Why All Pitchforks Are Not Alike

| September/October 1996


3982 Bollard Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45209-1716

Old-time photographs of threshing scenes capture such details as engines belted to threshing machines, teams pulling wagons, and crews wearing broad-brimmed hats. Such testimonials to the past also show a most important but largely overlooked tool the pitchfork.

Grant Wood's famous painting American Gothic depicts a pitchfork in the hand of an unsmiling farmer, but little has been said to commemorate the implement which lifted the wheat bundles of yesteryear. In the early days of harvest, pitchforks were made entirely of wood and had two prongs. Before long, manufacturers fashioned the tines from iron. The handles continued to be made of wood, preferably hickory or ash.

A two-tined pitchfork would lift bundles (also called sheaves) or loose hay, but only an expert could prevent material from falling through between the tines. Workers with less skill could use three-tined pitchforks more conveniently. Certain three-pronged pitchforks were made of wood, but most had iron or steel tines.

The pitcher standing on the ground beside the bundle wagon used a pitchfork with a long handle. The bundle loader standing on the wagon used a pitchfork with a short handle. The short handles were approximately four feet in length. The long handles ran between four and a half and five and a half feet.

Pitchforks had relatively straight handles. According to Joseph C. Rhode of Pine Village, Indiana, 'the advantage in a straighter handle was that the bundles would slip off the tines more readily. They would tend to stick on the tines if the handle had too much curve. I've seen a few people with forks where the handle was perfectly straight, although the tines were curved slightly.'