Farm Collector

Putting Hay Away the Old-Fashioned Way

Did you ever stop to think about how loose hay
was loaded into the multi-level mows of 19th century barns, long
before the advent of stationary hay presses and conventional
elevators? Can you imagine the amount of labor associated with
raising that provender high in the loft to make feeding it to the
cattle the following winter less of a chore? Retired Thomasville,
Pa., farmer Robert Rauhauser thinks about these questions, and
finds fascination with early tools designed to lighten the heavy
work of hay handling. “I am really interested in all kinds of loose
hay tools,” he says. “The horse-powered forks used to lift the hay
are my main focus.”

In 1956, about the same time Robert started farming on his own,
he often found himself at sales looking for good used equipment.
The offerings at those auctions were the inspiration for Robert’s
collection of primitive farm tools. Fifty years later, he has
amassed a truly overwhelming number of items, and knowledge about
them. “When I get into a new area of collecting, I try to learn as
much as I can about the manufacturers and inventors,” Robert
explains. For example, at one time he was crazy about hog oilers –
a passion that drove him to publish a book (now out of print) on
the category. Demand remains so great that he is now working on a
revised and updated version. Perhaps one day he will put together a
book on haymow forks.

Forking it over

“I call the horse-powered hay forks haymow forks,” Robert says
as he opens a corrugated-steel grain bin literally stacked floor to
ceiling with more than 125 variations of the device. “I stopped
calling them hay forks because people were expecting to see old
wooden pitchforks.”

Hay hoisting devices were identified in many ways. “Different
parts of the country and different inventors used different names
for the haymow fork,” he explains with a chuckle. “I have found
patent documents calling them horse hay forks, hay harpoons, hay
spears, hay hooks, hay grapples, hay slings, hay elevators or just
hay forks.”

That there were so many different names for hay lifting tools
gives an indication that there were many different methods for
getting hold of the loose forage in order to lift it to the mow.
For example, the grapple fork was lowered into a wagonload of hay
with its jaws opened wide. Once engaged with the hay, the grapple’s
teeth were drawn together and the works was lifted – taking a bite,
quite literally, out of the load.

The spear- or harpoon-type haymow forks often employed a hollow
or slotted cylindrical body with a solid point at the end and
hinged barbs to skewer a load. The spear (or harpoon) was lowered
to the wagon with its barb(s) retracted and then plunged into the
loaded wagon. Extending the barbs prior to lifting retained a
surprising amount of hay on the fork. Other designs offered
different methods to retain the hay for lifting, but they were
similar in the job they performed.

Arguably many of these haymow forks were sometimes used without
an overhead track and carrier or trolley system – a simple pulley
attached to the barn’s ridgepole sufficing. However, they would
have been most effectively used in conjunction with a carrier that
would allow the forkful of hay to be moved from one end of the mow
to the other – and in some cases from one side to the other as
well. Essentially, through a system of lines and pulleys, the fork
was lowered to the ground, loaded with hay and lifted high into the
barn. Horses, mules, oxen, stationary engines, or even cars, trucks
and tractors supplied the power. Once the loaded fork was located
appropriately in the mow, a trip mechanism (which virtually all of
the successful designs employed) was disengaged, releasing the hay.
Workers with pitchforks moved the hay into corners and carefully
packed it.

In spite of the horse power used to cut, rake and possibly load
the hay into the wagons and the mow, putting up loose hay was still
incredibly physically demanding. “The only good thing I remember
about hay making as a kid was getting a cold watermelon out of the
milk cooler at the end of the day,” Robert says. “I don’t think we
would have many farmers today if we had to go back to the ‘good old
days’ of putting hay away loose.”

Uplifting collection

“There are all kinds of different haymow forks out there,”
Robert says. “The ones I like the best are the unusual types and
styles, like the screw fork and the single-harpoon forks.” He
especially likes forks with patent numbers, patent dates or maker’s
names cast or stamped into them – and they hold special interest if
they were made locally. As a 50-year haymow-fork-collecting
veteran, Robert tries to use those little bits of additional
information to help him research the tools.

“I like to collect the items and display them at shows,” Robert
says. “I also think it is important to collect knowledge about the
items.” Gathering information is often more difficult than
collecting the items themselves, especially if they don’t have
telltale markings on them. Robert relies on the U.S. Patent Office
for some of his information. He also collects anecdotes from people
he meets at shows. “It is impossible to learn the whole story on
these old things,” Robert says wistfully. “But it is fun to find
what I can and document it.”

Among Robert’s favorite haymow forks is a pair of screw (or
spiral) forks employing a similar ratchet catch mechanism. Both
devices employ a pair of tines – one on either side of the screw –
to keep the whole works from turning as the screw is turned into
the pile of hay. Both utilize a ratchet wheel attached to the base
of the screw to provide grip to keep the screw from unwinding as
the fork is lifted from the pile of hay. But the forks are
significantly different from one another: One uses a single stop
(pawl) to keep the ratchet locked, while the other uses two. These
designs are both related to James T. Hall’s 1867-patented
improvement on John F. Pierce’s 1866 screw fork design. Robert
believes the single-stop version was typical in the U.S., while the
double-stop was the Canadian style.

