Oddly enough, it was a fire that launched Emil Hecksel’s collection of farm-related memorabilia. Emil, who lives in Coopersville, Michigan, has been collecting farm-related memorabilia for more than 40 years. His collection of hay carriers (or trolleys) began after a barn owned by his cousins, John and Dean Hecksel, burned down in 2008.
After the fire was put out, Emil was among the relatives and neighbors who helped clean up the mess. He found some pulleys in the rubble and was told to take them if he wanted them. Some had metal spools; others had wooden ones that were partially, or completely, burned away.
The next day, a Louden Junior hay carrier was found. Emil’s cousins didn’t want it, but they also didn’t want to see it tossed into the dumpster. Emil wanted to prevent this bit of history from being lost, so he took it home. That was his first hay carrier. “I was on my way,” he says. Today his collection numbers 67 carriers.
A hay carrier with special ties
Soon after the fire, Emil remembered a carrier that had long hung in a barn on the farm where he’d grown up. About 30 years earlier, in 1977, the place had been sold.
Emil contacted the current owners of the farm and asked if they would sell the hay carrier to him, only to be told they’d have to think about it. A year passed before he contacted the owners again. That time, they would not sell it to him, they said, but since he’d grown up on the farm, they felt it should be his: It was his for the taking.
Emil and his son-in-law, Jeremy DeBoer, took scaffolding to the barn and set to work, rescuing the hay carrier from the peak of the roof. They needed more height, so more scaffolding was borrowed and erected. The operation took more than seven hours, but the work paid off. At the end of the day, Emil had his dad’s old Hudson carrier, with a length of rope still in it, and a section of track.
“It was the same rope Dad put up there years ago with the knot he tied in it,” Emil says proudly. The old piece of rope remains in the carrier to this day.
Starting out young
At age 10, Emil drove a Farmall Model H tractor, providing power to operate the Hudson hay carrier. Three marks on the ground indicated the stopping points for each of the barn’s bays. His dad would yell to him where to stop.
On one occasion, things got a bit exciting when his dad had to jump off the hay wagon in order to miss being hit by a forkful of hay accidentally released when the fork reached the carrier.
Emil’s collection includes both fork and sling carriers. He already had a set of slings at home when he saw some at an auction in Leroy, Michigan, in 2015. He thought if he could get one more set for $50, it would be a good deal. Nobody else cared about the pile of pieces of wood and lengths of rope. He got all three hay slings for $10.
At a tractor show in Defiance, Ohio, Emil bought an unidentified double-wide sling pulley. One of the two unique pulleys of the set remains missing.
A numbered print produced by the Hay Tool Collectors Assn. (HTCA) hangs on a wall in his shop. It features hay carriers and some of the early manufacturers. Emil is an active member of the HTCA, which meets annually. “The shows are huge,” he says. The Badger Steam & Engine Show in Baraboo, Wisconsin, is another of his favorites. “I got my Eagle hay carrier there in 2013,” he says. Four years later, Jeremy found the pulley it was missing online and bought it. It will soon be restored and added to the carrier.
Carriers with unique designs
One unidentified carrier in Emil’s collection runs not on wheels, but on skids designed to glide along a greased wooden track. This carrier came from a barn torn down in Michigan. Emil bought it at the Burley Park Antiques Flea Market in Howard City, Michigan.
His Harvester carrier is another unusual piece. “I’ve never seen another one like this,” he says. The carrier’s wheels run on a large rope. This one came from a flea market at the Covered Bridge Festival in Bellmore, Indiana.
Another one, with three similar but narrower wheels, has no name on it. The seller at a swap meet in Trufant, Michigan, was asking $25, but Emil got it for $15. The piece was missing the drop pulley. When he got home, he found a pulley in his spare parts stash that fit perfectly. A couple of years later, he saw a carrier identical to his with a $400 price tag. “I did okay on mine,” he says with a smile.
Pulling pieces into a cohesive display
A product line of Hunt, Helm, Ferris & Co., Harvard, Illinois, the Starline encompassed everything from barn to livestock equipment. Emil once bought a Starline carrier from an older man who dealt in vintage farm equipment in Six Lakes, Michigan. When Emil began to remove the carrier from a rack, he was told that it went as a unit.
“We only had our car,” he recalls, “but my wife, Linda, and I managed to get it stuffed in the trunk.” Later, his cousin, Phil, gave him two metal Starline Labor Savers signs designed to hang on the rack. Today, Emil keeps an eye open for pulleys with the distinctive star cutout in the metal frame that he can add to what has become his favorite display.
An exhibit board on one wall has several small pieces. Among them are pulling hooks (used to connect the main rope to the power source), sling hooks, sling pulleys, sling trips and some never-used wooden spools.
Some of those pieces came from a swap meet at an Indiana tractor show. On a table, Emil saw a hay sling trip catch priced at $6.50. He looked it over, then took a walk around the grounds. When he came back, there were two of the catches on display. He asked the vendor if he had any more. “Sure, I got a bucket full of ’em,” he said, pulling a pail from under the table. Emil asked if he could make a deal on the bunch. He ended up with all six for $24. At other sales, he’s seen them sell for $35 each.
Emil has restored many hay carriers over the years, but doesn’t always find the spools he needs. Using a band saw and lathe, he has made several from maples on his property to replace damaged or missing pieces. He makes them for his own use only. There is too much labor involved to produce them for sale, he says.
In one corner of his shop, a working display demonstrates the operation of a hay carrier. The display includes the Louden Junior from the fire, along with a section of rail, the trips, catches, rope and pulleys all needed to move hay into the barn.
Just to the left is a spear-style hayfork. It doesn’t look like it would carry much hay but apparently, it worked fine with the two short, spring-loaded barbs that extend out from near the point, 180 degrees apart.
Carriers harder to find today
From the time he began collecting, Emil has seen the value of hay carriers escalate dramatically. A few years ago, he saw a Double Eagle carrier sell at an auction in Shipshewana, Indiana, for $1,900. Like anything else, when the piece is rare, the price goes up. Many of the items in his collection were given to him, but it looks like the days of getting a hay carrier for free are over.
One day soon, Emil will have to construct wooden display rack number four to hold several restored hay carriers he’s completed. These include a Ney, a Myers cross-draft, a Faultless by Myers (with brass tag), two Leaders and a Boomer.
He also has a G.A. Olson Advance undergoing restoration. Drilling out broken shafts, heating and soaking other stubborn pieces and polishing roller bearings will keep him busy for a while.
Now, if he could only find a Double Eagle carrier at a yard sale for about $50. FC
For more information: Emil Hecksel, firstname.lastname@example.org. Freelance writer Jerry Mattson writes articles on topics ranging from hot rods to hay balers with many tractor tales in the mix. Email him at email@example.com.