The Valley of a Thousand Haystacks Historical Marker

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Garrison 59731,Southwest Montana

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The Little Blackfoot Valley is filled with lush hay fields. You already may have noticed the rounded haystacks and commented on the strange lodgepole structures standing in many of the fields. This contraption that looks like a cross between a catapult and a cage is a hay-stacker that actually acts like a little of both. It was invented before 1910 by Dade Stephens and H. Armitage in the Big Hole Valley about sixty miles south of here. The device, called a beaverslide, revolutionized haying in Montana. It helped keep the wind from blowing the hay away and cut stacking time considerably.

To work the beaverslide, a large rake piled high with hay is run up the arms of the slide (the sloping portion of the “catapult”). At the top, the hay dumps onto the stack. The side gates (the cage part) keep the stack in a neat pile and make it possible to stack higher. The sides were added to the system in the late 1940s. Although the lifting of the rake is usually powered by a takeoff from a tractor, truck or a car axle, on some operations horse teams still provide the rpm’s to muscle the hay up the slide.

Aside from minor improvements, the beaverslide has remained unchanged since its inception. Once used throughout a good portion of the northern west, modern technology that can shape hay into bales, loaves or huge jelly rolls have replaced it in many areas. The Little Blackfoot is one of several valleys in Montana where you can still see the beaverslide and its distinctive haystacks.

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