From handling hay to shearing sitting sheep, these old-time tools filled unique roles around the homesteads of yesteryear.
In the years before cheap oil, homesteaders invented an astounding array of tools to accomplish work more efficiently using only human power. Who knows? A hundred years from now, we may again be using some of these low-tech, non-polluting devices. The following profiles of antique farm tools were selected from a new book, Field Guide to Mystery Farm Tools, published by our sister magazine, Farm Collector. This fun and informative look at hundreds of old tools is $7.99, and you can order it by visiting the Farm Collector website.
If sheep are set on their rumps, the animals become very calm and are easier to shear. The 1875 patent for this sheep-shearing chair says, “The sheep, having been placed on the seat in the position desired for commencing the clipping, is not moved during the entire process. As the clipping progresses, the platform is revolved, so as to bring the rack into different relative positions to the sheep.” (The shearer leans the sheep against the rack while shearing it.) Patent granted to Charles McCall and James McCall, Morristown, Ohio, April 6, 1875.
Fruit crushers were used to crush peaches, apricots, cherries and blackberries for jam and jelly; apples for cider, sauce or apple butter; and grapes for juice or wine. The device shown is 24 inches long, 7 inches wide and 3 inches deep. The rollers are 5 inches long and have an outside diameter of 3 inches. The rollers and gears are made of steel, and springs press the axle of one roller against the other. The crusher in the photo is missing the hopper that would hold the supply of fruit. Patent granted to Raffaele Baccellieri, Philadelphia, Aug. 28, 1928.
“My uncle built timber frame barns in the early 1900s and used a drill such as the one pictured to drill holes in timber for the wooden pins to be driven into,” says Bernard Geisel, a Farm Collector reader from Sturgeon Bay, Wis. “You would put the correct size bit in for the size of wooden pin, set the machine on the timber, sit on the tail, and turn the handles. It was a necessary tool for timber framing.”
The platform measures 30 inches long, and the whole apparatus is 24 inches tall. You can adjust the angle of the bore (it doesn’t have to be 90 degrees). The handles have bolts with wing nuts to extend the arms, creating more leverage for tougher jobs. The photo includes a holder that may have been used for a rod or bit. Patent granted to Geo. F. Rice, Worcester, Mass., Dec. 21, 1858.
Farmers used this binder to compress bundles of cornstalks before tying and standing them up in shocks to dry. The binder in the photo may have been homemade and is missing the rope for pulling the cornstalks together, and possibly other parts. No patent information is available for this design.
This tool has one sharp edge, and the other end has a threaded eye where a handle may have been attached. “The sharp end was used for skinning deer or elk, the hook was for ripping hide, and the threaded end was so you could cut a green limb and thread it into the end, making it a hatchet,” says Randy Acree a Farm Collector reader from Hood River, Ore. “It was designed to use as a hatchet, and to cut and split bones. Our hunting party of six carried these for years, and we still use them.” Patent granted to Herbert F. Frisbie, Springfield, Va., June 8, 1965.
Farmers could grab and carry more hay with this tool than with a simple pitchfork. P.T. Rathbone a Farm Collector reader from Marsing, Idaho, explains, “The idea is to open the tines or jaw, thrust it into a shock or pile of hay, then close the jaw and move the material where you want it. I’m glad I never had to use one!” Patent granted to Martin C. Randleman and Zouave S. Randleman, Carlisle, Iowa, June 12, 1888.
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