Celebrating Hay Tools

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

| August 2006

  • DaleSmithhisler.jpg
    Dale Smithhisler with his prize: a salesman’s sample of a Myers Cloverleaf trolley. Shown here with its full-size brother, the sample is the kind of thing that stops other collectors dead in their tracks. The piece is just under a century old, Dale says, and is completely intact, a rarity in itself.
  • Trolleymanufacture.jpg
    A portion of Steve Weeber’s display of handsomely restored hay trolleys. He and others in the hobby have conducted extensive research to determine the scope of trolley manufacture. Patents and trade literature – such as the Louden Barn Book, which among other things gives complete instruction in rigging trolleys – have proved invaluable resources, he says.
  • Trolleymanufacture-2.jpg
    Brakes weren’t always standard equipment. A hundred years ago, they were often regarded as an expensive option. This device – permanently installed on a wagon – was an inexpensive alternative. At the bottom of a hill, it would have been released to drag on the ground. When horses pulling the wagon up a hill stopped to rest, the weight of the wagon would have shoved this brace into the ground, preventing the wagon from rolling and giving the team a break.
  • Trolleymanufacture-1.jpg
    There’s more to the hay tool category than trolleys. In addition to various hay-related tools, Jim Moffet also collects these hay sling releases.
  • Trolleymanufacture-3.jpg
    Cedar Rapids artist Genevieve Grenhaw hand-painted lettering on trolleys and other pieces during the show. Steve doesn’t think restoration affects hay trolley values. But a comprehensive restoration – sandblasting, reassembly, elaborate paint jobs – can be spendy. “If you do it, it’d better be because you love it,” he says, speaking with the voice of experience.
  • Hayforksandtrolleys.jpg
    Hay forks and trolleys were among the treasures at the first-ever Hay Tool Swap Meet held in May near Iowa City, Iowa. Hay forks, attached to trolleys, grasped the load; hay knives were used to cut stored hay.
  • Horsehayfork.jpg
    A Jennings horse hay fork. Patented in 1869, the piece was attached to a hay trolley to carry hay into a haymow. “To my knowledge, this is the only one that has survived,” says Jim Moffet, who displayed the item at the hay tool show for an Illinois club.
  • Horsehayfork-1.jpg
     Patent drawing showing the Jennings fork open.

  • DaleSmithhisler.jpg
  • Trolleymanufacture.jpg
  • Trolleymanufacture-2.jpg
  • Trolleymanufacture-1.jpg
  • Trolleymanufacture-3.jpg
  • Hayforksandtrolleys.jpg
  • Horsehayfork.jpg
  • Horsehayfork-1.jpg

"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."