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close this folder 6. Hitches
View the document Safety rules
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6. Hitches

A hitch is the connection between the power and the load. Hitches to field implements are made by hooking a chain from a yoke Or swingtree to a ring or hole on the implement. Hitches to vehicles are made the same way, but involve connection of steering systems (wagon shaft and lines) and braking systems (britching) as well, so that the "hitch" is really a combination of hitches.

In a broad sense, a hitch is an arrangement of equipment and animals that will supply adequate, efficient power for a particular job. A four-horse plow hitch is a unit designed for pulling a large plow through very heavy soil. A fourhorse wagon hitch is a unit designed for pulling a wagon, but if the wagon has no brakes, the hitch necessarily includes gear which performs this important function.

Both implement and vehicle hitches are discussed in this chapter, with attention given to common types within each group. Types are identified according to the system used to transfer and connect power to the load, and by the number of animals in the hitch.


Safety rules

Hitching is a procedure that exposes owners and animals to a certain amount of danger. Animals are injured when they back into equipment, get hung-up in chains, swingtrees, or over the shaft of a wagon, or when they bolt forward half hitched. People are injured when animals kick or step unexpectedly, or more seriously, when a team pulls the load forward before they can get out of the way.

Attention to these rules will minimize danger to all involved:

• Watch the animals; look for nervousness or potential causes for movement or spooking-noise, insects, sudden appearance of persons, vehicles or other animals.

• Never hook a chain or traces to the load before:

- the hook or harness is fully secured and all buckles are checked

- the lines (reins) are connected to bridles and are within easy reach

- the wagon shaft has been lifted so the neckyoke connects it to the collar.

• When you are ready to make the hitch, have someone stand in front and steady the animal or team.

• When making the actual hitch, position yourself so you can Bet out of the way if the animals spook. Take these precautions:-Don't stand over the chain or wagon shaft; don't cross over it. Walk out and around if you need to get to the opposite side.-Don't stand between a swingtree and the shaft of a wagon.


Implement hitches

An animal or team pulling a log (skidding) or a field implement needs only a forward pulling system, because the load can't roll forward and hit it from behind. The digging or dragging action of the load acts like a brake and eliminates the need for breaching. Backing up is usually accomplished by the manual effort of the equipment operator, or, if the equipment is too heavy, wide turns are used to reverse the direction.

Yoke to Implement (two animals)

This type of hitch is made by connecting a chain from a yoke to a ring or hole on the front of the implement being pulled. The team pushes against the yoke and its power is transferred back to the load through the chain. The chain is called a draw chain.


The chain is hooked to a clevis located in the center of the yoke stock. The clevis is held in place by an L-shaped pin which should be easily removable. A three-meter chain is normally used for plowing; if the chain does not have built-in hooks, locally made S-hooks can be used.

Most implements are drawn directly off the buckhead, the front end of the tool-carrying beam. A moldboard plow, however, is offset on a horizontal regulator, a perforated plate that allows the operator to move the line of draft to the right of the beam. The adjustments is discussed on page 125. Sometimes an adjustment must be made on the yoke stock itself. Normally, the stronger animal is placed on the right or "off" side of the chain; during plowing, it walks in the furrow where footing is soft and greater effort is needed. If this animal is very short and the other (left side) tall, the added difference of the furrow-depth will pitch the stock down to the right and may give both animals yoke galls. In this and other instances, the weaker animal should be placed in the furrow. To equalize the pull and ensure that the animals work as a unit, the chain is moved to the left of the yoke center. This will give the weaker animal a longer lever to push against and allow it to step up and maintain the pace of the stronger. The process is called "evening" the pair: the stouter animal is given the short end of the yoke.

Evening a Pair by Yoke Stock Adjustment

If the yoke stock is of very strong wood, two holes can be bored, one in the center, one just left of center. When the operator substitutes or replaces one of the animals,

he can adjust the yoke as needed.

