41 Harvesting Hay the Old Fashioned Way
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
The harvest operation using a hay loader nearly 100 years ago.
When it’s time to harvest the hay today, we see large hay crushers pulled by tractors with enclosed cabs rolling through the fields. The farmer sits in air conditioning, listening to music on the built-in sound system. It wasn’t always this way.
In the days before tractors and other farm equipment were invented, harvesting hay was a labor-intensive operation. The tools of choice were the scythe and a hay rake. The scythe was used to “mow” or cut the hay, and the wooden rake was used to pull the hay into piles. The scythe has been around for over 5,000 years and has been used on farms and to mow lawns, too.
An old scythe
Over time, the scythe and rake were replaced by mowers and combines. The hay loader like the one pictured above was commonly used in Blawenburg in the early part of the 20th century. It greatly automated the moving of hay to the barn for storage.
The late Ed Terhune remembered the use of hay loaders that were pulled by horses in a Montgomery Oral History interview by Larry Koplik in 1997. “Well, it (hay loader) hooks on the back of the wagon. It’s a big thing and it has tines on it. The hay was rolled up in a line by a hay rake and then this thing would come along and pick up the hay and drop it in the wagon. When the wagon gets filled with hay, you’d unhook it and take the wagon to the barn and unload it. Things are different today. They have these big balers now.”
Illustration of a hayfork operation
Getting the hay from the field was step one. The next step was to get it into the barn and to the storage area. There was a large hayfork on tracks that was used to lift the hay to the storage area in the barn. This device was also called a hay trolley.
Ed recalled that operation, too. “… you pull into the barn with a wagon. You unhook the horses and go around and hook them to a rope with a pulley attached to it. … the hayfork was up in the top of the barn and it would be brought down. It was an immense big thing. And it would grab hold of a lot of hay and the horse would pull it up to a track. It would be pushed along the track to wherever you wanted to unload the hay and then you’d pull a lever and the thing (hayfork) would open up and all the hay would drop down.”
The track and pulley system with a hayfork.
Compare the hay loader and hayfork to today’s operation with automatic baling in square bales (that are rectangular) or rolls. If there is barn storage, conveyers move the bails to the barn for placement. Rolls are sometimes wrapped in plastic and left outside.
Farming is hard work today, even with all the modern equipment that is used. In the manual labor days of farming, there was some ingenious equipment that made some difficult jobs a bit easier. Whoever said, “Necessity is the mother of invention” was right. I’m sure that the farmers who first used the hay loader and hayfork were very thankful that those inventions made farming easier. If they could see how things are done now, they would be shocked.
1. When hay loaders were used, most of Montgomery Township was farmland. There were pockets of houses in sections like Blawenburg and Harlingen, but it was more common to see farms when you rode around the township.
2. Farming with scythes and rakes was exhausting work. Farmers needed a lot of help to harvest the hay and other fields of grain.
3. The scythe is often pictured with Father Time to represent the forward march of time. The scythe was a reminder to farmers during the fall harvest that another year had passed. It is sometimes called the Grim Reaper because of its association with time that cannot be recaptured. The scythe is also associated with New Year’s Eve as the old year passes.
Koplik, Lawrence. The “Unofficial” Mayor of Blawenburg, Oral History 05-20, Belle Mead, NJ, The Van Harlingen Historical Society, Inc., 2005.
Hayfork operation – http://www.hemlockandcanadicelakes.com
Hayfork pulley system – source unknown
Hay loader – shared by Tom Skillman many years ago.
Copyright © 2020 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.