Rise of the Jayhawk: An Overshot Hay Stacker

Patented in 1915, this decades-old overshot Jayhawk hay stacker is an engineering marvel.


| June 2006



A casting showing the Jayhawk hay stacker’s heritage.

A casting with the Wyatt Manufacturing Co. name shows the heritage of the Jayhawk hay stacker. 

According to the dictionary, the jayhawk is a fictitious bird. But the Jayhawk at the Wykoff, Minn., home of Marv Grabau swoops through the air, bearing a 600-pound load of hay.

Marv's Jayhawk is an overshot hay stacker, a piece of horse-drawn farm equipment patented in 1915. Manufactured by the F. Wyatt Mfg. Co. (which evolved into what is today the Hesston Corp.) in Salina, Kan., the long and leggy Jayhawk is a clutch-driven creature that stumps almost every onlooker. Measuring 12 feet wide, 30 feet long and 12 feet high with an 80-inch rear axle, the Jayhawk has a "head" (or "sweep") originally used to lift hay into bins or cribs. "The head trips like a trip bucket on a tractor," Marv says. "When it gets up so high, there's a lever that dumps the load." The sweep could hold approximately 600 pounds of loose hay as it swept overhead.

Marv suspects his Jayhawk was originally driven by a worker who reined horses from alongside the implement, because the piece has no evidence of having had a seat near the rear-situated tongue, which has two yokes to accommodate a team of four horses. "There were four horses - two abreast - and they pushed it to pull it. The picture I have shows a seat back behind the levers, but this one has no drilling for that, as far as we can see," he says. "With the horses behind and the levers in front, it almost had to have a person walking alongside to rein the horses and engage and disengage the levers. That's largely unanswered, though. If there was a seat, it was in front of the first yoke of horses."

A pair of curved metal bars, placed a quarter of the way on each side of the front axle, help keep the self-centering device on course. "These pieces of iron kept it from getting too far to the sides when it's coming down on a hillside," Marv says. "It centers it back when it's on the ground so it doesn't push (the sweep) too far left or right."

The Jayhawk dates to an era when cut hay was left in the fields, and later mounded for storage. "You had your hay windrowed with the old-fashioned dump rake," Marv explains. "This sweep, or head, would push up, and when the sweep or head was full, you'd go over to a basket or crib - sometimes they had a crib, sometimes they didn't - and stack it up inside. This particular stacker is 12 feet high, so you could get stacks of hay approximately 12 feet high. Then you'd pack it down and form a top on it like a bread loaf to help it shed water. You just kept moving around in the field, making these stacks until you were done."

A victim of advances in agricultural technology, a Jayhawk surviving today is a rare bird indead. Fewer still were found in states such as Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Marv's Jayhawk originally belonged to a pair of brothers who farmed near Chatfield, Minn. "As far as I know, it's the only one in Fillmore County," Marv says. "They were more common out west." The unit remained in use into the 1970s. In the 1980s, machinery collector Wes Anderson bought the Jayhawk at an auction, and later donated it to Marv "because he knows we won't sell it or get rid of it," Marv says.