Tandem Yokes to Implement (four animals)

Two teams of oxen can be yoked to an implement where heavy soils (argilous, black cotton land, paddy land) are being plowed, or where a heavy harrow, roller, or ridger is being used. (See page 102.)

The weaker pair is used as the front or level team. The stouter pair is put behind; it is called the wheel team. Because the lines are attached to the lead team for steering, cross-checks are used (see page 92). The lines may be attached to halters or noserings, but an alternate horn-to-ear method can be used (see page 107). With a little practice, the driver can learn to snap the lines across the back of a lagging animal. Lines pass through the clevis of the rear (wheel) yoke; this gives them support.

The chain leaves the clevis of the lead yoke, passes under the clevis of the second, passses over a support rope, or strap tied between the backbands of the wheel team (called chain support) and then to the implement. The wheel team is connected to the main draft (chain) with a short piece of chain (extension chain) attached to its clevis. This avoids the problem that results when the lead team is tied into the wheelers' yoke proper (the stock would be yanked forward onto the team's horns whenever the leaders pulled).

The backband traverse is needed to support the lengthy chain.

Singletree to Implement (one animal)

An animal wearing a collar or breastband harness, or a sling or single head yoke, needs a special system to convey its power back to the load. Ropes or chains are attached to sides of the harness or yoke and connected to a bar located behind the animal. The bar is a piece of wood furnished with rings or grooves that hold the ropes. The bar is called a singletree, or swingtree (other names include swingletree, whippletree, tree). The lines that attach to it are called traces.


Source: Hopfen, Op. Cit.

Tandem Yokes to Implement (with magnifications of hitchpoints)

The singletree has a ring in the center which is connected to the load with a hook and short piece of chain.


Doubletree to Implement (two animals)

A team in collar or breastband harness can have its traces attached to a longer bar called a doubletree. A short chain connects the doubletree to the load. As with the yoke, advantage can be given to the weaker animal by moving the chain off center and toward the other.

An improvement over this arrangement is achieved by giving each animal an individual tree, or singletree. The two singletrees are then connected to the doubletree. The implement is connected to the doubletree.


Doubletree to Implement Hitch (Standard)

Evening the Pair with a Swingtree Adjustments

Use of singletrees and doubletrees lets the driver make very fine adjustments in the amount of pull delivered by each animal. When one of the animals begins to lag, he shortens its traces or the chain connecting its singletree to the main tree. This lets the animal meet the point of resistance sooner: it no longer has to catch up with the other animal in order to meet the load. An adjustments of a link or two, coupled with some gentle prodding, will "even" the pair and the pull.

Doubletree to Implement: Multiple Hitches

Multiple hitches are easy to arrange and can be extremely valuable to farmers owning lighter draft animals. Donkeys or young cattle (two or three years old) can be worked in tandem pairs, three abreast, or in a one-two pattern. Collars or breastbands must be used with equines, but single head or sling yokes can be used for cattle.

In a tandem pair hitch, the leaders are driven with team lines and cross-checks. The wheelers are connected to the leaders with tie-in lines-short ropes which connect their halters to the traces of the leaders. Couplings are used on both teams for additional control.

Tandem Pair Hitch

Three-Abreast Hitch

Wedge-Shaped Hitch

In a three-abreast hitch, the outside animals are driven with team lines and the middle animal controlled with couplings. Additional steering control can be obtained by adding cross-checks.

In a wedge-shaped hitch the lead animal is driven with lines and wheelers controlled with tie-in lines and a coupling.

Note: If the wheelers walk too fast and tend to close up on the leaders, they can be held back with bucking straps. Bucking straps are lines arranged just like team lines with cross-checks. However, the free ends are not held by the driver, but attached to the draw chain. Attach them to the chain where it passes between the wheeler's singletrees. For more on multiple hitches, see page 234.


Vehicle hitches

Most hitches to vehicles are designed and made so the animal or team can brake and back the load up as well as pull it forward.

