The Larson Hayrack/Bundle Wagon
by Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the March-April 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)
Threshing shows are appealing because of the opportunity they offer to step back into the past. At these shows, most public attention is usually given to the threshing machines being powered by an un-styled tractor of the pre-World War II era as opposed to a styled tractor from the post-war era. When un-styled tractors are used, amateur photographers can often position themselves away from the crowd and take pictures that look like they could have been taken in the 1930s. Anything that adds a 1930s touch to a threshing scene will appeal to the public.
Generally, at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show in LeSueur, Minnesota only modern hayracks built for hauling bales have been employed for hauling bundles of grain to the threshers. These hayracks, with their rubber tires and lack of side supports and front standards, are of a design that definitely date from the post-World War II baled-hay era. In recent years, one touch that added authenticity to the threshing scene at the LeSueur Show, was the bundle wagon built by Dennis Waskovsky of Faribualt, Minnesota. The Waskovsky bundle wagon, with its steel wheels, side supports, and front and rear standards, was a definite addition to the show. Because it was the only authentic bundle wagon at the LeSueur Show, the Waskovsky wagon was moved from thresher to thresher to allow authentic photos to be taken.
Currently, there is a definite need for more “pre-war” style bundle wagons. To make the matter even more urgent, the Waskovsky wagon was heavily damaged at the 1995 Show when a strong gust of wind picked it up and flipped it over on its top. Although Dennis Waskovsky is rebuilding the bundle wagon, interest was kindled for the addition of other genuine bundle wagons. One such bundle wagon which could be built is the “Larson wagon.”
Not much is known about Mr. Larson, the man who designed the wagon. Indeed, even Mr. Larson’s first name has been lost over the period of time since he was last contacted by members of the Hanks family in 1935.
The Larson wagon had a good reputation in Faribault county and southern Blue Earth County, Minnesota, as being a very strong and dependable hayrack/bundle wagon. Building a Larson wagon would not only serve to add authenticity to the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show, but would preserve another small part of the history of rural Faribault and Blue Earth Counties.
The story of the Larson wagon first intersects with the family of Fred Marshall Hanks starting in 1919. Fred Marshall Hanks had farmed his parents’ farm in Verona Township, Faribault County, near Winnebago, Minnesota, since the untimely death of his father on January 11, 1916. Indeed, he had gradually taken over more and more of the operation of the farm long before that time. He had married Jeanette More Ogilvie from Pilot Grove Township in Faribault County on October 13, 1889, and together they moved into the Hanks farm house with his parents. They had a son, Howard Bruce Hanks, on October 7, 1895. Three other sons would follow: John Stanley, on July 27, 1902; Harlan David, on February 21, 1905; and Kenneth Warner, on December 16, 1908. The Hanks family operated a diversified farm, like most others in Verona Township, raising oats, wheat, corn, and hay. The livestock consisted of a milking herd, sheep, hogs, and chickens. Fred Marshall’s father was a master at woodworking, and put this skill to work in a profitable way, building many of the barns in Verona Township and the surrounding area. In 1900, the Hanks family purchased the 40-acre Baldwin farm which bordered the Hanks farm to the east and moved the Baldwin barn to the Hanks farm building site where it became the “bull barn.” The Baldwin house was also moved to the Hanks farm where it became a woodworking shop.
Fred Marshall was not interested in woodworking, as was his father. His interest was consumed in farming. He loved farming and was constantly looking for ways to improve his methods of farming. In 1900, as he began to assume more responsibilities of the farm, Fred Marshall gradually began changing the dairy from a cross-bred herd to a purebred Polled Shorthorn herd, schooling himself on the proper traits to develop in an animal for purebred livestock. A 1904 advertising card (which still exists in the possession of Fred’s son Harlan Hanks) shows that by 1904 Fred Marshall was not only raising his own stock, but was selling purebred Polled Shorthorn cattle and purebred Duroc hogs to other farmers in the area. By 1910, his reputation had grown to the point that buyers of purebred cattle and/or purebred hogs showed up on the Hanks farm on a regular basis from across the nation to buy breeding stock.
One day in 1919, a farmer by the name of Larson, from Frost, Minnesota, arrived on the Hanks farm to buy one of the purebred Polled Shorthorn bulls. During the conversation, Mr. Larson divulged that he had devised a new design for a horse-drawn hayrack/bundle wagon. His “Larson” hayracks were made with curved pieces of metal which served as supports for the sides of the hayrack. These metal supports connected the sides of the hayrack with the floor.
The sides of earlier hayrack/bundle wagon had been supported by 2 x 4 vertical pieces of wood which were attached to the floor of the wagon. When this design was found to be too flimsy, diagonal pieces of wood were added to the vertical sides, connecting the sides to the floor at two separate locations about a foot from the outside edge, thus making the wagon stronger because of the triangle that was formed by the support with the floor of the wagon. However, these diagonals interfered with the men working inside the hayrack unloading loose hay or bundles of wheat or oats with a pitchfork. The solution to this problem, followed by some hayrack designs, was to have the vertical side supports protrude beneath the level of the floor of the hayrack and to connect the triangulation diagonals from the bottoms of the vertical side supports to the underside of the floor of the hayrack. The bothersome diagonals were then under the floor of the rack. This was a better design, but still farmers found that the side supports interfered with any work that had to be done under the wagon, such as removing a wheel on the wagon gear to grease the axle. The metal supports in the Larson-designed hayrack were the key to the design that made the Larson hayrack/bundle wagon unique. They eliminated the need for any triangulation support either above or beneath the floor of the hayrack. This made for a much lighter and cleaner designed hayrack.
Based on this design with the metal supports, Mr. Larson made hayracks for use on his own farm. His neighbors, having seen the benefits of his design, had requested that he build hayracks of the same style for them or that he provide them with the metal supports so that they could build the hayracks themselves. As a consequence, the Larson design became quite popular around the Frost area of Faribault County. Continue reading