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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made
WORK: Tish Fearn
  Tish Fearn describes how she came to invent Litelift, a shovel so light you can lift it with one finger.
Occupation: Inventor Lives: Wetherby, Yorkshire
Intro Image
© Science Museum/Science and Society Picture
 

Transcription of audio file:
Basically the invention came about more by necessity than anything else. I decided, foolishly, to buy a horse and a pony for my daughter and myself.


picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

Having gone along to auctions and really being appalled by what I found there, I started rescuing horses. We ended up with an influx of twenty-odd horses on our yard, and the implement you used to muck out was the shavings fork.

Now the shavings forks on the market are quite heavy, quite cumbersome. What you tend to find is that with the long, straight shaft the head of the implement is quite far away from the user. So once that's filled with muck and wet shavings it becomes very, very heavy.

Purely from the physics point of view, the fulcrum point is such that you're taking the strain through the arms, into the back, across the shoulders and into the neck. So virtually the whole of the body is under strain when you're mucking the stable out.

The fact that I was born with my left hand missing meant that the majority of the load was taken on my right arm, my good arm. Mucking out six stables a day, and also doing the paddocks as well, meant that the continual strain caused problems, and I ended up with chronic tendonitis.

I was told that really I should give up horses, and certainly the sanctuary. As that was a vocation, for me it was a non-starter, I wasn't going to give up.

So it meant (although I wasn't in plaster I was in a sling for a month) that I had to sit at home and try and redesign what I felt was the main problem - and that was the implement. The one thing I knew, because I use these implements every day, was that the straight shaft was the biggest problem. We had to redesign that, and look to making the implement work closer to our own body.

The only way to do that was to introduce a backward and a forward bend within the straight shaft, which meant that when you were actually using the shaft it was just a few inches away from the body. You were standing closer to the work, and when you were lifting up the weight you were taking that weight much more evenly.

And to make that even easier, I decided to put a second handle on the shaft. Again, that distributes the weight - much more cleverly, in a sense, because you're taking away the strain from the tendons that would normally hold the shaft.

So I applied holes to the shaft, which enables the handle to be used from a left- to a right-handed position, and also to be used at the front of the shaft. You can even turn it and use it at the back of the shaft.

So you can have a bespoke piece of equipment there that you use according to what is most comfortable to yourself.

I knew that the design was for the able-bodied; the plus side of it all was that it could be used for the disabled as well. It must be one of the first implements that can be used in both areas without having to adapt it any more. The adaptation is built into the actual shaft, and with the second handle and the aptitude of changing heads, it can be used by many people in many different areas.

Resource Descriptions

Winnowing shovel, c.1875-1900
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