Had to Carry Hay Rope

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, June 26, 1914:  Oh, I had to carry the hay rope, while Ruthie led the horse.

Hay,Pulley.crop

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

There is a seasonal ebb and flow to the diary—and generally I really enjoy looking at similar diary entries that were written in different years from a different angle each year. But, I hope that you’ll bear with me because I’m going to repost a post for the third time since it so aptly explains what Grandma was describing in this diary entry.

Hay Pulleys and Ropes

(Previously Posted on June 24, 2011 and November 23, 2013)

A hundred years ago hay was not baled. Instead dried loose hay was brought into the barn on a wagon and then hoisted into the mow using a rope and pulley system.

I called my father to get help figuring out what “carry the hay rope” meant. My father guesses that Grandma was half carrying and half dragging the hay rope to keep the horse from inadvertently stepping on it. Let me explain how they used to get hay from the wagon into the haymows.

(Some of you probably know much more about how hay was made in the old days—and please feel free to jump in if I’m not explaining it quite right.)

Dad said that when he was young there were pulleys on a track that ran down the center of the inside of the barn roof. Depending upon where the farmer wanted to pile the hay the pulleys would be moved along the track. A young man with excellent balance would climb up onto a beam in the barn rafters and move the pulleys along the track as needed.

One end of the rope was attached to a large clamp (hay hook) that was used to pick up a large bunch of loose hay from the wagon.

The rope went then went through the pulley system—and the other end of the rope was attached to a horse. On command the horse walked forward and the pulleys lifted the hay into the mow.

The hay was then released and the rope went limp and a portion of it would fall to the barn floor. The horse would then be walked back to the original position and the process would be repeated.

My father says that when he was a child, the adult men did the heavy work, and the children did the easier jobs. His older sister Marjorie would lead the horse as it pulled the hay upward—and then circle it back to the original position after the hay was released.

And my father would pick up the rope when it fell to the floor after the hay was released and keep it away from the horse’s feet. Dad says that if a horse stepped on the rope it would damage it by breaking some of the strands. Then there would be the risk of the damaged rope breaking, which might result in a dangerous accident if it broke while the hay was being lifted.

29 Responses

  1. or the horse may even hurt itself. What an interesting process. I’ve always just thought hay was baled.
    Diana xo

  2. So interesting! I’ve learned something new today, thanks to you! (And your dad’s explanation!)

    • I’m glad you liked it. When my dad explained the process involved in getting hay into the barn to me several years ago, I was surprised how complex it was.

  3. Interesting explanation and what a slow process like a lot of farming in those days… Does that mean your grandmother was doing heavy work and her sister the light part?

    • It sounds like it doesn’t it. Of course the day prior to this entry she wrote, “. . I leaded some hay for today and Daddy growled at the result. . .”

      I’m guessing that she had the lighter, but perhaps more challenging job that day–but somehow messed up, so she got demoted to carrying the rope.

  4. Very Interesting. They certainly win my admiration for they’re ingenuity to be able to figure out how to do all that. Wow!

  5. They sure worked hard back then. Do you think we could keep up today? (I don’t believe I could.)

  6. I can remember the hay hook in the haymow at our farm, just hanging unused from the rafters. I never saw, or knew, how it was used. Jeez, farmers worked so hard.

    • Wow, it’s awesome that they still had the old hay hook hanging from the rafters. It was long gone in the barn on the farm that I grew up on.

  7. Appreciate the explanation Sheryl. Sounds like Grandma got the tougher job.

  8. From Forbes Magazine:

    The 10 Deadliest Jobs:

    1. Logging workers
    2. Fishers and related fishing workers
    3. Aircraft pilot and flight engineers
    4. Roofers
    5. Structural iron and steel workers
    6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
    7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
    8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers
    9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
    10. Construction laborers

    I imagine that a hundred years ago, farmers would be even higher on the list.

    • There is a lot that I really like about farm life–but you’re absolutely right–farming is dangerous work. I know many people, including some relatives, who were gravely injured, or died, in farm accidents.

  9. When I had the horse job, I drove a small ford tractor forward and backward. I had to be careful not to back over the rope.

    Here is a video of the old process by some Iowa farmers. You get the idea after about 3 minutes. No need to watch the whole thing. I hope you don’t mind my posting it here.

  10. Yup! That was the way we did it, too. Mom led the horse and I hauled rope. My parents had a way of making hard work seem like fun.

  11. Thank you for the explanation. It is very interesting.

  12. those were the days when no one on the farm was exempt from bringing in the hay!

  13. I’ll bet there wasn’t much problem with obesity in those days!

    • You’re probably right–though Grandma periodically worried about her weight in the diary (but maybe that was just a winter thing).

  14. I don’t remember any of my family having a hay hook but I do remember very well the pitch fork to get the hay in and out of the hay loft. This was an interesting post and video. Hugs

  15. My grandfather used a horse operated pulley system to hoist his hay. I was allowed to watch but told to stay at a distance. Jane

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