Teams in yokes can get some leverage for breaking by lifting their heads and resisting the pressure created when the shaft of the wagon pushes against the back of the yoke. Horned cattle can back a load up by pushing back against the yoke stock with their horns. The stock is connected to the wagon shaft and when it goes back, the shaft and the wagon go back.

These controls are effective only with very light carts or wagons, or when the vehicle has an independent braking system (mechanical brakes). They are not adequate if the load is heavy or if the terrain is hilly. In the latter instances, animals should be fitted with breeching harness before being hitched to the load.

Animals or teams in sling or breastband harnesses have no braking or backing power at all. Those in collar harnesses have very limited ability. A general rule is that animals in harness should wear breeching when pulling vehicles.

Basic types of vehicle hitches are discussed below. Some involve

yokes, others harnesses. Yoke to Wagon

Yoke to Wagon (Two Animals)

There are many ways to connect the shaft or tongue of a wagon to a yoke. The method shown here is recommended because it minimizes strain on animals and vehicle and because the component parts are easily made in a local forge and can be mounted or removed, without wrenches, as needed.

The hitch is made by attaching a draw chain to the centerpoint of the stock by means of a pin and clevis. Two rings are kept on the clevis, a small draw-ring for the chain and a larger pole ring for the shaft of a cart or wagon. A field implement can be attached, by chain and hook, to the clevis, or to either of the two rings; however, when a wagon is pulled, the chain should be attached to the draw-ring and the wagon shaft passed through the pole ring. The load is pullet by the chain, not the shaft. This lets the shaft slide forward and back through the ring, eliminating much of the jarring produced by a "hard" or fixed connection. The shaft is furnished with a stop that prevents it from sliding too far forward. The chain keeps it from sliding too far back.

Yoke-to-Wagon Hitch

Chain Adjustment-When the chain is fully extended, it must be shorter than the length of the wagon shaft. If it is equal or longer, the team will "walk off the tongue"-the shaft will slide out of the pole ring before the chain tightens and begins to pull the wagon. In this case, the tongue will be banging on the ground as the load moves forward. This can frighten the team and cause a serious accident.

To make the proper adjustment, measure the length of the shaft and subtract 20 cm. This figure should equal the length of the fullyextended chain.

The shaft, correctly used, is for turning, braking, and balancing the load; it is used as a hitchpoint only if a second team is used in front.

Tandem Yokes to Wagon (four animals)

More power can be supplied to the yoke-wagon hitch (above) by hooking a second team to the metal clevis located on the tongue of the wagon (the tongue is the end of the shaft). The front team (lead team) pulls the shaft. The back team (wheel team) pulls by the chain connecting its draw-ring to the wagon. Use the more obedient, well-trained team as the lead, the stronger as the wheel team.

Doubletree to Wagon (two animals)

• Preparation

Connect the doubletree and singletree to the back of the wagon shaft and connect the neckyoke and Jockey yokes to to front of the wagon shaft (tongue).

The tongue of the wagon (end of the wagon shaft) must be fitted with equipment that can be connected to the team's harness. The equipment lets the team hold up the shaft and brake and back the load. The neckyoke is a wooden crossbar the same length as the doubletree, but made of lighter wood. It has a ring in the center ant one on each side. The center ring is large enough so the tongue can slide through it. The side rings are smaller; they connect the neckyoke to the harness via shorter yokes called jockey yokes. A Jockey yoke has a ring in the center and one at each end.

To prepare the tongue for hitching, lay the neckyoke on the ground just in front of the tongue. It should be at right angles to the tongue. Then fasten the jockey yokes to the neckyoke. The center ring of the jockey yoke hooks to the end ring of the neckyoke.

Top View of Wagon Before Team Is Hitched

Now slide the center ring of the neckyoke over the tongue.

Check the alignment of the equipment at either end of the shaft. A straight line drawn through the midpoint of each jockey yoke should intersect the midpoint of each singletree and be parallel to the wagon shaft.

Harness the animals. Use the harness shown on page 95 .

• Position the team and hitch the lines.

