Introduction to the Barn Hay Carrier

I believe barn hay carrier had a important role in the success of the Midwest farm. It rolls on a track at the very top of the barn and made the filling of large barns with hay and bedding a manageable task. The large barn was needed for livestock to survive and allowed farmers to prosper during the harsh winters.


The barn hay carrier, also called a trolley, needed to be a very reliable device due to it's location. The peak of the barn juts out, extending the track, so the lift pulley drops down outside the barn. Under the peak, a large barn door was needed as it limited the amount of hay carried each load. A "trip block" is bolted to the track, under the peak, which locks the carrier position and releases the lift pulley to drop down to the hayrack, which is a hay wagon with a flat bed and a upright back. A loaded hayrack is parked next to the barn where it can be unloaded and the hay moved into the "mow", the second floor of the barn. A large pull rope is attached to a horse or tractor, typically 1 inch diameter, which can lift 7000 pounds, threads through several pulleys, to the top of the barn, and to the carrier and lift pulley. Hanging from the lift pulley is a hay fork or a sling, which has a trip rope attached to release the hay and to pull the carrier back out to the peak for the next load. The carrier above is a Louden Junior.

The hay insulates the barn and is actually exothermic, i.e. gives off heat , which at the extreme has caused many a barn to burn down due to spontaneous combustion. Combined with the livestock a good barn was fairly warm even on the coldest winter day. The Midwest had the native timber for the barns and the number of acres required to raise beef and horses was reasonable. I have collected carriers, pulleys, track, and trip blocks to create a display at the at Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum. The display has 3 tracks with 6 carriers, one on each end. On each track, near the center there is a "trip block" that releases the lift pulley to drop down, conversely when the pull rope raises the lift pulley back into the carrier, it is released to roll. The frame was a pallet rack, such as seen in the Museum holding engines and farm equipment. A full hayrack is parked under the barn peak, then the person who sets or "sticks fork" climbs up the back of the hayrack, and pulls the "trip rope" to bring the carrier out to "trip block releasing the lift pulley to drop down to the hayrack. The forks are carefully positioned, around a set of bales, and forced down into the bales, and is called "sticking fork". The setup is checked, and when ready, at loud "OK" is yelled to the operator , on the tractor attached to the pull rope, which slowly lifts the load of bails, up the side of the barn. As the lift pulley clicks into the carrier, it rolls into the barn. The person in the mow, yells "trip", and the "trip rope" is yanked, releasing the bails and then as the tractor is reversed, it is pulled, to bring the carrier back out to the peak for another load. When short of man power, the position to dump the bails can be determined by observing the position of the pull rope. After six trips, the hayrack is empty and ready to be exchanged in the hay field, for a full load.

The "sticking fork" is dangerous, as the forks need to grabbed, as they drop, and positioned on the bails for the next lift. Bails can drop out any time, but usually the lower center bails, which are held in only by friction. There tends to be a jerk, when the lift pulley, hits the carrier, and the motion changes from upward, to into the barn, and a bail falls the height of the barn. Jumping from the top of the load, occasionally seems to be the best option. Operating the pull tractor is a choreography of movement, slowing almost to a stop, as the load is lifted, for the person "sticking fork" to slow the swinging, then speeding up until the load approaches the carrier. and slowing again as it reaches it. Then speeding after the load rolls into the barn, until the load is tripped, when the tractor is reversed, and raced back to the start point, without driving over the pull rope. Another pause is needed as the forks drop down to the hayrack. When I was "sticking fork", as a teenager, a hayrack could be unloaded in less then 10 minutes.

William Louden, of Fairfield, Iowa, invented the barn hay carrier and the patent was dated September 24, 1867. He started Louden Machinery Co., to supply farmers, with labor saving equipment, and by 1925 had sold "millions" of carriers.

It has been said that William Louden did for barns what Cyrus McCormick did for reapers and John Deere did for plows. As farmer began to use hay carriers, the design of barns changed radically; they could be built higher and longer, enabling farmer to store more hay, which in turn meant they could keep more livestock over the winter. Louden saw the change in barn design as a chance to help farmer by offering them a free barn planning service, begun in 1907 to help farmers erect more efficient barns (designed to use Louden barn equipment, of course). coincided with the invention of barbed wire which confined grazing animals in large areas, compared with rail fences, barbed wire became common in the 1880s, galvanized woven wire in the 1890s and Steel posts in the 1920s. The Louden Barn Plans Catalog of 1915, was 111 pages, with 74 barn designs of all shapes, sizes and uses.

the Louden Machinery Co. catalog (a PDF, which is slower, so it is elsewhere), see Hay Tool Collectors page

The reason I got interested in this collection, comes from observing many barn carriers without the lift pulley, such as in barn carrier display, the wood framed hay trolley display, did not have a lift pulley, until I modified one to fit it. After seeing many barn carrier displays in farm museums across the Midwest, I was disappointed. I wanted to display a functional barn carrier, this required track and trip blocks, which are very rare, due to the location under the barn peak. Hay bales are about 22 inches wide by 44 inches long by 15 inches high and weigh 60 to 80 pounds, sometimes over 100 pounds.


not to scale; support cable and return wire need to be longer than the barn. The weight was usually a container filled with rocks for easy adjustment, to compensate for the drag of the pull rope. A milk can worked well.

To help explain this process, This diagram shows the side view of a hayrack, which has 9 rows, 4 high and 2 wide for 72 bales. Figure 1, shows the top 2 bales of the first row, out of place. For easier loading, and increased stability, they are placed on top of the load.


A ramp of bales can make this easier. Prior to "sticking fork" they are re-positioned to the front row

my animation of unloading hayrack

unloading hayrack

steel track quickly replaced 4x4 wooden track, note: Cloverleaf trip versus my hand made trip, in the gallery

Diagrams of carrier and forks lifting hay bales

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Lifting baled hay into barn

Click to enlarge

baled_hay.jpg baledhay_forks.jpg lifting_12_bales.jpg bales_near_barn.jpg
forks hanging over baled hay forks in hay bales lifting 12 bales bales near barn carrier

Speed was important for the best feed quality, the dryer the hay, the more the leaves are dropped, reducing protein. An overnight delay meant exposure to the morning dew and increased risk of rain, which would reduce the feed value by half. It was a delicate balance, as the hay needed to be dry enough, to not spontaneous combust in the barn. I remember my dad making a comment when we past by a field of green hay being baled, that he hoped it was being stored outside. That farmers barn did burn down that fall.

I recall that 2000 bales was a good day. Simple math yields 2300 bales is a load every 15 minutes for 8 hours.

Gambrel Roofed barn


Gambrel Roof was a popular barn design known for the useable interior space they create. This type of roof generally has two shallow slopes at the top, followed by two lower steep slopes. Yet this light weight design was strong enough to support the carrier.

It has been said that good Farmer could fix anything with baling wire and pliers, except the weather. The hay press increased the quality of the hay and more could be stored. Preformed wire became economical, straight with a loop at one end and 10 feet long. When I was boy, (50's) there was still a pile of baling wire on the farm from the 40's. For more info see: History of the Hay Press, on the Hay Tool WEB site list, which is on the Hay Tool Collectors page

This is getting a little long, but while I have displayed, I have kept track of the common questions, such as

Why are barns almost always painted red?

Iron oxide is an inexpensive dye that when mixed with linseed-oil was a cheap paint with good durability and coverage and long lasting so red became a staple color choice. Ferrous or iron oxide is a poison to many fungi, including mold and moss, when growing on the barn would trap moisture in the wood, increasing decay, which weakens the wood.

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