Hay Day: Collecting Hay Tools

Nebraska man preserves farm practices of the past in his museum devoted to hay tools.

Doug de Shazer

Doug de Shazer showcases hay carriers in his museum.

Photo by Loretta Sorensen

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Nearly everything about Doug de Shazer’s Lewis & Clark Pulley Museum in Crofton, Nebraska, is old. That includes the reclaimed barn and forest fire lumber Doug has used to create the museum’s look and feel of the hip-roofed barns that once dotted the American countryside.

From floor to ceiling, walls hold rare and intriguing track, carriers, pulleys, barn door hangers and hay-related memorabilia that made farm work easier and more efficient in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Included in the collection are 300 hay carriers representing about 60 manufacturers and more than 100 brands. More than 500 pulleys, dozens of hayforks and countless items used by farmers to move hay into and around the barn make up the rest of the collection. Although the collection spans the years from about 1840 to 1940, the majority of the pieces date to 1870 through 1910.

Collection builds momentum fast

Development of the museum has been Doug’s dream since he began collecting hay items in June 2005. “My friend, Barb, and I were walking through a flea market that day,” he says, “when I spotted a vendor who had several barn pulleys for sale. I pawed over them for several minutes while Barb watched me. After a bit, I set them down and walked away.”

About an hour later, Barb, who’d briefly disappeared, presented him with a very heavy bag. “She said, ‘Happy Father’s Day,’ and I opened the bag to find all the pulleys I’d inspected were now in my possession,” Doug says. “I couldn’t believe it!”

The purchase sparked Doug’s three-day acquisition of “every pulley in sight” at the flea market. He came home with at least 20 pieces, eager to show off his treasures.

“When I showed my friend what I bought, he walked over to a box and pulled out several pulleys and an odd apparatus I’d never seen before,” de Shazer says. “After a little research, I learned the strange-looking item was a hay carrier used in a barn hayloft. A few days later, when I was junking through antique shops, I found another hay carrier and thought, ‘Huh! They made two of these things.’ That was the beginning of what is now a building full of items.”

Committed to preserving the past

When Doug started collecting, he found most hay carriers and related items were being junked, buried or sold for scrap. It concerned him that a vital part of American agricultural history was being lost, one piece at a time. By 2008, he had enough hay-related items to open a small, 700-square-foot museum on his property. For six years he provided tours for family, friends and visitors. In 2014, he purchased a 2,500-square-foot building on Crofton’s main street and began remodeling it.

“All the reclaimed barn wood in the museum is from local barns,” Doug says. “The timbers in the barn were reclaimed from a Nebraska forest fire several years ago. A man in the Chadron area logged the timber after the fire.”

Timbers in the center of the museum are designed to give the feel of the beams and columns that supported the hayloft in a hip-roof barn. Barn wood used as paneling adds to the vintage feel. Display cabinets and lighted arrangements showcase unique collectibles.

“Many of the items in the museum are from the local area,” Doug says. “I’ve networked with friends and other people in the area to watch for items at auctions, farm sales and any other place they might turn up. I found a few pieces online, but not many.”

Among the very first Louden pieces

Since 2005, whenever Doug spies a deteriorating barn in his travels that might hold new treasures, he inquires about the possibility of looking for items there that could be added to his museum.

“Because of that effort, almost every week I receive photos of items people think I might need,” he says. “It just bothers me that so many of these old barns are going down. Often they’re pushed into a pile and buried in a hole. People have no idea of the history that’s going down with them.”

One of Doug’s rare items is a Louden slider that dates to about 1868. It is the only one known to exist. William Louden (1841-1931) was the son of Irish immigrants who came to eastern Iowa in 1842. The second of nine children, the boy watched his father convert 500 acres of wild prairie into rich, productive land.

Because Louden experienced frail health, he regularly searched for easier ways to do farm work. In 1871, he began manufacturing farm machinery. He traveled the countryside to install the hay carriers he made at no cost, hoping farmers would consider the “gadgets” a useful tool after using them for a season.

By 1892, The Louden Machinery Co. had become a viable business. In 1915, the company employed more than 100 men in its Fairfield, Iowa, plant, producing hay unloading tools, barn and garage door hangers, dairy barn equipment, cupolas, ventilators and drains, litter, feed, merchandise and milk can carriers, and hardware specialties.

Rare relics find a home

Doug’s collection also includes pieces by another industry leader, J.E. Porter Co., Ottawa, Illinois. The Porter line offers pieces like the Meadow King hay carrier, advertised as the “simplest, strongest, easiest hay carrier ever invented.” Many Porter pieces are displayed in Doug’s museum.

“One of our Ottawa pieces has cutout letters,” he says. “It’s also a rare piece. I know of only one other one that exists. It makes a nice display because it looks so good.”

Another rare museum piece is a Van Sickle Champion hay and grain unloader. According to the 1878 History of Ontario County, New York, the piece was the invention of G. Van Sickle, Esq., Shortsville. “Mr. Van Sickle is the sole proprietor of this new and handy implement, a decided improvement upon the now old-fashioned horse-fork. The skill which originates, and the energy which brings a useful invention before the public, are in themselves a prospective fortune; and the perfect adaption of Van Sickle’s ‘Unloader’ to its work is calculated to bring it into general demand.”

Building for the future

Through Doug’s interest in antique hay equipment, he’s become active in the North American Hay Tool Collectors’ Assn. In May, Doug played host to the group’s annual meeting. He also plans to offer the museum as a meeting place for other organizations and groups. Revenue from such events, he says, will help offset museum maintenance and operation costs. He’s also completing an application for grant funding.

“We have more work to do in setting up displays,” Doug says. “We have a wealth of literature we want visitors to view. We’ll also display some items from the local area that are from the same era as the hay carrier collection. I’ll keep collecting and adding items and enhancing the museum to give visitors a compelling and valuable experience.”  FC

For more information:

– Visit Hay Tool Collectors’ Assn.

– Doug de Shazer, Lewis & Clark Pulley Museum, 105 W. Main St., Crofton, NE 68730; (402) 510-8845 or (402) 388-4434; email doug_deshazer@yahoo.com.

– Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment.
Email her at sorensenlms@gmail.com.