Hooked on Hooks

Reader Contribution by James N. Boblenz
1 / 8
2 / 8
3 / 8
4 / 8
5 / 8
6 / 8
7 / 8
8 / 8

Show board with various hooks

Three sizes of blacksmith made hooks

Ever since I was a young boy and saw a picture of a pirate using a hook as a hand, hooks have fascinated me. Hooks come in two basic designs, T-handled and D-handled. Early hooks were all hand forged by the village blacksmith. And it seems that no two were alike, even from the same blacksmith. Later, enterprising manufacturers began to make hooks, but they still maintained the two basic styles of hooks.
In the 1940s and ’50s, almost everyone used a bale hook. That’s not true today. Nowadays, a bale hook is an oddity and very rarely used on the farm. Farmers operating small acreages or horsemen may use hooks, but for the most part farmers do not use bale hooks.

Two-prong Bag Hook

For years I’ve been collecting hay bale hooks, especially hooks made by local blacksmiths. Each hook seems to have its own personality. And every blacksmith, although using the same basic design, made each hook different. Some of the different blacksmith-made hooks include two- and three-prong hooks. I often wonder why a farmer – most probably a young man or boy – would want a two- or three-prong hook. They are heavier and seem to be a little harder to use. These unique hooks were probably more for show than for practical use. One other hook is really heavy. It’s made of ½-inch steel rod, flattened and bent into shape. The D-handle is welded to the shank. It’s a big hook for a big man.
Manufacturers came up with oddities, too. One, patented in Nebraska, has a thumb trip to release the hook, apparently to pull out of the bale easier. It doesn’t seem to work well for me, but then I did not use it all day long either. Another factory hook has a D-handle, but with a leather pad from handle to shank. This seems to be to protect one’s fingers while working with the hook. It seems a pair of gloves would have been more economical. This hook came from California.

A two-prong blacksmith-made hook (left) and a three-prong blacksmith-made hook (right)

As my collection grew, I became much more selective in which hooks would be added. But more importantly, I have found that many hooks were made for specific applications. Here are a few:
1. A large two-man hook used for scalding hogs at butchering time.

Stainless steel hook for packing house or brewery, easily sanitized

2. Small hooks to be used in packing houses. In early years, these small hooks were less than sanitary and were hard to clean. Later years, the hooks were made of stainless steel and the handles were of a plastic or fiber material into which blood would not soak. These were easily sterilized for better sanitation.
3. Breweries also used small, stainless steel hooks to move bales of hops. These hooks were also easily sterilized.
4. Sargent made a hook specially designed for stacking cordwood without mashing one’s fingers between ricks of wood in a cord.
5. Two-prong hooks for moving bags. These are short, sturdy hooks used in warehouses for moving bags, such as those used in shipping sheep wool.
And, of course, there is the old pirates’ hook they used when they lost a hand or arm. Old Captain Hook probably could no longer hold a fork or drink coffee with this limb, but he could certainly catch hold of a misbehaving crewman or an enemy pirate and hold him tight.

A thumb-release patented hook (left) and a factory-made hook with leather protector (right)
Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment