Homemade Buck Rake Shows Ingenuity

Homemade: Early farmers recycled vehicles into farm equipment like buck rakes and air compressors

| November 2011

One of the reasons Cyrus McCormick’s reaper succeeded where others failed was training. McCormick’s company undertook the job of teaching early farmers how to maintain their equipment. Men accustomed to working with horses and harness were taught how to turn wrenches and adjust mechanical objects. The idea that the average farmer was unfamiliar with nuts and bolts seems strange today, but such was the case in the mid-1800s. 

Although farm equipment became more complicated as the years went by, most early farmers adapted quite well. But it wasn’t always easy. The International Harvester Co. logo was often translated as “In Hell Continually,” expressing the headaches that went along with utilizing and maintaining IH farm equipment. Even today, farmers routinely lament that those who make agricultural equipment have never had to work on it. If they did, conventional wisdom says, they would do a better job of making repairs possible.

As time passed, equipment became both more complicated and more expensive. American farmers became resourceful in utilizing whatever was handy to accomplish their goals with as little financial outlay as possible. In the early 20th century farmers quickly figured out how to recycle vehicles originally intended for transportation into machines useful on the farm. Cars were made into trucks, engines were made into air compressors, cars and trucks were modified to perform as tractors, and abandoned vehicles of all types were converted into sawmills (with the engine powering the saw and the running gear carrying logs past the saw blade). The variety of farmer-designed and -built objects is staggering.

Home-built buck rakes

From near the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s through the early 1950s, a variety of buck rakes were built in this area from old cars and trucks. In the days before balers became common, alfalfa and grass hay were still put up loose.

Hay was gathered in the field and transported to the stack. Traditionally, horse-powered mechanisms had been used for that purpose. Although they worked, they were somewhat unwieldy, as the fork that scooped the hay was positioned in front of the horse. If the field was large, the time it took to get the stack loaded and then return to the field for another load was quite lengthy because the entire operation was conducted at the speed of a horse’s walking pace.

Before the transition from loose hay to baled hay, almost every farmer around here had converted an old motorized vehicle into a buck rake. Any old car or truck available was fair game. In doing research for this article, I discovered use of everything from a 1930s Graham-Paige school bus to an early 1940s U.S. Army Dodge ambulance. The photos accompanying this article show a buck rake made from a 1929 Model A Ford sedan.