Hoisting with Hay Trolleys

Hay trolley refined timeless rope-and-pulley technology.

| August 2006

Hay … How did they get it up in the barn in the old days?

With a fork, of course. Or at least that's how it was originally done.

Can you imagine the labor it took for an early farmer to put up hay? First, he cut the hay with a scythe, then forked it into piles to dry. Next, he forked the hay onto a wagon and hauled it to the barn, where he forked it off the wagon onto a stack, or into his barn. Later, he'd fork the hay out of the stack into mangers to feed his livestock. Some of it would inevitably be pulled out, dropped onto the floor, walked on and turned into manure. In the spring, he forked the manure off the floor onto a wagon, where it was hauled to the field to be forked onto the ground. It is little wonder farmers welcomed mechanization!

When horses were the main power source on the farm, farmers had to harvest enough grain and forage to feed their animals during those long winter months. Horses and other livestock needed an ample supply of quality hay to survive. Farmers found it convenient to have feed handy so there would be no need to haul it from the storage area to the feeding area. In the Midwest, most dry hay was stored in the barn's haymow, a large space above the first floor.

To get hay into the mow, it was necessary to have some type of hoisting and carrying system. These systems comprised a series of ropes and pulleys to hoist the hay - as much as a half-ton at a time - to the peak of the barn, then move it along a track to be released in the proper place. It was then spread and tamped into place. Power was furnished by a horse (or a team of horses) hitched to the outer end of the rope, which ran through a system of pulleys. It was somewhat dangerous work, even for the boy who drove the team that hoisted the hay. A broken rope or shattered pulley could be a disaster.

Tim Pefley, an avid hay trolley collector from Antwerp, Ohio, often thinks about the work needed to get hay from the field to the barn, then into the barn for storage. Although he collects lots of equipment used in storing hay, he concentrates primarily on what he calls "haymow" trolleys (or hay carriers).