Putting Hay Away the Old-Fashioned Way

Haymow forks fascinate Pennsylvania collector


This screw-style haymow fork is based on James T. Hall’s patented improvement of John F. Pierce’s hay elevator patented in 1866. This model is unusual in that the looped piece of steel seen beneath the device’s hook attachment eye (top center) actually forms a pair of pawls that engage the teeth of the ratchet wheel to keep the screw from turning backwards. Once the hay was in position, a small line attached to the pawls and threaded over the small sheaf beneath the eye was pulled, which lifted the pawls from the ratchet and allowed gravity to unscrew the load of hay.

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Did you ever stop to think about how loose hay was loaded into the multi-level mows of 19th century barns, long before the advent of stationary hay presses and conventional elevators? Can you imagine the amount of labor associated with raising that provender high in the loft to make feeding it to the cattle the following winter less of a chore? Retired Thomasville, Pa., farmer Robert Rauhauser thinks about these questions, and finds fascination with early tools designed to lighten the heavy work of hay handling. "I am really interested in all kinds of loose hay tools," he says. "The horse-powered forks used to lift the hay are my main focus."

In 1956, about the same time Robert started farming on his own, he often found himself at sales looking for good used equipment. The offerings at those auctions were the inspiration for Robert's collection of primitive farm tools. Fifty years later, he has amassed a truly overwhelming number of items, and knowledge about them. "When I get into a new area of collecting, I try to learn as much as I can about the manufacturers and inventors," Robert explains. For example, at one time he was crazy about hog oilers - a passion that drove him to publish a book (now out of print) on the category. Demand remains so great that he is now working on a revised and updated version. Perhaps one day he will put together a book on haymow forks.

Forking it over

"I call the horse-powered hay forks haymow forks," Robert says as he opens a corrugated-steel grain bin literally stacked floor to ceiling with more than 125 variations of the device. "I stopped calling them hay forks because people were expecting to see old wooden pitchforks."

Hay hoisting devices were identified in many ways. "Different parts of the country and different inventors used different names for the haymow fork," he explains with a chuckle. "I have found patent documents calling them horse hay forks, hay harpoons, hay spears, hay hooks, hay grapples, hay slings, hay elevators or just hay forks."

That there were so many different names for hay lifting tools gives an indication that there were many different methods for getting hold of the loose forage in order to lift it to the mow. For example, the grapple fork was lowered into a wagonload of hay with its jaws opened wide. Once engaged with the hay, the grapple's teeth were drawn together and the works was lifted - taking a bite, quite literally, out of the load.

The spear- or harpoon-type haymow forks often employed a hollow or slotted cylindrical body with a solid point at the end and hinged barbs to skewer a load. The spear (or harpoon) was lowered to the wagon with its barb(s) retracted and then plunged into the loaded wagon. Extending the barbs prior to lifting retained a surprising amount of hay on the fork. Other designs offered different methods to retain the hay for lifting, but they were similar in the job they performed.

Arguably many of these haymow forks were sometimes used without an overhead track and carrier or trolley system - a simple pulley attached to the barn's ridgepole sufficing. However, they would have been most effectively used in conjunction with a carrier that would allow the forkful of hay to be moved from one end of the mow to the other - and in some cases from one side to the other as well. Essentially, through a system of lines and pulleys, the fork was lowered to the ground, loaded with hay and lifted high into the barn. Horses, mules, oxen, stationary engines, or even cars, trucks and tractors supplied the power. Once the loaded fork was located appropriately in the mow, a trip mechanism (which virtually all of the successful designs employed) was disengaged, releasing the hay. Workers with pitchforks moved the hay into corners and carefully packed it.

In spite of the horse power used to cut, rake and possibly load the hay into the wagons and the mow, putting up loose hay was still incredibly physically demanding. "The only good thing I remember about hay making as a kid was getting a cold watermelon out of the milk cooler at the end of the day," Robert says. "I don't think we would have many farmers today if we had to go back to the 'good old days' of putting hay away loose."

Uplifting collection

"There are all kinds of different haymow forks out there," Robert says. "The ones I like the best are the unusual types and styles, like the screw fork and the single-harpoon forks." He especially likes forks with patent numbers, patent dates or maker's names cast or stamped into them - and they hold special interest if they were made locally. As a 50-year haymow-fork-collecting veteran, Robert tries to use those little bits of additional information to help him research the tools.

"I like to collect the items and display them at shows," Robert says. "I also think it is important to collect knowledge about the items." Gathering information is often more difficult than collecting the items themselves, especially if they don't have telltale markings on them. Robert relies on the U.S. Patent Office for some of his information. He also collects anecdotes from people he meets at shows. "It is impossible to learn the whole story on these old things," Robert says wistfully. "But it is fun to find what I can and document it."

Among Robert's favorite haymow forks is a pair of screw (or spiral) forks employing a similar ratchet catch mechanism. Both devices employ a pair of tines - one on either side of the screw - to keep the whole works from turning as the screw is turned into the pile of hay. Both utilize a ratchet wheel attached to the base of the screw to provide grip to keep the screw from unwinding as the fork is lifted from the pile of hay. But the forks are significantly different from one another: One uses a single stop (pawl) to keep the ratchet locked, while the other uses two. These designs are both related to James T. Hall's 1867-patented improvement on John F. Pierce's 1866 screw fork design. Robert believes the single-stop version was typical in the U.S., while the double-stop was the Canadian style.

