Stranded on the Manure Carrier

Fun on a northern Illinois farm quickly takes a turn for the worse when stuck in a manure carrier

| July 2005

Most of my growing-up summers were spent on my grandfather's farm in northern Illinois. While there were many things on the farm to fascinate a young boy, I was especially intrigued by the manure carriers (more euphemistically called "litter carriers"), not to be confused with manure spreaders.

The farm had three of these manure carriers: two in the part of the barn reserved for young cattle and "heifers in waiting," and one for the dairy cattle in the milking section. Each carrier operated on an overhead trolley system, consisting of a long, heavy carrier wire, and two trolley wheels supporting a pivoting hopper. The hopper would invert to dump the load. One end of the carrier wire was anchored inside the barn; the other end was attached to a heavy post about 80 feet outside of the barn.

I often watched in fascination as my Uncle Amos shoveled manure from the floor gutters into the hopper. This was a daily chore in the dairy cattle section. After loading the carrier, he would lean into it like a football lineman pushing a training sled. With a mighty shove, he sent it zooming out the barn door to the end of the line. The wire would literally sing as the carrier made its way to the triplock. The triplock was a projecting piece mounted on the wire. It caught a lever on the carrier and made the hopper dump at a preset spot.

There was a resounding ploppity-plop as the fresh manure splattered on the ground. The carrier would then coast back into the barn by gravity for another load. When the job was finished, Amos would lift the carrier wire over a hook on top of the doorway. This gave the wire enough elevation to keep the carrier outside, where it would not interfere with milking operations.

My intrigue with manure carriers eventually put me and my two cousins, Ted and Marilyn, into a precarious situation. One day, we had the farm to ourselves. With the exception of our Uncle Everitt, who was cultivating corn, the adults in the family had gone to town for shopping. They thought we three cousins were responsible enough to look after ourselves for the few hours they would be gone. Bad assumption!

After looking for something to do, we settled on playing with one of the manure carriers. Using a milking stool to stand on, I was able to unhook the carrier wire in the doorway. The carrier responded by rolling into the barn. After getting bored with shoving the carrier back and forth, we decided to give each other rides.