By Joann M. Ringelstetter
It’s the middle of summer and there are many fairs and community festivals going on all over the state of Wisconsin. A week ago marked the end of the Dane County fair and this coming week marks the start of the Wisconsin State Fair. All of these fairs make me think of carnival rides and the do-it-yourself ride we created for ourselves on the farm when we were kids.
I’m sure most of you are wondering what this contraption is, but if you grew up on a farm and you’re a baby boomer like me, you might just know what it is. In the days before automated barn cleaners, farmers used these to remove the manure from the barn.
They were called manure carriers or litter carriers and there were a number of different styles and manufacturers. The one pictured below was made by the Louden Manufacturing Company of Fairfield, Iowa and this photo was taken at a barn in Boone County, Iowa.
During my Internet search, I located the patent application for the Louden manure carrier, which was submitted in 1904 by inventor David B. Cherry of Knoxville, Iowa. The patent was granted in 1905 and it was an improvement over the design Mr. Cherry patented in 1897. This new design allowed for the carrier to be raised and lowered for more easily filling it and emptying it.
Notice the overhead trolley system and the two trolley wheels, which support the hopper box. The farmer would lower the manure carrier to the floor of the barn and then shovel manure from the gutters into the hopper box. Then the carrier was raised back up and pushed out of the barn onto an outside track or cable, which extended out into the barnyard.
Once outside, the hopper box could be tripped to dump the load of manure, either into a manure spreader or onto a pile. Eight years ago, Ruth and I discovered a rusty old manure carrier sitting on a track outside a barn in Crawford County, Wisconsin. It was sitting upside down in the dumping position and it was the first time we had seen a manure carrier since we were kids.
Rather than a track like this one, our manure carrier had a long cable that ran from the barn to a pole beyond the barnyard. At a certain point on the cable, there was a triplock that caught a lever on the carrier causing the hopper to flip over and dump its contents. Since that discovery, we have seen more of these carriers in barns in Iowa.
By now, you’re either wondering what all this has to do with carnival rides or you’ve realized how this hopper bucket could be used for something other than its intended purpose. One day when our dad was away from the farm, my brother Dave, my sister Phyllis, and I decided that the hopper box flying along the cable might make for a fun ride.
We lowered the hopper to the ground and Phyllis and I got inside. Oh, I should have warned those of you who are faint of heart…not because of the danger, but because of the thought of getting inside a big bucket that was used to haul….well, you get the picture.
Dave then raised the carrier back up, put his hands on the back of the carrier, and gave it the biggest push he could muster. The carrier went flying over the barnyard along the cable, which rose higher the closer it got to the pole beyond the barnyard. There we were, flying and laughing, just like the thrill of a carnival ride…until it hit the triplock and stopped in mid-air.
Fortunately for us, the hopper box didn’t dump. What were we thinking?! Unfortunately for us, the carrier was stuck and we couldn’t get it free so that it would travel back to the barn. So there we sat, gingerly trying to get the carrier unstuck, but trying not to cause it to sway back and forth. Below us was a stone pit where Dad dumped stones that were unearthed during field work, along with manure he didn’t need for the fields. I repeat, “What were we thinking?!!”
At this point, you’re probably wondering how we got ourselves out of this incredible predicament. The funny thing is, we’re wondering the same thing. The only thing we do remember is that Mom eventually discovered our failed “high wire act” and came running from the house. We also remember her threat of punishment when Dad got home, but we don’t remember how we got down or how we were punished (which is just as well).
One final word: Don’t try this at home!