Ohio Farmer

This Old Barn: Some Ohio barns boast windlasses, which were handmade and can’t be found in vintage ads or catalogs.

Pamela Whitney Gray

April 2, 2020

3 Min Read
Close up of a double windlass
DOUBLE WINDLASS: This double windlass is in the Weygandt barn in Wayne County, Ohio. The power wheels are 6 feet in diameter, and the shafts are 20 feet long, spanning the width of the driveway. Photos by Chuck Whitney

In our fast-paced world, cars and trucks zip by on highways and byways at 60 to 70 miles per hour. Commuters and travelers drive mindlessly to their destinations.

Once in a while, a barn will catch a driver’s eye in the countryside. It may be a beauty to admire or neglected and sagging, bringing the question “why?” to mind. No matter the state of barns today, they all still reflect the history of our communities as well as our nation. Hopefully, these motorists will have the chance someday to experience what farm life was like from the inside of a barn.

Many tools, devices and equipment can be discovered in back corners that have long been forgotten. What are they? How were they used? Many of these things can be researched and found in old catalogs with descriptions for use. However, there is one device that shows up every so often that is a head-scratcher to many: the windlass.

HOLES FOR HANDLES: The Pence barn in Pickaway County, Ohio, sports a unique style of windlass that’s permanently attached on the sidewall of the driveway. Ropes were wrapped around the shaft. Large holes in the center of the shaft were used to insert individual handles for turning.


Many uses for windlass

Most of these simple contraptions used a large wheel on a shaft with long ropes. No two are alike, as they were all handmade on the family farm. Some were made from leftover parts, others built from scratch from the farmer’s own design. None of these will be found in vintage ads or catalogs.

Each was created to serve the purpose of lifting heavy loads to make labor on the farm easier. Perhaps they elevated hay to the height of the hayloft for easier transfer into the loft for winter storage.

Single unit windlass used to hoist heavy bags of grain
HOISTING GRAIN BAGS: In Madison County, Ohio, the Frazer barn has a handmade single-unit windlass used to hoist heavy bags of grain to the top of the granary. The windlass pulled a rope over a swinging arm to lift the bag of grain over the top of the grain bin, and the arm would then release the grain into the bin.

When accidents or normal wear and tear required repair of wagon beds or gear, the windlass was used. It was also handy for switching out the wagon bed from running gear to bobsled runners in winter. During fall butchering time, once again the windlass did the heavy lifting, as large animals were hoisted for this annual process.

The photos here showcase examples of three unique windlasses found around Ohio.

Individuals of an age to have used a windlass are encouraged to write down their memories of them, or tell their grandchildren these stories. If you have such memories, I encourage you to send them along to me.

Email Gray, the “lady barn consultant,” at [email protected] or write to her at 5 Teryl Drive, Mount Vernon, OH 43050.


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