Brusoe team pursues farm equipment history

Ray Mueller, Correspondent


With a F.E. Myers hay trolley set up behind them, John and Joan Brusoe display some of the informational material for one of the types of equipment that was once standard on farms for moving hay from wagons into mows.

There are probably several thousand people who have a mailing address with the Malone zip code of 53049. But very few of them live within the confines of the unincorporated village in northeast Fond du Lac County which boasts one of the largest rural mail delivery territory anywhere.

Among the exceptions are John and Joan Brusoe, who've lived in the community along Fond du Lac County W for the past 47 years. In their retirement, they've taken up a pair of collection and restoration hobbies — hay trolleys and farmyard windmills — that one would not expect from anyone who was not previously involved in farm life.

John Brusoe attributes his interest in and curiosity about the history of those pieces of equipment that were standard on many farms in the late 1800s and early decades of the 1900s to two things — his “fascination with wind” and his attendance at county fairs as a youth in his native Upper Michigan.

Teaching in Wisconsin

After graduating from Northern Michigan University in 1965, Brusoe taught business classes for one year at a junior high school in Sheboygan. While there, he met his wife, Joan.

Brusoe taught in New Holstein for the 1966-67 school year. Then he began a 32-year career as a teacher of accounting to students of all ages at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac.

Realizing how “my whole life was in books,” Brusoe developed an interest in “preserving farm heritage” by saving, restoring and displaying items that most people would discard because something else had come along to replace them.

In the case of hay trolleys, their demise was hastened by the hay balers introduced by the major farm equipment companies during the 1940s. With the small farmyard windmills, it was the coming of electric power to rural areas in the 1930s and 1940s that then handled the pumping of water.

Claiming that he's not a mechanical expert, Brusoe opted for the most simple and uncomplicated units that could still be found. Their hobby has taken the Brusoes to numerous conventions, shows and other events around the country during the past 10 years.

Hay trolley heaven

To anyone seriously or even casually interested in hay trolleys, Brusoe recommends the website. He was first drawn to hay trolleys after reading about them in the May 2003 issue of Farm Collector magazine that was published in conjunction with a collector group's convention.

The Brusoes attended that convention the next year. They credit Steve Weeber of of Iowa City, IA, an early collector of hay trolleys, with helping them develop their own collection. And they're proud 10-year plus members of the Hay Tool Collectors Association.

Hay trolleys became popular as a labor saver on farms for moving loose hay into mows for storage to feed cattle and horses during the winter. They were a major improvement on the pitchforks, single and double harpoon forks, grapple forks and “muscle” that were the previous tools for “putting up” hay in barns, Brusoe observes.

With the trolleys, the tracks or rails on which they rolled, ropes, swivels, and slings or carriers, farmers were able to “put up” their hay in mows either through an entrance on a sidewall of the barn or from inside. In effect, the hay was being dropped from above thanks to the trolleys.

History of hay trolleys

The country's industrial capacity that was developed during the Civil War led directly to the manufacture of equipment that was quickly adapted on farms in the following decades, Brusoe points out. Literature on the topic indicates that the high point in the market for hay carriers or trolleys continued from 1868 to 1910.

There were 50 manufacturers of the carriers but five of them accounted for 60 percent of the production. Those company names were Hunt Helm Ferris, F.E. Myers & Bro., Porter, and Ney Mfg. The fifth one on the list was Louden, which specialized in obtaining patents.

Brusoe notes that the first swivels were designed by Richard Miller and made by Eagle Fork at Stephensville (near Appleton). The Star Crossed draft sling carrier was made the Myers company at Harvard, IL.

Other companies made the tracks on which the trolleys rolled. One unit the Brusoes have is an 1870 split rail model with a Powell's Patent date of May 24. They also have a Myers unloader and a Hudson brand name unit.

Brusoe explained that the Myers unit had an “open throat” concept while others had a “closed throat.” He noted that closed throats had a tendency to wear. When owners had to replace a track, they had to stay with the same brand because of the sizing.

A continuing search

Although they own and show a number of hay trolleys made by the leading manufacturers in Wisconsin and nearby states, the Brusoes are interested in finding even more. They've obtained most of their units at flea markets, in conjunction with the takedown of barns and through referrals and calls made by people who know them. Among the places they've obtained units are from near Stevens Point and in Iowa and Nebraska.

When the Brusoes acquire an item, that's when the serious teamwork begins. John handles the major structural or other tasks while Joan specializes in the painting or other final detail updates.

To teach other people about the units they have, the Brusoes have an extensive array of posters, pictures, illustrations, and displays for those units. Some of them are taken from advertisements, catalogs or operator's manuals.

In the local area, the Brusoes can be found with a display of their collection almost every year at the Meyer family's antique tractor field day near Charlesburg, the Wisconsin Steam Engine Show in Chilton (Aug. 13 and 14 this year), at the Empire Threshing Association field day (Aug. 27), and at the Vintage Steel show at Calumetville on the Calumet and Fond du Lac County line Sept. 17 and 18.

Backyard windmills

The second part of preserving a bit of farm heritage that the Brusoes have chosen is the placement of three smaller unit windmills in their backyard with two more on the horizon. Brusoe said his curiosity about windmills is fanned by the difference in types and styles.

Among them, the Aermotor was the most popular before the widespread installation of electricity on farms, Brusoe said. Another was the Eli, which was made in Nebraska City, NE, has a 10-foot fan and was the only gearless windmill ever made.

The third windmill which stands on the Brusoes' property is the Monitor, which has a 5-foot fan, was made in Evansville and had an open gear. He also mentioned the Flint and Walling 5-foot Star Zephyr model from 1937 that has an oil bath.

Wind-powered battery charger

A largely forgotten device that was used for a number of years to obtain power from the wind was the wind-powered battery charger, Brusoe said. It was used on farms as a source of cheap energy before electric power was extended to rural areas less than 100 years ago.

The first such unit was made in 1927 the by Albers brothers on their farm in Iowa. Named Wincharger, it was first used to recharge a 6-volt storage battery that was used to operate vacuum tube radios. With later capacities up to 32 volts, it was used to power lights, refrigerators, water pumps, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, toasters and cream separators on farms.

Zenith Radio bought the Wincharger company in 1937 and continued making the units until 1968. The Brusoes restored a 6-volt Wincharger, which they then donated to the Eden Historical Society.

An additional interest for the Malone couple is the keeping of honeybees. With the losses of population due to one or more causes and the cost of replacement bees, they're down to one hive today after once having up to four hives.

The Brusoes can be contacted by email to or by phone at (920) 795-4414 or (920) 204-2530.