ASHLAND — Prior to the use of disc mowers or disc-bines to cut hay, more primitive cutting tools were used in the farming industry. The evolution of cutting tools around the world involved a lot craftsmen time creating a lot of tools for a lot of reasons.
In the United States, it also may have resulted in the eventual submission of a patent application to the United States Patent Office.
Handcrafted scythes, sickles and machetes were once the common tools used for cutting anything for farmers who had any crops that needed harvested from the base. Cutting with these tools was backbreaking and time-consuming work and it often resulted in silicosis (lung disease), causing death as early as age 40.
The sickle, one of the most ancient harvesting tools, consisted of a metal blade, usually curved, attached to a short wooden handle. The short handle forced the user to harvest in a stooped or squatting position. The longer-handled scythe, the user of which remains upright, evolved from the sickle and was an improvement.
An issue with hay was that before it was baled with more modern equipment, it was harvested long and placed in hay stacks outdoors, or lifted up into barn lofts with slings or forks for those who had inside storage. After the loose hay settled, it was very difficult to remove from the stack.
Various versions of the hay knife were invented throughout history so that small portions of the hay could be cut and fed to the cows. Obviously, there was also a need to create less stress on the body and health of farm workers.
A couple of men who worked toward the improvement of hay harvesting equipment were John and Daniel Fasig. John (1815-1891) and Daniel (1817-1897) were possibly brothers who came to this area from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. John lived in the Polk/Congress area, possibly in Albion and Daniel settled in Rowsburg.
Census information lists John was a farmer and inventor and Daniel was a carpenter. Both men worked on various versions of hay knives and received patents for their designs. One has to wonder if they were in friendly competition with each other to make the best hay knife.
One of John’s versions touted the ability to also use the feet to push the knife down and cut the hay and the use of fewer strokes to make a cut into the hay.
One of Daniel’s devices was a combination hay knife and pruner which was designed to allow the operator to apply more force to cut deeper.
Today, hay knifes and other cutting tools are antique collectibles and a staunch reminder of the hard work and time our pioneers needed to be prosperous in the times before more modern inventions.