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Memories of Canadice NY

The Horse Fork

By Mina Preston Oliver - The Canadice Chronicle

July 1995

When I heard that summer heat had arrived in Canadice I recalled the horse fork and its use in storing hay in the barns. The dictionary definition for hay fork is “a machine for unloading or loading hay.” We called it a horse fork.

The horse fork meant only one thing to me in the summer. As soon as I was old enough to drive a team of horses my father introduced me to what he called, “driving on the horse fork.”

Unloading Hay

Across the roof of our cow and sheep barn ran a narrow steel track. Attached at the center of the track sat the horse fork, when not in use. It consisted of two side tines narrowing down to a point. In the center, ropes were attached which worked the metal parts.

When a load of hay appeared going up the driveway to the barn, I hurried down to help. The load of hay was backed into the wide high doors onto the barn floor. This allowed Papa to unhitch the horses from the wagon. A rope tied to the center of the whiffle tree regulated the horse fork. Papa pulled on a rope to bring the horse fork down on top of the hay. He picked up the fork and plunged the tines firmly into the hay, usually at the front of the load. He clamped the metal parts down securely, fastening the hay to the fork.

Mina Helps

My job began at this point. I would pick up the reins of the team and drive it usually to the end of the short driveway, or until Papa called “Whoa!” As the team started up, the fork filled with hay rose slowly to the center of the track. There it locked into the track and sent the hay and fork whirling along the top of the barn to the hay mow. When the horses stopped, Papa would trip the horse fork and the hay would go spinning to the mow below.

My job was to drive the team back up to the barn, turn it around, ready for the next load. I had to wait for the hired man while he moved the hay away and my father brought the horse fork back and proceeded to set it into the hay again. The wagon would be unloaded evenly. Sometimes if the fork wasn’t set properly, hay would fall back onto the wagon. this rarely happened when Papa set the fork in it.

A Hard Job for a Seven-year-old

On a hot day in July or August, driving the horse fork was the hardest job a girl of seven or eight performed. The wait between forkfulls seemed endless. I never was patient when having to wait. Especially when I would rather be playing in the shady front yard.

Driving on the horse fork was really the only part of being an outdoors person and helping Papa that I disliked. It was a monotonous task. When haybalers became available, it was a relief and the horse fork became a thing of the past.