Position the animals on either side of the shaft so their collars are roughly over the neckyoke. Do this by leading each animal to the correct position or by driving them into position as a unit. To place the team as a unit, fasten their lines and drive them toward the shaft. Approach it from the side and behind. Let one animal step over it and then straighten the team and ease it up toward the neckyoke. Once they're in a position and steady, tuck the lines in the britching, or somewhere they can be reached easily, and go forward to place the neckyoke. (Don't walk between them-go around.)

If the animals were led into position individually, fasten the lines before proceeding.

• Hitch the neckyoke.

Stand in front of the team and pick up the neckyoke (jockey yokes attached). In doing this, you will have also lifted the wagonshaft. Next, you want to free your hands so you can connect the jockey yokes to the lazy straps on the collars. To do this, bend your knees and use them to hold up the neckyoke.

Now fasten the inside ring of each jockey yoke to the inside lazy strap on each collar. With this done, the shaft is now held up by the collar, and so you can stand up and finish the job by connecting the outside lazy straps to the outside rings of the jockey yokes.

• Hitch the braking/backing up system.

At this point, the shaft is being held up by the collars. The tops of the collars are bearing down on the tops of the animals' necks. This is hard on the team, and it is better to transfer this weight to the backpad at the top of the jack saddle This is done by connecting the pole straps to the jockey yokes.

When not being used, pole straps come forward out of the jack saddle side rings and fasten to the hames (see page 95). Take them off the hames and connect them to the ends of the jockey yokes. Tighten them until tension on the lazy straps is relieved, and then unhook the lazy straps and hook them back up on the hames.

Doubletree to Wagon Hitch

Connection of the pole straps puts the weight of the shaft on the animals' backs, but it also links the breeching to wagon tongue. When the animal backs up, the breeching closes against the buttocks and pulls the side straps, pole straps, and jockey yoke. The jockey yokes then act like singletrees, pulling the longer neckyoke (equivalent of doubletree) which in turn pulls on the tongue of the wagon. The wagon is backed up.

When the wagon is driven downhill, the shaft drives forward, pulling the neckyoke forward. Jockey yokes, pole straps and sidesteps are all pulled forward until the breeching seat closes against the buttocks. The animal resists the pressure by leaning back into its breaching. In this instance, breeching works like a brake.

The pole straps are adjusted by trial and error.

If the straps are too short, the breeching will interfere with the animal's normal gait. It will squeeze or tighten against the buttocks when the animal is walking on level ground.

If the straps are too long, the shaft will drive too far forward before the breeching has a chance to work. This can cause two problems: a) the breeching slams into the animal's rear quarters instead of meeting them; there is strain on both the animal and the harness; b) the singletrees come forward with the shaft and bang the animal's heels.

• Hitch the pulling system.

The pulling system is connected by fastening the ends of the traces to the singletrees. Connect the inside traces first, walking out and around the team to reach the other side. Make sure the traces are the same length, and that they pull the load before the team walks so far forward that the neckyoke slips off the tongue.

Double-shafted Cart Hitch (one animal)


One-animal carts are double shafted. Shafts are supported by loops hung from a saddle. The saddle is a thick pad or backpad which distributes weight and pressure from the shafts across the animal's back. The cart is pulled forward by short traces which connect the collar or breastband to the middle of each shaft. In the illustration below, the trace is shown as a rope tied to a ring on the end of the breastband. It connects to an iron U-bolt located halfway back on the shaft.

Backing and braking are accomplished through use of breeching and hold-back straps. In the illustration, the hold-back strap (or sidestrap) ties to a ring on the end of the britching seat and runs forward to a U-bolt located toward the front of the shaft. When the cart goes downhill, the shaft slides forward in the loop, and the hold-back strap tightens and pulls the britching seat up against the donkey's rear quarters. The donkey brakes the cart by resisting the pressure of the britching seat.

The cart is backed up when the driver backs the animal into its britching. The hold-back straps then act like traces, pulling back on the front ends of the shafts.