Rise of the Jayhawk: An Overshot Hay Stacker

Patented in 1915, this decades-old overshot Jayhawk hay stacker is an engineering marvel.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
June 2006
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Vintage promotional material for the Jayhawk hay stacker shows both the form of the implement, and the artistry of another era.
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According to the dictionary, the jayhawk is a fictitious bird. But the Jayhawk at the Wykoff, Minn., home of Marv Grabau swoops through the air, bearing a 600-pound load of hay.

Marv's Jayhawk is an overshot hay stacker, a piece of horse-drawn farm equipment patented in 1915. Manufactured by the F. Wyatt Mfg. Co. (which evolved into what is today the Hesston Corp.) in Salina, Kan., the long and leggy Jayhawk is a clutch-driven creature that stumps almost every onlooker. Measuring 12 feet wide, 30 feet long and 12 feet high with an 80-inch rear axle, the Jayhawk has a "head" (or "sweep") originally used to lift hay into bins or cribs. "The head trips like a trip bucket on a tractor," Marv says. "When it gets up so high, there's a lever that dumps the load." The sweep could hold approximately 600 pounds of loose hay as it swept overhead.

Marv suspects his Jayhawk was originally driven by a worker who reined horses from alongside the implement, because the piece has no evidence of having had a seat near the rear-situated tongue, which has two yokes to accommodate a team of four horses. "There were four horses - two abreast - and they pushed it to pull it. The picture I have shows a seat back behind the levers, but this one has no drilling for that, as far as we can see," he says. "With the horses behind and the levers in front, it almost had to have a person walking alongside to rein the horses and engage and disengage the levers. That's largely unanswered, though. If there was a seat, it was in front of the first yoke of horses."

A pair of curved metal bars, placed a quarter of the way on each side of the front axle, help keep the self-centering device on course. "These pieces of iron kept it from getting too far to the sides when it's coming down on a hillside," Marv says. "It centers it back when it's on the ground so it doesn't push (the sweep) too far left or right."

The Jayhawk dates to an era when cut hay was left in the fields, and later mounded for storage. "You had your hay windrowed with the old-fashioned dump rake," Marv explains. "This sweep, or head, would push up, and when the sweep or head was full, you'd go over to a basket or crib - sometimes they had a crib, sometimes they didn't - and stack it up inside. This particular stacker is 12 feet high, so you could get stacks of hay approximately 12 feet high. Then you'd pack it down and form a top on it like a bread loaf to help it shed water. You just kept moving around in the field, making these stacks until you were done."

A victim of advances in agricultural technology, a Jayhawk surviving today is a rare bird indead. Fewer still were found in states such as Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Marv's Jayhawk originally belonged to a pair of brothers who farmed near Chatfield, Minn. "As far as I know, it's the only one in Fillmore County," Marv says. "They were more common out west." The unit remained in use into the 1970s. In the 1980s, machinery collector Wes Anderson bought the Jayhawk at an auction, and later donated it to Marv "because he knows we won't sell it or get rid of it," Marv says.

Last August, Marv loaded the stacker onto a trailer and hauled it to Spring Valley, Minn., for the annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Fest tractor show. An unwieldy critter, the Jayhawk fought the process. "It took me three hours just to load it onto the trailer and tie it down, plus the hauling time to town," Marv says. But it was worth the trouble. "The Jayhawk was the center of attention," he recalls. "They had about 95 tractors there and 34 implements, and this one drew the most curiosity.

"It's unique. Most people don't have a clue what it is, and few understood how the machine worked. I know a lot of 70-year-old farmers who grew up on farms but had never used horses much, and they were so lost (when they studied the Jayhawk) that they wanted to move the machine the wrong way because normally, the tongue is at the front of the machine, and this one is on the back," Marv says. "As I said, you have to push it to pull it, but there was mass confusion on that. They couldn't look at the sweep up there and figure out that it went forward.

"A lot of mechanically minded people have been here and looked at it, including people who can take bare metal and make something. They'll study it and study it, and they start to think, 'Man, how many designs must they have had on this thing when they originally built it to get it to work?'"

Although the Jayhawk is a deceptively simple conglomeration of steel and cables, chains and wood, Marv invested nearly 40 hours in its restoration. He had to find new rear wheels because the original ones had been removed to allow a tractor to push the stacker. "When they converted it for use with a tractor, it was just a convenience," he says. "I don't know if they hooked it to a loader-type tractor or not. A mechanical lift on the front of a tractor is like a fifth wheel on a truck. That's why they had to get rid of the rear wheels."

Marv used two tractors with trip buckets to hold the raised sweep up as he worked to loosen the gears. "I had no one to show me how," he says, "so it was all experimental." Replacing the 8-foot wood tines on the head involved study and patience, as well as a search for the metal "teeth" that cover the ends of the tines. "The teeth keep the head from digging into the ground and breaking the tines," he says. "They're factory metal." When Marv got the stacker, it had just four tines on it. He needed eight more, and found exactly that number in Waverly, Iowa. The formidable-looking tines now stand supported by a hay bin Marv built to accompany the stacker in the field.

The Jayhawk's glory days ended in the middle part of the last century when mechanized implements and changing haying methods made the hay stacker obsolete. "After the 1915 horse-drawn model," Marv says, "it was called a 'Stackhand' farm stacker. It was the same as this, only it was self-propelled, more or less. The reason they didn't (sell well in the north) was that the weather here is so humid that hay rots more easily, so it was better to have it in a hay mow."

Hay loaders and balers served farmers in a slightly different capacity than the Jayhawk. "The hay loader was the other thing that would've come after the hay stacker," Marv says. "I've got a dump rake and the old side-delivery rake here, and the horse mower. I have a chain of command of haying pieces." Several other restoration projects await, but for now, Marv is simply pleased to be able to display his haying equipment, including the flightless Jayhawk.

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy is a freelance writer in Spring Valley, Minn. 


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