A Marshall Plan Massey

Dutch farmer remembers his first combine

Massey_HarrisModel21A.jpg

This photo of a Massey-Harris Model 21A combine, owned by Byron Henry and driven by Milton Ayers, Junius, S.D., sparked a series of recollections for a retired farmer in the Netherlands who first encountered such equipment in the years following World War II.

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As a subscriber to Farm Collector, I was pleased to see a picture of a 21A Massey Harris combine ("Prairie Star" November 2004, page 24). I would like to write about my memories of a 21A Massey combine. I am 75 years old, and as a retired farmer in Holland, I have many memories from the past.

After World War II, there was a lack of almost everything here. Our Farmall F20, equipped with a gas generator, was stolen by the Germans, as were most of our horses. Many farms were burnt down during the liberation, so crops could not be stored inside before threshing, as was the practice in Holland. Without buildings, farmers were desperate to obtain combines. Before the war, there were no combines here.

The first combine I ever saw was being used to harvest barley. It was an International Harvester pull-type with a Continental engine. Thanks to the Marshall Plan, more and more such machines came to Holland.

When farmers joined together, they could obtain a bigger machine, and this happened in our district. The government regulated the distribution of new equipment, because there was a huge demand and not enough machines. In our region, there was a used 21 Massey-Harris that was traded in for a newer unit. I bought the Massey from a dealer for a very low price. After thoroughly repairing it, I could harvest my own crop!

Operating the Massey was a Spartan doing, of course: It had no power steering and no hydraulics. The Massey had no auger. It used two (right and left) canvas conveyers that moved the crop after it was cut to the center upon another conveyer that moved it to the drum. It had a pick-up reel, adjustable only with right and left turnbuckles.

To raise and lower the platform was hard work. There was a big vertical hand wheel with a brake pedal to lift the platform. The brake pedal was used to prevent the platform from lowering after you had turned the wheel to raise it. Three heavy springs put the system in some kind of balance. A Massey 21A with a 6-volt electric lift was also available, but mine was operated by "elbow force."

The sickle drive was a weak point. A v-belt went from pulley to pulley, and it only covered the sickle pulley by 90 degrees.

The drum was driven by a double 3/4 chain and sprocket. You could change the speed by using other sprockets and lengthening or shortening the chain. The engine was a Chrysler six-cylinder side valve with a belt-driven governor. It was mounted below the machine, and a duct for radiator air pointed upwards, as did the engine's air intake. The final drive to the front driving wheels was by chain and sprocket and differential. It had only a transmission brake, so when one chain broke, the machine stopped in the field. If that happened while you were on the road, you could do nothing but pray! The front drive wheels were 10×28, too small for Dutch circumstances, so we mounted duals, but the result was that the axles broke several times!

Now we own, together with a neighbor, an 8080 19-foot New Holland combine made in Belgium. It has an air-conditioned cab, power steering and hydraulic drive. It is 25 years old, but is still doing a good job. My son has the farm now, but I always do the threshing. Because of the low prices of farm products, it is not possible to buy a new combine. Still, the difference between the 21A and the 8080 New Holland is like the difference between a horse-drawn carriage and a Cadillac!

After World War II, there was a lack of almost everything here. Our Farmall F20, equipped with a gas generator, was stolen by the Germans, as were most of our horses. Many farms were burnt down during the liberation, so crops could not be stored inside before threshing, as was the practice in Holland. Without buildings, farmers were desperate to obtain combines. Before the war, there were no combines here.

We were liberated 60 years ago. Recently we have seen pictures on TV of the many soldiers, including Americans, who died for our freedom. We also remember the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe. We thank the American people very much.

- For more information: M.H. Burgers, Pr.Marijkestraat 15, 4671 GB Dinteloord, Holland