By Joann M. Ringelstetter
When we were kids, we often played a game called Chutes and Ladders. This game was released by Milton Bradley in 1943 and consisted of a game board with 100 numbered squares. Scattered among those squares were various chutes and ladders.
The object of the game was to move your token along the numbered squares starting from Square 1 and be the first player to land on Square 100. Players flicked a spinner with the numbers 1 to 6 and then moved the corresponding number of squares on the board. If they landed at the foot of a ladder, they could instantly climb to the top of the ladder, which usually advanced them many more squares closer to Square 100.
If they landed at the top of a chute, they had to instantly slide down the chute, which resulted in their token being taken back towards Square 1. It was a fun game based totally on luck.
As Ruth and I travel along the backroads, we sometimes have the privilege of seeing the interiors of barns. And most barns contain at least a few chutes and a few ladders. The ladders are used to climb up into the hay mow.
Open chutes like the one below are used to throw hay down from the hay mow to be fed to the cattle. Sometimes they are covered to prevent someone from falling through them. Most times, however, they are left open, requiring caution by farmers and their families and workers to avoid falling.
Ruth can attest to the need for caution with these open chutes because she actually fell from a hay chute as a child while throwing hay down for the cattle. She landed on her hands and knees on the concrete below. Luckily, she wasn’t hurt too badly.
Then there are closed chutes like the ones below, which are used to funnel grain down to the lower floor for feeding to cattle. Oftentimes, a large cart is parked below the chute to catch the feed. The cart is then wheeled in front of the cattle and they are given their allotted amount of feed.
Both chutes and ladders are practical necessities. Sometimes they are primitive, like this hayloft ladder carved from a tree trunk. It still has the tree bark along the edges.
And sometimes they are more sophisticated, like this chute which houses an elevator for transporting scoops of grain.
Sometimes they are short because that’s all that’s needed, like this short ladder to reach a loading dock.
And sometimes they are very tall, to reach the upper portion of the hay mow.
We always expect to find chutes in the barns we visit. But last year on the way to Ohio, we were surprised to find a chute at the Cherry Grade School in Bureau County, Illinois. In all the years I’ve been photographing rural architecture, I’ve never seen a school with a fire escape chute.
This fire escape chute was installed to allow the teachers and students on the upper floor to escape a building fire by sliding down to the ground below. In researching these chutes, I learned of one school where the students and their teacher used the chute to slide to the ground for recess. This allowed them to be very comfortable with the procedure should an emergency occur.
I also learned that some of the chutes did not have a door at the bottom like this one, so kids used them as slides during the summer. Sounds like fun!