Today, petroleum-based products are essential to farm operations. But for thousands of years, fodder – specifically, hay – was the most critical form of fuel on the farm. Up to the late 18th century, the process of making hay remained essentially unchanged. By the 1850s, though, the impact of the Industrial Revolution was unmistakable.
In this article, the second segment of a three-part series on hay equipment (see Part 1 and Part 3), the focus is on sulky rakes. As mowing machines evolved and became increasingly refined, the logical next step was development of a device to lift newly cut hay into windrows where it could dry and cure. By the late 1800s, the marketplace was flooded with rakes, tedders and loaders.
Most Midwest farmers remember the early rakes their ancestors used to bring in the hay harvest.
Some even keep one of the old relics on display as a nod to the past and to the technology that greatly increased farm productivity.
The revolving horse-rake
The revolving horse-rake, a rather primitive device, was patented in 1836 by Hiram Hunt, Bridgewater, N.Y. In his 1888 book Farm Appliances: A Practical Manual, George A. Martin noted that the rake was “especially useful in raking cornstalks that have been cut by a mower or otherwise, and tall reeds and other rubbish. It can also be adapted to the raking of hay and straw, by making the teeth lighter and placing them 6 inches or less apart.”
The revolving rake was typically 10 feet wide, allowing farmers to bring it through a gate. Teeth were made of tough wood, which, according to Martin, were “well seasoned, 2 inches square, and the pieces cut about 4 inches long. They are then tapered slightly toward the ends, and trimmed in the middle to fit in holes bored with a 2-inch auger; thus prepared, they are inserted 1 foot apart, and secured in place with light bolts.”
The revolving horse-rake made comparatively quick work of gathering windrows and practically raked the field clean. “But something better was in store for the farmer,” wrote Robert L. Ardrey in his 1894 book American Agricultural Implements. “In due time, the spring-tooth sulky rake was perfected. With it the work could be done more rapidly and windrows were left in better condition for loading. There are two classes: the hand-dump and the self-dump, the former being operated by a lever and the latter by a foot trip throwing into connection a ratchet in the wheel to raise the teeth and leave the hay in the windrow.”
Debut of the dump rake
Dating to the late 1860s, the dump rake is an example of early rake design. The dump rake gathered dry hay from a swath, explains C.H. Wendel in Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques. A hand lever was used to deposit the hay in a windrow. A power-lift device was added to later rakes so a simple trip lever could be used to raise the teeth.
In 1876 A.W. Coates Co., Alliance, Ohio, boasted that 97,000 of the company’s “Lock Lever” hay and grain rakes were in use: “Twenty steel teeth. No ratchet wheels, friction bands, nor other complicated machinery needed to operate it. Slight touch of lever and driver’s weight dumps it. Best self dump in market. Best and easiest working rake in the world. A small boy rakes easily 20 acres per day with the Coates’ Lock Lever. Send for circulars.”
In spite of Coates’ claims, there were few basic differences between dump rakes. However, each company had a slightly different approach to the lifting system, wheel design or curvature of the teeth. The Daisy rake manufactured in the late 1880s by Gilliland, Jackson & Co., Monroe City, Mo., was a push rake positioned in front of the team; other push rakes were positioned back of the team. Sweep rakes (also known as buckrakes or bullrakes) were popular in some areas of the country, particularly the Midwest.
Walter A. Wood Mowing & Reaping Machine Co., Hoosick Falls, N.Y., was a pioneer manufacturer in the dump rake line, making both self- and hand-dump rakes. Wood offered either wood- or steel-wheel rakes with wooden axles. The trip operating the 10- and 12-foot dump rake was under the driver’s foot.
Side-delivery rakes began appearing in the 1880s, but were not really perfected until about 1890. Their function was to lift hay into light windrows with the green leaves turned in, protecting them from sunshine and enhancing the curing process.
“The side-delivery rake is an invention brought out in recent years,” Ardrey wrote, explaining the device’s superiority to the dump rake. “It is to be used in connection with a hay loader. It is difficult to rake the hay with an ordinary sulky rake so that it will lie in long windrows convenient for the hay loader to take it up, and inventors have been seeking a new form of rake that would leave a continuous windrow at the side.”
Chambers, Bering & Quinlan Co., Decatur, Ill., marketed one of the first side-delivery rakes, the start of the C.B.&Q. line, in the late 1880s. Kick forks in gangs of three were mounted on the shaft, with four gangs in all. The shaft was operated by a gearing and link belt from one of the forward wheels.
Stoddard Mfg. Co., Dayton, Ohio, put the Beck side-delivery rake on the market shortly before 1894. Ardrey described the unit as “decidedly novel in its principle and construction. It has three raking reels, which operate in series and carry the hay to one side. The fingers are long, elastic spokes with a hub set below the line of the driving shaft, from which motion is transmitted to the spokes by a driving-wheel that acts on each spoke separately through a loose sliding thimble to carry it forward.” Stoddard also produced Hollingsworth, Tiger and Triumph rakes.
Side-delivery rake designs soon overtook the dump rake and continued to be popular even as tractors replaced horses. Ultimately, though, farmers replaced antiquated rakes with modern equipment designed to withstand a tractor’s greater speed. The technology advanced, but the goal remained the same. McCormick-Deering’s 1945 side-delivery rakes were described in company brochures as being “used to place the mowed crop in loose, fluffy windrows, with the bulk of the leaves turned inward and the stems outward. The stems are thus subject to faster drying by the sun while the leafy portion of the plant is in the shade, protected from bleaching and over-curing. Hay cured in this manner will have better color and less leaf loss.”
Hay tedders and loaders
Mowers and rakes increased yields, but it was the hay loader that saved farmers’ backs. The hay loader (mounted on wheels and towed behind a wagon) gathered hay from the ground and lifted it to the wagon rack, neatly eliminating the backbreaking and painfully slow process of tossing loose hay with pitchforks from the ground to the top of a stack on a wagon. Simple but effective, the hay loader’s basic design and function endured for more than half a century until the advent of the hay baler.
Hay loaders were developed just before the Civil War and were commonly available by the 1880s. The most successful early loaders, notes Sam Moore in Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules, “featured a cylindrical or reciprocal raking mechanism, along with a chain and slat conveyor – or, later, a system of reciprocating raker bars – that ran up a slanted framework to a height of about 10 feet.” Hay was lifted to the conveyor, carried up and dumped on the wagon, where a man with a pitchfork positioned it.
Tedders were used to lift hay for drying, particularly when rain had fallen after cutting. Tedders did not form windrows but instead tossed the grass, leaving it crossed in every direction, for quick and even drying.
Development of mechanized mowers and rakes greatly increased the amount of hay available to feed livestock, making production advances available there as well. But storage and transport of fodder during a period of significant growth was a real challenge. Continue reading: “Part 3: Hay Press Helped Farmers Meet Market Demands.” Also see “Part 1: Evolving from Manual Mowing.” FC
Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.