Great Farm Technology: the wheelbarrow

Everyday we encounter hundreds of inventions that we overlook for their ingenious simplicity.  Doors, latches, zippers, buttons, and hammers just to name a few. One of the presentations we engage school students with here at Quiet Valley is called Simple Machines.  We walk the students through simple problems that can be salved with machines such as levers and fulcrums.  How do you place a nail into a board of wood? With a hammer; your arm is the fulcrum allowing the hammer head to pivot and drive the nail into the wood.  Hold it close to the head and you have a lot of accuracy but not a lot of force.  Hold it low on the handle and you have a lot of force but lower accuracy.

Presenting problems like that and walking students through solutions allows them to see how simple tools and machines can be combined to be more complex. How a lever, fulcrum, wheel, and axle can combine to make a slightly more complex machine-a wheelbarrow.   I was astonished, along with the students, while watching a presentation the other day.  I had never thought how many parts are in the humble wheelbarrow.  From long years of moving dirt in archaeology to mucking stalls here on the farm, I have a great appreciation of the kind of work that can be done by one.  The presentation got me thinking and I looked at the wheelbarrow in a new light.

The wheelbarrow, as we know it, is probably a Greek invention from around 406 BC.  Though the Chinese invented one around 100 BC as well. Though their’s tended to have the wheel coming up in the middle of a raised platform. Some of their  also had sails to assist going up and down hills. It appears also that in addition to moving goods, the humble wheelbarrow has also been used as an escape vehicle.  It seems that there are a number of historic accounts of kings, politicians, etc ending up on the wrong side of a rebellion and making an escape either hidden in a wheelbarrow or carrying others in them.  The little wheelbarrow has a long history and without it, it would be difficult to do almost anything on the farm.

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