Contributed by Farmstead Assistant Sara Miller
In July, I introduced you to the art of small scale hay making. You were able to see step by step the labor intensive process of harvesting this important crop. As promised at the end of my last article, this month’s blog is devoted to the restoration of our 1903 hay trolley and the use of our 1919 hay press. But first, let’s start with some background information on the introduction of hay trolleys.
As I briefly described previously, up through the mid-1800s hay was cut by hand via use of a scythe. After drying in the sun for a day or two it was raked into piles and forked onto a hay wagon; all by hand of course. Finally, the hay would be hand forked into a barn loft. This was a very time-consuming and labor intensive operation. By the 1870s, horse-drawn mowers appeared which were able to cut swaths of hay three to four feet at a time. Horses then pulled dump rakes which dragged the hay into windrows. Horse-drawn hay loaders would then elevate the hay into the wagon and a pitch fork attached to a pulley on the barn roof would move the hay into the hay loft. The era of the hay carrier, or trolley, began in 1867 when William Louden received a U.S. patent for the world’s first hay carrier, and continued for the next 80-90 years.
Towards the back of our property, behind the Sweethome Schoolhouse, there is an old barn which is falling apart. This is the barn of the family who owned this property before the Town received it years ago. Inside, up in the hay loft, we discovered an old, 1903, hay trolley. We very carefully removed the trolley and brought it inside to be restored. Please see our Facebook Gallery for photos taken right after we removed everything; you can see how rusted and dirty it had become. It was covered in the remnants of old bird’s nests and bee hives.
I set to work restoring these gems by first using a wire brush to brush off as much of the dirt and rust that I could. Then I used sandpaper and a lot of elbow grease to really get to the rust that had accumulated over the years. I finished by taking some steel wool, and even more elbow grease, to buff out any remaining dirt and rust. When I had finished I had two beautiful antiques in front of me. The most rewarding part was the label I uncovered which had the manufacturers name on it.
I was of course curious after finding this label, and decided to do a little research into the company. This is what I found. Francis E. Myers of Ashland, Ohio opened a repair shop, which also sold farm equipment, with his brother Philip A. Myers in 1870. Their initial success was in water pumps, which they proudly displayed at the 1882 Ohio State Fair. In 1884 however, they received a patent for a hay carrier and the company was subsequently thrust into the spotlight as one of the largest manufacturers of barn track and hay carriers. For instance, in 1892 they produced 9,000 pulleys for their hay tool line. By 1902 this figure rose to 260,000, making them the biggest manufacturer in the entire state of Ohio by 1915. The company was incorporated in 1921 and was valued at six million dollars. They continued to succeed in the market but were eventually sold to McNeil Machine and Engineering Company in 1960. They were in turn sold to Pentair, Inc in 1986. But, here at BNHV F.E. Myers & Bro. of Ashland, Ohio lives on in our barn.
Once the trolley pieces were sanded and looking clean again, I primed them and then painted them. During my research of F.E. Myers & Bro. I looked at numerous photos of their trolleys and selected a paint which represented what the original would have looked like.
Now that the trolley is properly restored we can hang it in our barn. In order to do so Scott Schotz, Historic Buildings and Grounds Manager, had to build scaffolding so we could get up to the hay loft.
Once that was done, we were able to hang some horseshoes along to ceiling of the barn. The rail portion of the trolley was then inserted through the horseshoes.
We were then able to hang our beautifully restored hay trolley!
My last blog discussed how we loaded our hay into the hay loft using the hay trolley. Today I will discuss using Scott’s 1919 hay press.
The first mechanical hay press was invented in the mid-1800s but was a stationary unit built right into barns. These early presses required a team of horses to raise a press weight which is then dropped to compress the hay. The resulting hay bales would weigh an estimated 300 pounds! A wooden mobile hay press was invented in the 1860s, which was entirely manpowered. It was not until the turn of the century that a hay press powered by a belt pulley attached to a tractor was invented. With these presses, “hay is pitched into a hopper by hand where a gear-powered plunger pushes it into the bale chamber. A reciprocating plunger compresses the bale into a bale chute. A wooden block is introduced into the bale chamber to hold the bale shape and provide a means for tying the bale.” This is precisely how the 1919 hay press worked.