Hoistin' with a Hay Trolley

Iowa collector Steve Weeber finds beauty in the small and often forgotten hay trolley.

| May 2003

Most people never notice the intricate, cast iron implements used to ferry hay in many American barns.

That's because the so-called hay trolleys are usually tucked away within the darkest reaches of an old barn, quite out of sight. Yet, like the farmers who relied on trolleys to move hay, Steve Weeber knows just where to find those hidden farm treasures.

The Iowa City, Iowa, collector first spied a beautifully painted trolley at a 1999 auction. "That's when I got the bug, right then and there," Steve says. Since then, he's documented and researched hay trolleys with hopes that he can unravel the history behind those often-overlooked farm collectibles. Even after endless hours of study, Steve says he's "still in the discovery stage," but willing to share what he's learned in the process.

Captivating carriers

Steve became hooked on hay trolleys after he attended a rural Iowa auction that featured implements owned by Lester Yoder, a well-known farm equipment collector. While most of the auction's goods were the usual farm show fare, Steve happened upon a half dozen brilliantly painted and restored hay trolleys hung on an iron rail for sale. "I was struck by their ornateness," Steve explains.

He was particularly captivated by the trolleys' striking paint scheme, with each manufacturer's name stamped in brilliantly embossed letters. "I was amazed that so much effort was put into something that few people ever see," Steve adds.

While Steve didn't buy the trolleys that day, he couldn't shake the colorful carriers from his mind. He went straight to the barn on the 120-acre Iowa farm where he was born and raised, and retrieved the carrier that hung inside, unnoticed for decades. Within a few days, he'd repainted and restored his first hay trolley: a 1905 trolley made by Ney Mfg. Co. in Canton, Ohio.

Although cast iron hay trolleys were produced for more than a century, Steve quickly discovered that scant information exists to help collectors decipher the history behind the ornate devices. After that realization, he set out to learn everything possible about those enigmatic hay movers.

The first stop on Steve's quest was a visit with Lester Yoder, the fellow who owned the trolleys that initially captivated Steve. Like many farm implement collectors, Yoder was more than willing to share what he knew, but Steve walked away with more questions than answers. For example, no one knows for sure how many companies made carriers or how many different designs were produced.

Next, Steve turned his attention to farm shows and auctions where he met others passionate about hay trolleys. He made friends with collectors who'd already amassed some information about the cast iron carriers, and with their help, Steve chose a three-pronged approach to unearth and compile a thorough hay trolley history. That tactic included two years spent photographing trolleys owned by about a dozen collectors across the Midwest, locating literature from different manufacturers and searching patent records. The time was well spent, Steve says, and he gained a wealth of knowledge about hay trolleys.

5/1/2014 12:10:41 AM

I've got a Clover Adjustable Unloader, I don't know much about it but I would like to clean it up and restore it back to how it would have looked when it was new. If anyone could help me out I am trying to find out what color or colors that it would have been painted. I have seen a few that where silver with red on all the raised areas. Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Brody

Sally Richter
6/14/2011 11:05:19 PM

I have a FE Meyers Hay Sling (Trolley)pully, rails, chains - everything - I see a 526 on the front. I need to know what the value is or where I can find info on it. Can anyone help me with this?

dan gray
2/12/2011 7:35:32 PM

Im doin a barn in michigan and collected a trolley made by V.L.Ney company.Very good shape and some of the track is there as well.More to come Im sure.I love my hobby !!! Would anyone be interested in purchasing this Item?