Putting up Hay the Old-Fashioned Way

Remembering the old iron and teamwork that came together to fill the mow.

article image
courtesy Library of Congress
Jamming the hayfork into a pile of hay, which was then lifted to the mow by a hay carrier.

I grew up on a small dairy farm here in northern Wisconsin. We called it a “60 50” farm because although we did have some modern things, we still did some things the old way, and hay was one of them.

We put up our hay loose. For years, we used a horse mower pulled behind the tractor to cut the hay. We used a side-delivery rake to gather it and put it in windrows. Then we’d hook up the wagon and then the hay loader. This was similar to a baler but only to pick up the hay and move it up and onto the wagon. One of us would be on the wagon to spread out the hay. Once it was loaded came the next part.

A black and white photo of hay being lifted into a barn

In the barn mow, a track ran the length of the barn. A carriage rode on this track. A 1-inch rope was threaded in it and around a pulley with a hook. The pulley tripped catches to release the carriage so it could move to the other end. This rope was also called the “big rope.” It went out and down the front of the barn to another pulley that was anchored in concrete, and from there to the tractor.

The loaded hay would be brought close to the back of the barn. A smaller rope (or trip rope) would be tossed out the hay door onto the wagon. The man on the wagon would lead the trip rope to pull back the carriage in which the hay fork (or harpoon fork) was running from the pulley wheel into the carriage. Pulling it back brought the carriage into catches that released the pulley so the fork could be pulled down to the hay by the trip rope.

A black and white photo of hay being moved into wagons

Then the fork would be stuck into the hay. Two small arms would be raised and locked into place, causing a small finger to come out of the fork to hold the hay. Then the signal would be given.
The other end of the big rope would be hooked to the tractor and the tractor would start the pull. They’d raise the fork full of hay up to the carriage, hit the catches, and release the carriage to move into the mow with the hay. The man in the mow would holler where he wanted it and the man on the wagon would pull on the trip rope. This caused the small arm to come down and the hay would drop. Then the whole thing would be repeated until the wagon was unloaded.

For us, usually about three forkfuls is all it would take to unload. Sometimes the amount of hay the fork would take made us wonder if it would go in. The old barn would creak and groan at it and with a big whoosh, it would come in. To be honest, I sure do miss all the smells that came with haying time. FC

David Roy Hill lives in Ashland, Wisconsin.

  • Updated on Aug 21, 2021
  • Originally Published on Jul 19, 2021
Tagged with: farm life, hay
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