Several interesting harpoon-style haymow forks also rank high in
Robert’s collection. He has a beautifully preserved double-barbed,
single-harpoon model patented on Aug. 1, 1871, by J. Huy of
Bakerstown, Pa. This device utilizes a cast housing that encloses
the catch mechanism, threaded to a piece of pipe with a point
formed on the opposite end. The catch connects to the barbs through
the inside of the pipe and controls whether they are exposed or
retracted. Robert has several other single-harpoon forks with
single, double and even triple barbs. One of the most important
distinguishing characteristics of these tools is their catch
mechanism. Some are relatively simple over-center cam and lever
devices, while others are as complex as the action of a Winchester
Model 94 rifle.

Robert also enjoys double-harpoon haymow forks. He holds a
well-worn Gochnauer patent double-harpoon fork dear because its
inventor once lived in York, Pa. This device uses external hinged
barbs functioning as points when the fork is plunged into the hay,
pivoting 90 degrees toward one another to retain it.

Does he have a favorite fork? Robert first reaches for one of
his screw forks, and then for one of his harpoons. “I guess I like
them all,” he says with a smile. “My favorite would have to be the
one that I haven’t seen yet.”

Odds and ends

Haymow forks represent only part of Robert’s collection of loose
hay tools. He has also collected hay trolleys (carriers), tracks,
swivel rope hooks, pulleys, hay knives, dump rakes, pitchforks,
mowers, loaders, load binders – you name it. But loose hay tools
aren’t the only category of collectible Robert cherishes. He is
also an avid collector of corn items, especially box shellers, and
corn shock tying tools. He is also partial to implement wrenches,
and dairy items such as calf weaners, horn weights and separators.
One of his latest side interests is bottle cappers.

“I got into the bottle cappers by accident,” Robert explains
about that unlikely collectible. “I was researching some things
down at the Patent Office when the microfilm stopped on a bottle
capper patent.” As it turns out, that bottle capper’s inventor was
from nearby Frederick, Md., and Robert, having already decided to
exhibit at a show featuring Maryland-made items, thought it would
be fun to display bottle cappers. “I got pretty excited, and by the
time of the show, I had collected 25 bottle cappers,” Robert says.
“They weren’t all from Maryland, though.” Today Robert has nearly
100 of those useful little tools.

In addition to the items themselves, Robert looks for
manufacturer’s literature, catalog copy, salesman’s samples,
display models and virtually anything else that adds interest and
knowledge to his collection. Exactly where Robert’s collecting will
lead him next is anyone’s guess, but rest assured, when he takes
the plunge he will make quite a splash.

For more information: Robert Rauhauser, Box 766 R2,
Thomasville, PA 17364-9622; (717) 792-0278

Oscar “Hank” Will III is an old-iron collector and freelance
writer and photographer who retired from farming in 1999. He splits
his time between his home in Gettysburg, Pa., and his farm in East
Andover, N.H. Write him at 243 W. Broadway, Gettysburg, PA 17325;
(717) 337-6068; e-mail:

A Passion for Patents

Robert Rauhauser characterizes himself as a collector,
researcher and historian of loose hay tools. He admits that while
it is nice to have something interesting in his collection, it is
even more fun to research the patents on the item and get to know
something about the inventor. In many cases, it is possible to
trace the complete evolution of a design by uncovering all of the
patented improvements that affected earlier versions.

“Whenever I collect a new item, I look it over carefully to see
if I can find a patent date or number on it,” Robert explains. “If
it has a good number on it, I can go directly to the patent. If it
has only a date, it can take much more time.”

“I am lucky I live only 125 miles from the Patent Office,”
Robert explains. “I leave home early enough to be there when the
doors open at 8:30 a.m. and stay until closing at 8 p.m.” He also
makes considerable use of U.S. Patent Office Reports publications.
One of the difficulties Robert’s encountered with patent dates is
they don’t always match the actual date for the patent. “I think
some makers put incorrect patent dates on their products to confuse
their competitors,” Robert suggests. “It certainly makes my
research more difficult.” However, because all patents were issued
on Tuesdays, he always checks the listed patent date against a
perpetual calendar.

Robert is also quick to point out that patent names aren’t
necessarily the manufacturing names. For example, Louden Machinery
Co. of Fairfield, Iowa, and F.E. Meyers & Bros. of Ashland,
Ohio, were two of the largest manufacturers of haymow forks. These
companies both sold their goods through catalogs such as Sears,
Roebuck & Co. and other hardware catalogs, and more than likely
produced hay tools with names other than their own on them, so
patent information is particularly important in understanding how
the differently named forks are related to one another. Other
manufacturers, like A.J. Nellis, often marked their haymow forks
with patent and manufacturing information more clearly, although
Robert has discovered many Rogers patent forks bear the Nellis

One of the windfalls resulting from Robert’s thousands of hours
at the Patent Office is that he has stumbled quite literally on
other interesting tools while there. He says one of the most
difficult aspects to spending time researching patents is staying
on track.

For more information visit the U.S. Patent & Trademark
Office’s website: (571) 272-3275; or visit the
Public Search Facility – Madison East, 1st Floor, 600 Dulany St.,
Alexandria, VA 22314

  • Published on Nov 1, 2005
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