Loads of work done, more remain

November 14, 2018

CHATFIELD — Some of Chris Frye’s most colorful memories of growing up on a farm are linked to an old-fashioned hay loader that came with the farm his father bought in 1963.

He remembers riding in a wagon with a pitchfork, behind his dad who was driving a tractor, piling the hay until they had a full load. The hay loader was used regularly for years by the Fryes.

“It was definitely old, but we used it to pull up loose hay to feed our beef cattle,” said Frye, who now manages publishing at Mayo Clinic. “Very manual compared to how everybody does it today.”

Frye said the hay loader appeared to be very old when his family first encountered it in the early 1960s, and estimated it dated back to the late 1890s or early 1900s.

“Old equipment has always interested me,” said Frye, who’s now restoring his dad’s 1948 Massey-Harris pony tractor.

With the hay loader carrying so much history, Frye wanted to hang onto it and brought it with him when he moved to some acreage near Chatfield about 15 years ago. His intent was to use it once he retired.

But his retirement plans to run a hobby farm changed as his children — and now grandchildren — ended up moving to Washington state. When he retires next year, he and his wife plan on selling their land in Minnesota and moving closer to them.

Knowing the hay loader wasn’t coming with them, Frye hoped it could find a new home where it could be used.

Fate aligned one day this past summer when the hay loader was being stored at his in-laws next-door, and was spotted by a crew of Amish carpenters while they were there working on the roof of a shed.

“They asked if I’d take $60 for it, and I said no — I’ll take $50,” Frye said of the hay loader. “I would rather see it go to somebody who’s going to use it, rather than it just sit there and rust away.”

“We just saw it there and I said we should see if the guy wants to sell it,” said Eli Hershberger, who lives and farms with his family near Canton.

After spending $50 for the hay loader, he said he spent about $1,000 to get it back to working order.

But Hershberger said a hay loader in the same condition can be worth much more at a public sale. He said he felt lucky to purchase it at a low enough price where he could still afford to restore it.

“Sometimes (manual hay loaders) bring around $500, and sometimes they bring a lot more,” Hershberger said. “It just depends if the right guy is there.”

He said the hay loader will be used two or three times a year to pick up loose hay. Unlike the Frye family using a tractor, Hershberger said his family will use two horses to tow it with a wagon.

He said the hay loader works well, and even looks brand new after its restoration.

“Oh it’ll last forever,” Hershberger said. “It’s got a lot of new steel on it now, but that old steel is even better than the new stuff.”

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