When was the last time you saw something mechanical, something that really
represented the world of pulleys and levers? It’s seems like we’re ashamed of the mechanical and cover it up with
sheet metal or we replace pushrods and cables with hydraulic cylinders. There is a reminder of the mechanical world society
now stores in the back of the closet. This little chunk of mechanical history is the hay trolley.
A hay trolley is the little contraption that runs on track inside the
peak of a barn roof. The trolley serves as a block and tackle to pull hay from the rack to the roof then leaps into action
as transport and carries the load into the barn on steel wheels. Farmers always knew that stored hay provided better nutrition
than hay exposed to the weather but it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the hay trolley made storing hay easier.
My dad recently walked me through the workings of a trolley while I held a mental picture. Hay was presented on a rack under
the portion of the roof that projected in front of the barn. Loops of rope had been placed under the hay already so a block
was attached to the loops then pulled by cable up to the “flying Dutchman.” When the block reached the trolley
it locked into place and also released the trolley brake. The whole load could now slide into the barn where a rope would
release the fresh hay to await it’s final destiny in front of a delighted cow.
Hay trolleys have become something of a family heirloom in the last few
decades. I spoke with Gary Marlin of Winterset, Iowa recently. Gary got into hay trolleys in the last few years and has repaired,
painted and sold about three hundred of them. He has about two hundred trolleys on hand that range in age from a Myers model
from 1873 to more current models. Hay trolleys lost their purpose completely by the 1940’s with the introduction of
reliable balers. Mr. Marlin owns a vary rare trolley called “the Badger” The Badger rolled on a wooden four by
four instead of steel track and is valued around $1000. Gary is a valuable source of trolley history and told me about a “Slider”
trolley that had no wheels to transport hay. The Slider slid it’s load inside the barn on a wooden track that was installed
at a decline and had to be greased prior to each use. I’ve seen several of Gary’s trolleys on the internet and
they range from the one hundred and ten pound “Badger” to other models that are artistic to the point they look
like fine jewelry.
I love the looks and simple mechanics of the hay trolley. It reminds
me of helping my dad and of simpler times. I think if we could appreciate the practical beauty of hay trolleys we could appreciate
the other basic elements in life that create lasting happiness. But that’s just me, I like hay trolleys.