Several interesting harpoon-style haymow forks also rank high in Robert's collection. He has a beautifully preserved double-barbed, single-harpoon model patented on Aug. 1, 1871, by J. Huy of Bakerstown, Pa. This device utilizes a cast housing that encloses the catch mechanism, threaded to a piece of pipe with a point formed on the opposite end. The catch connects to the barbs through the inside of the pipe and controls whether they are exposed or retracted. Robert has several other single-harpoon forks with single, double and even triple barbs. One of the most important distinguishing characteristics of these tools is their catch mechanism. Some are relatively simple over-center cam and lever devices, while others are as complex as the action of a Winchester Model 94 rifle.

Robert also enjoys double-harpoon haymow forks. He holds a well-worn Gochnauer patent double-harpoon fork dear because its inventor once lived in York, Pa. This device uses external hinged barbs functioning as points when the fork is plunged into the hay, pivoting 90 degrees toward one another to retain it.

Does he have a favorite fork? Robert first reaches for one of his screw forks, and then for one of his harpoons. "I guess I like them all," he says with a smile. "My favorite would have to be the one that I haven't seen yet."

Odds and ends

Haymow forks represent only part of Robert's collection of loose hay tools. He has also collected hay trolleys (carriers), tracks, swivel rope hooks, pulleys, hay knives, dump rakes, pitchforks, mowers, loaders, load binders - you name it. But loose hay tools aren't the only category of collectible Robert cherishes. He is also an avid collector of corn items, especially box shellers, and corn shock tying tools. He is also partial to implement wrenches, and dairy items such as calf weaners, horn weights and separators. One of his latest side interests is bottle cappers.

"I got into the bottle cappers by accident," Robert explains about that unlikely collectible. "I was researching some things down at the Patent Office when the microfilm stopped on a bottle capper patent." As it turns out, that bottle capper's inventor was from nearby Frederick, Md., and Robert, having already decided to exhibit at a show featuring Maryland-made items, thought it would be fun to display bottle cappers. "I got pretty excited, and by the time of the show, I had collected 25 bottle cappers," Robert says. "They weren't all from Maryland, though." Today Robert has nearly 100 of those useful little tools.

In addition to the items themselves, Robert looks for manufacturer's literature, catalog copy, salesman's samples, display models and virtually anything else that adds interest and knowledge to his collection. Exactly where Robert's collecting will lead him next is anyone's guess, but rest assured, when he takes the plunge he will make quite a splash.

- For more information: Robert Rauhauser, Box 766 R2, Thomasville, PA 17364-9622; (717) 792-0278.

Oscar "Hank" Will III is an old-iron collector and freelance writer and photographer who retired from farming in 1999. He splits his time between his home in Gettysburg, Pa., and his farm in East Andover, N.H. Write him at 243 W. Broadway, Gettysburg, PA 17325; (717) 337-6068; e-mail: willo@gettysburg.edu

A Passion for Patents

Robert Rauhauser characterizes himself as a collector, researcher and historian of loose hay tools. He admits that while it is nice to have something interesting in his collection, it is even more fun to research the patents on the item and get to know something about the inventor. In many cases, it is possible to trace the complete evolution of a design by uncovering all of the patented improvements that affected earlier versions.

"Whenever I collect a new item, I look it over carefully to see if I can find a patent date or number on it," Robert explains. "If it has a good number on it, I can go directly to the patent. If it has only a date, it can take much more time."

"I am lucky I live only 125 miles from the Patent Office," Robert explains. "I leave home early enough to be there when the doors open at 8:30 a.m. and stay until closing at 8 p.m." He also makes considerable use of U.S. Patent Office Reports publications. One of the difficulties Robert's encountered with patent dates is they don't always match the actual date for the patent. "I think some makers put incorrect patent dates on their products to confuse their competitors," Robert suggests. "It certainly makes my research more difficult." However, because all patents were issued on Tuesdays, he always checks the listed patent date against a perpetual calendar.

Robert is also quick to point out that patent names aren't necessarily the manufacturing names. For example, Louden Machinery Co. of Fairfield, Iowa, and F.E. Meyers & Bros. of Ashland, Ohio, were two of the largest manufacturers of haymow forks. These companies both sold their goods through catalogs such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. and other hardware catalogs, and more than likely produced hay tools with names other than their own on them, so patent information is particularly important in understanding how the differently named forks are related to one another. Other manufacturers, like A.J. Nellis, often marked their haymow forks with patent and manufacturing information more clearly, although Robert has discovered many Rogers patent forks bear the Nellis name.

One of the windfalls resulting from Robert's thousands of hours at the Patent Office is that he has stumbled quite literally on other interesting tools while there. He says one of the most difficult aspects to spending time researching patents is staying on track.

- For more information visit the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's website: www.uspto.gov/ (571) 272-3275; or visit the Public Search Facility - Madison East, 1st Floor, 600 Dulany St., Alexandria, VA 22314.