Mechanization Meets Haymow: Hayfork Pulley Systems

Let's Talk Rusty Iron

| July 2010

Someone recently asked how barn hayfork pulley systems were set up.

He said he had talked to many old-timers about how the ropes ran and they remember using them, but not how they were rigged. (Read a step-by-step process for a center drive barn: “How to Rig Barn Pulleys: Setting Up a Hayfork Pulley System.”) 

Before barn hayforks, one man pitched hay off a wagon into the mow and one or two others distributed it in the mow and tramped it down. In the middle of summer, in an airless haymow, this wasn’t much fun. However, in the middle of the 19th century, mechanical means of placing hay in barns began to be developed.

The first barn forks resembled extra-large pitchforks with a heavy handle, a ring for a lifting rope and folding tines held in place by a latch. A rope and pulley hung over the haymow. One end of the rope was tied to the fork and the other ran outside to a singletree for a horse. The man on the load of hay stuck the fork into the hay and, using the fork handle, maneuvered the load over the mow as the horse lifted the load. The man then yanked on a light rope that released the latch and the fork tines folded down, dropping the hay. While it was an improvement over the pitchfork, this type of barn fork was awkward and not quite the answer.

Running on rail

Hayfork carriers that ran on tracks soon became available. Early tracks made of 4-by-4 lumber were suspended the length of the barn just under the ridgepole. As the price of steel dropped, its lighter weight, smaller size and easier operation soon made it the standard for track. Carriers with flanged wheels ran on the track and supported the load, while two or three rope pulleys (as well as locks for the rope and carrier) were also part of the setup. The lower carrier pulley wasn’t attached to the carrier and had a swivel hook for the hayfork, along with a means of tripping the locks in the carrier. A trip (or release block) was attached to the track directly over the wagon location. This device locked the carrier in position while the load was being raised.

One end of a 3/4- to 1-inch draft rope was secured to one side of the carrier. The other end ran down and around the lower pulley and back up over the rope pulley at the other side of the carrier. The rope then paralleled the track to a draft pulley at the end of the track, turning it downward and then through as many pulleys as necessary to get it outside the barn where it could be hitched to a horse or other motive power.

With the carrier locked to the track in the loading position, the lower pulley and attached fork were released to descend onto the loaded wagon. The operator set the fork into the hay and held the fork release rope. At a signal, the horse moved forward, the forkful of hay rose straight up until the lower pulley entered the carrier. That tripped the carrier mechanism, locking the lower pulley to the carrier to prevent the load from dropping.