Recalling the old tools of the trade

Ian 5-10-20 SM Farm

Slide CarT, Hay Needle and Slipe

I cobbled together a slide car once. They are very efficient on steep grades and can be made up at little expense from two straight branches of a hazel tree and a few laths.

ABOVE: A Hay Needle.

Common in use in mountainous or boggy regions right up until the beginning of the 20th century, they are romanticised in that picture of the two old codgers; the pony with the straw harness; the whitewashed cottage and the half door.

The Hay Needle on the other hand is an implement (that I have used) but more than that I know nothing about. It consists of a nine-foot or so length of one inch diameter steel pointed at one end and fashioned with a looped grip at the other. The bar is pierced six inches back from its point to accommodate an S hook.

To transport a shig of corn or cock of hay from field to haggard the metal prong is pushed along the ground through the diameter of the shig or stack. The S hook is clicked in and two stout ropes, one along the ground the other higher up, sweep around to the looped grip and so encircle the stack.

Its applied science that allows the shig to be traced along in its entirety – the ropes alone would merely toss the lot. An ingenious idea – but the buck rake put an end to that, but not as far as I’m concerned.

As pamphlets of novel ideas flutter from newspapers and magazines, I increasingly wonder is the time right for the reintroduction of the slipe – that basic transporter used by generations of hill farmers to work the land.

While every farm, pub and suburban residence has a gaudily painted horse plough or grubber in the garden, the box slipe is nowhere to be seen. Its wooden body and runners have rotted away in some wet ditch, leaving the metal shoeings peeping from the earth like mammoth tusks.

I was lucky enough to stand beside my Uncle Peter as he made a prime example for me. It was a wonderful exercise in carpentry, engineering and historic craft – almost lost.

The completed article is a complex structure of chamfers and bevels, light yet sturdy, able to withstand years of everyday use, while its design is such that its steel shod runners are relatively friction free.

But why reintroduce it now? It’s because the slipe is the ideal present for everyone – man or woman; boy or girl.

You don’t even need a horse. Made from oak, dovetailed, inlayed with walnut, it can be a challenge to the cabinet maker and hold pride of place in the home.

A few pillows and it is an excellent cradle for a small child, in the garden it can be filled with flowers, something you could never do with a plough, and it could be quietly slid into a secluded corner. Where a courting couple could turn it upside down, cover it with his coat; and escape from the world.

But where the slipe really comes into its own is as occupational therapy for horses in this nag obsessed country. Behind every ditch, hedge and varnished fence is some class of underused horse. Wee fat ponies, ill-bred hunters, and churlish cobs with hair the length of your arm. All unemployed and bored, hanging about in groups in the corner of every field, and up to their bellies in grass.

What they all need is a while in the slipe. It provides excellent exercise and over exuberance can be countered by putting a few full fertilizer bags in the body of the device and the offender directed up a steep hill.

Backsliding generally causes little harm. But, of course, there will be plenty of practical uses for it and ‘old stock’ will claim to have had one in the family for years.

Another wonderful advantage of ownership is the opportunity of new stimulating discourse at the very best of soirees. Instead of endless yapping about skiing and golf, conversation can focus on what you have done or about to do with your slipe. This will lead to – and I have no doubt that it will – the joyful shout of: “It’s great! Such a lovely present! The very thing I always wanted! My own box slipe!”

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