Draft Animal Equipment

DIY Stoneboat

DIY stoneboat

Garrett Suhr driving Rosie and Mac with a pole attached to the sled.
by Roy Deppa
Several years ago, an article in Rural Heritage about an old design for a wooden stoneboat set my mind working. I remember my dad and his brother the veterinarian (the family called him Uncle Doc) talking about stoneboats when I was a kid, and the odd term stuck in my memory. A stoneboat isn't a boat, nor is it made of stone. It's a heavy sled or drag used behind draft animals to move heavy objects such as stones. I really had no idea how well it would work, but I thought it would be interesting to make one and try it out.

One day while I was at the sawmill getting some fence boards, I spied a stack of 4-by-6 beech timbers and added a couple of them to my trailer load. They looked like just the thing for a pair of runners. After they had about a year to dry out in my shed, and because I had some nice 2-by-8 oak left over from rebuilding a haywagon, I decided it was time to build my stoneboat. I cut the ends of the beech timbers on a slant and added a piece of cutoff on top to extend the curve of the runners. Then I cut three beech cross pieces and a series of lengthwise oak boards to form the bed. I had noticed vertical posts at the front of some wagons, and thought that was a good idea as a handhold and place to wrap the lines when at rest, so I used a piece of the oak for that. I screwed all the joints together with 3/8-inch lag bolts, leaving allowance for racking and twisting without spitting the boards. A chain between the runners provides a hitch point.

I'd been procrastinating about finishing the job when the forecast came in for a significant snowfall. Okay, this is central Maryland here, so I have to point out that our significant snowfalls might not be so significant in some other parts of the country. But we take what we get. The forecast urged me to finish the stoneboat, thinking it might be fun to try it out in the snow instead of on bare ground.

stoneboat construction
The finished stone boat, ready for action.

From the first “walk on,” I was immediately surprised and pleased at how effortlessly and quietly that heavy wood sled moved across the snowy ground. I don't think Rosie and Mac had pulled it 30 feet before I had a big grin on my face. Who knew? Well, I guess the old timers knew, but it was news to me. The oak was still green, wet and so heavy it probably wouldn't have floated, and the beech, although dried, was still heavy. I figured that sled must weigh about 400 pounds. I certainly couldn't pull it or lift one end of it, but it slid along behind my Belgians like it didn't weigh a thing.

I quickly learned that while a stoneboat on bare dirt needs only a chain to the doubletree, on snow it has to have a tongue to keep from underrunning the horses. I managed to learn that lesson quickly, but, fortunately, without injury. I cobbled together a functional tongue with some spare hardware and a good 2-by-4.

stoneboat hauling hay
Rosie and Mac put to the stoneboat loaded with a couple bales of hay.

We ended up with quite a bit of snow — up to a foot deep a couple of times. Rosie, Mac and I got to use the stoneboat quite a bit. Our neighbors were unable to get their usual firewood for health reasons, so I cut a large dead oak and dropped it on a steep slope above the creek — in a place where I couldn't get my wagon or even my truck with the snow on the ground. The horses and the stoneboat were the perfect setup to haul that firewood out, and the neighbors were thrilled to see firewood being delivered by a team of horses.

The most fun with the stoneboat turned out to be just letting the horses run with it in the open field of snow. A bale of straw made a passable seat, and I swear that Rosie and Mac had grins on their faces, too, as we flew across the field, snow clods flying from their hooves. Several times during the winter, with nothing much else to do outdoors, we hitched up and went for slides around the farm. We even used it to carry my stepson to the top of the hill with his snowboard — surely the only horse-powered ski lift in this county!

I've gotten quite a bit of use out of the stoneboat all year long. Driving it on bare ground works as well as on snow. In fact, because it doesn't coast up on the horses, I don't use a tongue unless there is snow. That makes it easier to turn around in a tight place. I frequently hitch it up to give the horses some exercise. It's a handy way to work them and get some chores done at the same time. We're doing some work on our patio, and it's come in very handy hauling fieldstone up to the house. Imagine, using a stoneboat to "float" stone through the woods and across the pasture. It's utilitarian and it works like a charm. But truth is, I can't wait for snow and more big-grin rides. rh horse logo

Roy Deppa stoneboats in Brookeville, Md. This article appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of Rural Heritage magazine.

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