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Stacking Hay with Horse Forks

Simple horse forks eased back-breaking job on the farm.

| February 2014

  • This hay rope hook could be used at any part of the rope. “Just thread the rope through and pass the end under the main rope,” Marv says. “As you pull, the rope tightens on itself.”
    Photo by Leslie McManus
  • The shorter of Marv’s two horse forks is shown here. Manufacturers like Myers and Louden sold cable rickers used in stacking hay outside. The outfit typically included a carrier, fork, steel wire rope, pulleys and clamps; poles were generally obtained locally.
    Photo by Leslie McManus
  • A pair of antique horse forks. “Most people have never seen horse forks,” Marv says. He found both of his at a swap meet in Portland, Ind.
    Photo by Leslie McManus
  • The complete rig with a tractor pulling the rope. Here, the hay rope hook is hooked to the tractor hitch to pull the hay load up.
    Photo by Leslie McManus

When the hay crop was bigger than the barn’s loft, farmers had to make do. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, large outside haystacks were the best fallback position.

Last September, Marv Hedberg, Rush City, Minn., demonstrated the nearly lost art of using horse forks to stack hay.

The demonstration was held at Andersons’ Rock Creek Relics Threshing and Sawing Show in Rush City. At the heart of the demonstration was a cable ricker outfit once owned by Duane Anderson’s father. The manufacturer is unknown but Duane believes it to have been F.E. Myers & Bro. Between 1890 and 1910, Myers built a hay carrier mechanism designed for use with cable in building outside stacks. By 1910, Myers was producing grapple forks that carried bigger loads than the horse fork could handle.

Although horse forks were more typically used with a horse, for the purposes of the Rock Creek demonstration a John Deere GP was deemed more convenient. It was a two-man job. One man operated the tractor, backing it to pull hay off the wagon. The other set the fork into the hay, guided loads from the wagon, pulled the trip rope to dump the load in the right spot on the stack and then pull the fork back to unlatch from the carrier and get another load from the wagon. In the horse fork demonstration, the wagon was unloaded in under a half hour — about twice the time it would take with a grapple fork.

The horse fork operates somewhat like an oversize pitchfork, Marv says. It is driven into the hay and used to lift a surprising quantity to the top of the stack. The one with a long handle is a bit tricky to use (and it holds less hay). “You have to hold the handle down with one rope while using it and pull the trip rope to dump the load,” he says. “The shorter one is easier to use. It automatically hooks onto the hay; you just need a trip rope.” FC

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