sheaves. Of course, the lifting ropes had to be re-threaded to move the carrier from one end of the barn to the other. Single- or double-pronged hayforks, grapple forks and hay slings could all be used with most carriers.
Cross-draft carriers were designed primarily for sling work and heavy lifting. Farmers used four slings laid lengthwise on a wagon when loading hay. The first was laid on the floor of the wagon, then the next a couple of feet above the floor until all four slings were filled. Each sling load could weigh in excess of 700 pounds, putting tremendous stress on roof rafters. For the most part, cross-draft carriers had an anti-reversing mechanism to lock and hold a load at any point. That protected the driver and horses in the event the team stopped at any point before the load was delivered to the mow.
Most manufacturers made salesmen’s samples to demonstrate the working mechanism for a particular model of carrier. Collectors are particularly fond of those pieces.
Carrier manufacturers also produced shop carriers or merchandise carriers for use in moving heavy items through the shop and hardware stores. Since goods were required or stored in various locations in a shop, switches were built into the track to direct the carriers, just like switches in railroad tracks control train travel.
Hay tools hit the auction block
An auction was a highlight of the 2011 NAHTCA show and swap meet. Hay carriers made up the bulk of the offering. Some were still in their work clothes; others were completely restored, painted in the colors of the original manufacture and ready for display.
The crown jewel of the event was a U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co. carrier with a patent date of April 4, 1878. Manufactured in Batavia, Ill., it was purchased by Dennis McGrew, Lawrence, Mich., for $1,000. It operates on a wood beam 2-by-4 positioned upright with a cast iron metal track on top of the 2-by-4. The wood beam track is fastened to the barn rafters with odd-shaped L-type brackets. One side of the carrier is open to allow the carrier to pass along the track brackets while the other side is enclosed and contains all the rollers. The carrier has a set of three rollers on each of its support arms and an idler guide roller on the bottom to keep it on the track.
The 2012 NAHTCA show will make an encore appearance in Ashland on April 27-28, 2012. The feature next year will be Ohio-made carriers. FC
For more information on NAHTCA: Doug de Shazer, North American Hay Tool Collectors Assn., 55005 897 Rd., Lot #8, Crofton, NE 68730; phone (402) 510-8845; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. E-mail him at email@example.com.