History of the Hay Press
The mechanical hay press made loose-hay transportation a thing of the past.
This 1913 Rumely baler is just part of a Rumely collection owned by Jesse Boller, Ashland, Neb. Note the block of wood in the chamber that is used to separate and tie each bale.
Just as ancient man came up with the idea for the wheel, it was probably only a matter of time until someone devised the idea of squeezing loose hay into a package that could by tied, handled and transported. But until the mid-1800s, hay that was harvested for livestock was simply piled into stacks or moved into the barn for use during the winter. Moving the crop involved pitching it onto a wagon and pitching it back off at the destination.
Built into the barn
That all changed in the mid-1800s, with invention of the first mechanical hay press. Most of the earliest hay presses were stationary units built into a barn and extending two to three stories into the hayloft. Generally, a team of horses was used to raise a press weight, which was then dropped to compress the hay. Other versions used a horse- or mule-powered sweep at the bottom of the press to turn a jackscrew or a geared press.
Unlike later hay presses, these permanent models often made bales weighing as much as 300 pounds, secured by as many as five strands of wire or twine. One such press was built by P.K. Dederick’s Sons, Albany, N.Y., in 1843. Another, invented in 1843 by Samuel Hewitt, Switzerland County, Ohio, is on display at a landscape company in Lawrenceburg, Ind. Marketed as the Mormon Beater Hay Press, it was powered by a mule attached to a sweep at the bottom of the press. The mule was then led counter-clockwise to lift a 1,000-pound wooden weight to the third-floor level via a pulley.
On the second story, workers pitched loose hay into the baling compartment, where a hinged door opened to the side of the press. Once the compartment was filled with hay, the door was closed by counterweights. The attendant then pulled the trip lever, which allowed the weight to drop into the baling compartment and compress the hay. It usually took six or seven cycles to form a 300-pound bale.
The press also included a jackscrew, which pushed the baling compartment floor downward when the mule was led counter-clockwise. However, to finish the bale, the mule was led clockwise six times, which rotated the jackscrew to again bring the bottom of the bale level with the second floor. At that point, the door was opened, the bale tied and removed.
Rise of the portable press
It wasn’t long before hay presses became more mobile, going to the field and from farm to farm, much like the threshing machines of the day. Consequently, the first people to own the machines were custom operators and hay dealers who would buy a quantity of hay from a farmer, then bale it before transporting it to market. A few models, however, were sized and built for private use.
Like the larger models on the market, those required the hay to be deposited into a square chute and compressed. The difference was that these models used manpower (via a lever or crank) rather than horsepower. One such baler, on display at the Pioneer Village in Minden, Neb., was built by William Henry Penniston, Fox, Mo., in 1863. The wooden hay press was entirely hand-operated, requiring workers to fill the upright chamber with hay, pack it with a lever-operated jack-type ratchet, tie the bale with wire or cord once the chamber was full and then open the front door to eject the bale. With a coordinated effort, a crew could supposedly build up to 72 bales in one day.
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