How to Build a Hay Wagon: Do It Yourself and Cheaply

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If you're making several trips back and forth for hay, stop. Larry Brumfield has advice and instructions on how to make your own wagon for cutting down your total number of trips to the field.

Sooner or later, most folks who put up more than a few tons of hay each summer begin to dream about owning a hay wagon. I know, after four years, we did.

To put up our ten acres of hay each season, my wife and I had to make about thirty-five round trips between the field and the barn in our trusty ’64 pickup (hoping all the while that it didn’t rain).

“If we only had a wagon,” we thought, “it could be hooked right behind our baler. Then one of us could stack the bundles of hay directly onto the wagon’s flat bed while the other drove and baled.” Attacked that way, the whole job could be done in a mere fraction of the time, using much less energy, without abuse to the old truck, and with a great deal less fear of rain. Terrific! The only problem was how to obtain a serviceable wagon at a reasonable cost.

We ruled out a new rig right away, since one that came complete with tires and a rack would have set us back five hundred bucks. (The least expensive one we saw at an auction went for $245, which was still too much.) A few calculations, however, convinced me that I could build my own hay carrier for a lot less than that. So, I added one more spring project to the “must do” list.

My first step — and the real key to this whole construction task — was to visit the nearest auto salvage dealer. I explained my problem to the man who worked there and we began to search for a car or truck chassis that could be converted to a hay wagon. Truck frames are a little heavier, and therefore perhaps more desirable but darn few usable ones turn up at junkyards. And anyway, the fellow working at the yard felt that an auto chassis would do just as well — so we finally settled on the undercarriage from a 1964 Chevy (although of course other makes and models would also have worked). After a little haggling, the salvage dealer agreed to cut the body and engine from the car and deliver the bare frame — with four usable tires — to my house for $28.00. I had my start!

(By the way, before I had even gotten down to construction, I noticed a nice little bonus: The car frame carried the remains of an old hydraulic cylinder-operated power steering system. I was later able to use the cylinder and two-way valves on another project as the hydraulic lift for a snowplow.)

Next, I was off to visit the new-and-used steel man. Here, I forked over $22.00 (at ten cents a pound) for a long pipe for the vehicle’s tongue, and a selection of used channel and angle iron. In the end, I used just about all of the steel that I bought.

Building a Tongue Bracket First

The first thing to do in order to make a car chassis into a hay wagon, I soon learned, is to construct a tongue (like the handle on a child’s little red wagon) so you can move the rig easier while you’re working on it. Initially what I did was weld two pieces of steel to the front of the frame — one directly above the other, as shown in Photo 3 — each with a 3/4-inch hole in it.

Remember that a hinge bolt has to fit through these two holes — so, needless to say, they must line up exactly. My own preference is to drill the holes first, and then weld the pieces to the frame. However you do it, be sure to mount these brackets very securely, because the entire weight of the loaded wagon is pulled from this single point. If the joint should fail at a critical time, someone could easily be hurt — or killed. So give it your best-ever weld job.

The tongue bracket — which pivots horizontally between the two pieces we’ve just welded to the frame — must next be mounted and linked to the front wheels by some short lengths of angle iron. To do this, I welded short pieces of angle to the tie rods and then attached them to the tongue bracket with Jam nuts (Photo 4.  Click on the “Image Gallery” to see all of Larry Brumfield’s photos of his hay wagon conversion.). Unless you’re a better engineer than I am, you’ll need to locate the proper bracket mounting point on the angle iron by trial and error before you drill the necessary assembly holes. (This is no problem, though, if you clamp the angle iron to the tongue bracket and observe the motion of the wheels as you move the tongue from side to side. Adjust the attach point so that the wheels turn at the same angle as the tongue, then mark and drill.)

You can simply weld two small flat plates to the end of the tongue itself and drill holes through them (Photo 6) for hooking the wagon to your truck, tractor, or whatever.

Notice how I use two nuts jammed together on all hinge bolts. This guarantees that the fasteners won’t come off yet doesn’t require that I tighten them down so much that they’d start to interfere with tongue movement.

Install the Bed Next

Once the tongue is finished, you’re ready to begin construction of the wagon’s bed or rack. I purchased all the lumber I needed for this part of the job, rough sawn, from a small mill in my neighborhood. The total cost  –including the bed’s sixteen-foot main beams — was a livable $25.00. Check around, though — you might be able to do better.

Before you start on the rack, you’ll need to change the wagon’s suspension system, for a couple of reasons. Number one, a full load of hay will almost certainly “bottom out” your springs — and unless you’ve built a very high bed, those floorboards are gonna end up on top of the tires. Secondly, with too much “give” in the springs the wagon stands a better chance of rolling over on a hillside. So the only satisfactory thing to do is make that suspension system quite firm — and the easiest way to do that is just leave the springs in place and weld a solid piece of channel or angle between the axle and frame so that there’s no give at all between the vehicle’s four wheels and its bed.

We’ve found that a rack sixteen feet long and seven feet wide is a pretty handy size for making hay. The two main beams — which run lengthwise down each side of the frame — can be spaced about four feet apart. To make attachment points for these support beams, I welded two small pieces of flat steel (Photo 5) onto the humps over the chassis’ rear axle, and two pieces of angle iron vertically to the rear of the frame. A plank running across the frame fits between and is bolted to these pieces of angle, and is also just tall enough so that the main lengthwise support beams will rest flush on this plank and on the rear wheel humps. This divides the weight of the rack between two different points of support on each side of the rear of the frame.

The main beams are supported in front by a second crossmember similar to the one placed between the vertical angle brackets in back (Photo 6). This not only raises the heavy lengthwise timbers to a level position, but spreads them wider in front than fastening them directly to the bare chassis would allow.

Our entire family had fun laying down the sheeting boards for the bed of the wagon. My wife and I would start the nails, and the youngsters would then quickly pound them in. The whole project took only a half hour or so.

About the only other thing I’d recommend you do is spike a couple of long boards onto each side of the rack in order to: help hold the sheeting planks together, distribute the weight of a load more evenly over the floorboards, and help keep hay from sliding off the wagon whenever you pull it across a steep hillside.

Wagon-Making Business Next?

There’s more than one way to make a hay wagon, of course, but the above method has served us well for each of the three wagons we’ve now constructed. Yes, three because the first one worked so well that I sold it for enough money to build two more for myself! Either of the two we now have can carry up to 120 bales at a time — although 80 or 90 is normal — which allows us to cut, by two-thirds, the number of haying trips we currently make to the barn. And that, in turn, saves us time, energy, and money.

Now if I just didn’t have to walk alongside my baler and tie all the strings the darn thing misses, I’d have it made!