Celebrating Hay Tools

Collectors gather for the first-ever Hay Tool Swap Meet and Show.

| August 2006

"Hay fever" came early for a group of collectors who attended the first-ever Hay Tool Swap Meet and Show near Iowa City, Iowa, in early May. Held at the Weeber Homestead Farm, the event drew enthusiasts from across the Midwest, and showcased a wide variety of hay tools and equipment.

Trolleys draw a crowd

Hay trolleys (or carriers) snatched much of the event's focus, owing in large part to a world-class collection housed onsite. Collecting and restoring hay trolleys since 1999, Steve Weeber has built as fine a set of restored pieces as you'll find.

Introduced in the late 1850s, the hay trolley was used to move loads of hay from a wagon into the barn. With a team of horses doing the pulling, and a fork inserted into a pile of hay, the trolley lifted the load and drew it into the mow.

Today, collectors scour farm sales, online auctions, flea markets and swap meets in their quest for dozens of the relics. Others are satisfied with but a couple. "They may have just one or two, or maybe a family piece, and they're never going to be big collectors," Steve says. "People just want to know how the hay trolley works. Lots of people are fascinated by the mechanics of these little gizmos."

Though trolleys were widely used, only one was needed on most farms. By World War II, bale movers began to make the hay trolley obsolete. Thereafter, most were abandoned where they hung in aging barns. "And we all know what happens to old barns," Steve notes. "It's a finite thing."

Rare indeed is the hay trolley found with all components intact. "We do a lot of chasing around for parts," Steve says. "It's like hunting for mushrooms: They don't grow everywhere. "Some of the rarity is related to the difficulty of maintaining the devices, which roosted high in the barn. Take the Louden trolley. "Finding the small wheels for one of those is like finding hen's teeth," Steve says. "There was a little hole where you could oil the piece, but nobody was going to get all the way up there and oil it, so the thing ran until the wheels came off."