The Evolution of Haying: Hay barn styles, Mows and Hay Fork Carriers

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: Sam Moore examines advances in hay equipment and their effects on barn shape, size and construction.

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Sketch of a typical hay fork operation.

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In the old days, barns were built long, wide and relatively low. Hay mows were kept low since the hay had to be pitched into them by a man on a wagon. The older of the two barns on the farm where I grew up was built around 1840, and was supported by two hay mows, one on either side of a center driveway. Each mow was built of logs in a large square, very much like a log cabin, except the spaces between the logs weren't chinked. On the side toward the center of the barn floor, logs were cut out to provide opening, which allowed hay to be thrown into (or out of) the mow. These three openings were one above the other and each was about three feet high and six feet long. The lowest was probably about four feet above the barn floor, while the highest was no more than 14. These mows were filled by a man pitching the hay into one of the openings and one or two others moving it back - hot, hard work.

About the middle of the 19th century, tools for placing hay in barns such as forks, slings and mechanical hay carriers, began to be developed. This allowed barns to be built higher and narrower than before, and cheaper as well, since the roof was the most expensive part of a building. It was necessary to keep the area beneath the ridge pole free from cross beams as much as possible since these interfered with the movement of the hay handling equipment along the length of the barn.

Barns were generally constructed in one of four styles, each of which required a different layout of the hay carrier track. A single-end hoist barn allowed hay to be taken into the mow at only one end of the barn, usually through a large door high in the peak of the gable end. The double-end hoist barn was similar, but had a door in each gable end. The hay carrier track ran three or four feet outside the end of the barn, where it was supported by extensions on the ridge pole. A center drive barn had a driveway running through the middle, between mows, and hay was lifted and carried to either the right or left mow as destined. Some barns were round or octagonal (legend has it that this prevented the devil from cornering a person inside). These barns required special equipment.

Many companies made and sold hay fork carriers and each was a little different, although they all generally worked on the same principal. Collecting these carriers has become popular and examples from Louden, Porter, Milwaukee, Ney, Boyd and Meyers, among others, are often exhibited at steam shows.

Pioneer hay-tool inventor William Louden, said to be 'the man who made high barns possible,' established the Louden Machinery Company of Fairfield, Iowa, in 1867. Be that as it may, by the turn of the century, the Louden firm was a major manufacturer of barn and stable equipment. Louden's 1916 catalogue discussed hay unloading tools and described their line of bar forks, slings and carriers, and all the accessories necessary to equip any barn, even a round one, with hay handling equipment.

Early barn installations utilized track made of 4x4-inch wood, but as steel track became cheaper, its lighter weight, smaller size and easier operation soon made it the standard. The track was suspended the length of the barn just under the ridge pole. Most carriers had four flanged wheels (or rollers) that ran on the track and supported the load, although eight -wheel versions were available for extra heavy work. One or two rope pulleys, as well as locks for the rope and carrier, were also part of the device. The lower fork pulley had a swivel hook for attaching the hay fork, along with a means of tripping the locks in the carrier. A trip, or release block, was attached to the track directly over the wagon location. This device locked the carrier in position while the load was being raised.

One end of the 3/4- to 1-inch draft rope was secured to one side of the carrier. The other end ran down and around the fork pulley and back up over the rope pulley at the opposite side of the carrier. The rope then paralleled the track to a draft pulley at the end of the track, which turned it downward, and then through as many pulleys as needed to get it outside the barn where it could be hitched to a horse.

With the carrier locked to the track, the fork pulley and fork were released to descend onto the loaded wagon. The operator set the fork into the hay and held the fork release rope. As the horse was driven forward, the fork load of hay rose straight up until the fork pulley entered the carrier. This tripped the mechanism, locking the fork pulley to the carrier to prevent the load from dropping. The carrier lock to the track was released at the same time, allowing the carrier, along with the fork load of hay, to roll horizontally down the track. When the carrier reached the desired point, the operator on the wagon pulled the fork release rope and the hay dropped into the mow. At that point, the horse stopped and was backed, or the draft rope unhitched, and the carrier was pulled back along the track and over the wagon, either by means of a rope and weight or by the wagon man pulling on the fork release rope. When the carrier reached the trip block, it locked onto the track and released the fork pulley, allowing the fork to again fall onto the wagon, ready for another load.

Where slings were used instead of forks, double sling pulleys were needed in place of the single fork pulley. The sling pulleys were pulled apart and one was hooked to an eye at each end of the sling. As the draft rope was taken up, the ends of the sling were drawn together and the load of hay atop the sling was lifted. Once the sling pulleys reached the carrier, the operation was the same as with a fork.

In the days when huge amounts of loose hay were put up each year, labor-saving devices such as hay carriers and the associated forks and slings came into almost universal use. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, virtually every barn built was equipped with a hay carrier track. FC 

Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks, and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements, and related items.