Remembering the Stone Boat

Often homemade, sturdy stone boats were used to haul never-ending crops of stone from farm fields.


| November 2017



stone-boat

Dennis McGrew’s completely restored stone boat.

Image courtesy Dennis McGrew

EDITOR’S NOTE: A letter to the editor from Clyde Eide, Bryan, Texas, in the August 2017 issue of Farm Collector asked for information on the stone boats once used on the farm. Readers of Farm Collector responded with vivid memories of the simple device that signaled a backbreaking and relentless job: picking rocks and stones out of farm fields and hauling them away. We share those memories here:

A letter to the editor in the August 2017 issue of Farm Collector on the topic of stone boats caused me to reflect on a lifetime of “picking stones.” I grew up in southwest Michigan and by choice have retired in the same area. Whether the glaciers deposited light sand or heavy clay, one thing they left behind on our gently rolling landscape was an abundance of rocks.

And whether you call them stones or rocks (Webster defines rock as a large mass of stone and stone as mineral matter of indeterminate size or shape), they are more than a nuisance to farmers. Stone damage to implements has been a serious problem since the first crude wooden implement was put into the ground. Not only did our early settlers have to clear timber from much of the virgin lands, they also endeavored to eliminate the rocks.

With variation in size, removing rocks from tillable acreage can present several challenges. Those that can be lifted by one or two men can be removed to a cart or trailer. Larger ones required the use of a skid or stone boat. These were often homemade in various forms. Most were formed of wooden planks, usually mounted across a pair of wide, substantial runners similar to a work sleigh. Some had a turned-up nose to prevent digging into the ground while dragging across the field. Use of a stone boat was, of course, dependent on whether you could get the stone rolled onto the boat and keep it there while old Dobbin drags it off the field. The only alternative, short of a stick of dynamite, was to dig a large hole next to the rock and roll it in hoping to never see it again.

This discussion begs the need to remember that it is in the course of annual freezing and thawing that new “crops” of rocks are continually pushed to the surface. If one chooses to bury rocks, the rocks must be placed below the frost line and well out of reach of modern deep tillage chisel plows that have added to an influx of surface rocks in recent decades.

Once rocks have been picked up from the field, disposition often becomes a dilemma. Many are piled in nearby woodlots or in the nearest fencerow. Anyone who has experienced piling rocks in a fencerow or at the end of the field knows that Mother Nature quickly takes over. Brush and trees grow around these impromptu piles, quickly robbing the farmer of tillable acreage.