EasyGenie History Mystery #3 Solution

EasyGenie History Mystery #3 Solution

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EasyGenie history mystery

This was the best history mystery so far. There wasn't much to go on - just a picture of an old wooden contraption - so people's imaginations worked overtime to come up with a solution. Some people's imaginations worked overtime!

The answer is below, but first, some of the other guesses. 

Visions of treasure hunts were high on the list: 

"Turbines can use water to create power (like electricity). It looks old ... so maybe for sifting gold at the mines?"

"A wooden conveyor belt of some kind ... used in mining, maybe?"

"Old mill for mining gold. Sat in the river and picked up and washed stones, etc. for early miners."

Another common suggestion: Conveyor belt for farm or commercial work. We can see this, as there are similarities to modern machinery you might encounter at an orchard or stockroom:

"Hay baler." 

"Maybe an early example of a conveyor belt, for off-loading some type of produce, apples or corn cobs or something."

"It looks like an early conveyor belt perhaps to bring items such as packages from a storage room to the store front area to give to the customer."

"Looks like a type of loom for making textiles. It worked by putting thread through the base threads (or wool) and pulling the frame of it forward to put the thread in its place."

Still others guessed it was part of processing equipment for agriculture:

"It is part of a orange (citrus) sorting equipment.  The wheel connected to a belt drive and this piece of equipment delivered the fruit for sorting and packaging into citrus crates for shipping."

"It looks like a sugar cane press that moves the canes in a press via a belt system. It gets the liquid/juice out of the cane."

"A chopper, used to chop silage, hay. Chops throws chopped items into truck." 

"Looks to me like a conveyor belt/pulley that one loads apples on to go through a washer and then into an apple cider press."

"I am guessing that the mystery item is a fruit sorter, for stone fruit or apples.  I would guess that the operator stood in the gap in the middle (far side of the apparatus in this pic, with a box of tree-run fruit to be sorted into different grades.  The operator would sort fruit onto the two conveyor belts, which would carry the sort to boxes or bushels at the ends of the conveyor belts.  Empty boxes or bushels would be positioned at the outer ends of the conveyor to collect the sort. It could move any commodity, I suppose, but the length and width of the wooden conveyor planks are about the correct size for fruit."

Some people got it partially right ... for instance, identifying it could be used to clean clothes. But we really wanted to see if anyone could guess how it was powered. And a few people came through!     

Mary D., a retired museum curator, nailed it:

"Dog-powered butter churn. Dog muzzled into frame of treadmill. As the dog trotted a piston geared to the treadmill pumped up and down inside the churn, turning raw milk into butter. The residual liquid-buttermilk was used to feed calves."

Al L.:

"This is a horse-powered treadmill. The horse (or even a dog in smaller ones) walked along the tread to operate it. They were used to run lightweight machines in the 1800s like grinding corn, churning butter, etc. There is one in the collection in the museum I worked at, and staff would sometimes demonstrate it as the 'horse' at the county fair!"

Bill W. got it right, too:

"It's a track for a dog to walk on to power some other process - butter churning for example."

The device, which is on display at the Morristown Gateway Museum in northern New York, had the following explanation:

"This type of treadmill was used during the late 19th century up to World War I to power farm and household equipment. It was likely powered by dog, sheep or goat. Usually the animal was spurred to walk by putting feed in front of it and the power could be used for a washing machine, butter churn, cream separator, and other equipment."

We can only imagine the challenges of strapping a dog or goat to this device and getting them to keep up a consistent trot in order to churn butter or wash laundry. Note that the device has railings ... perhaps for a human being to give it a whirl if need be? 

(Want to participate in the next EasyGenie History Mystery? Sign up for the free EasyGenie newsletter, which regularly feature a mystery photo and ask subscribers to guess what it is.) 

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