Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler is a Perfect 10

A rare Allis-Chalmers No. 10 Roto-Baler shines in a Minnesota collection.

Gary Agrimson

Gary Agrimson with his rare Allis-Chalmers No. 10 Roto-Baler.

Photo by Bill Vossler

Content Tools

When Gary Agrimson bought a rare 1959 D12 Allis-Chalmers tractor more than 30 years ago, it summoned memories of growing up on a dairy farm in southeastern Minnesota, where his father used Allis-Chalmers tractors. “That D12 was in pretty bad shape, and I needed more information on it,” he says, “but there were only a few in this area. I’ve always liked older machinery and old times.”

At a farm toy show in Hutchinson, Minnesota, in 1990, he met Ed and Larry Karg, who had a similar tractor. That connection helped Gary in restoring his D12. “Ed said he was thinking about starting an Allis-Chalmers club, and as one thing leads to another with collectors, I became one of the first officers of the Upper Midwest Allis-Chalmers Club.” Each year the club stages its Orange Spectacular show in Hutchinson. 

Because he had a Roto-Baler and other basic farm implements, and he was an officer, he was given the responsibility of presenting field demonstrations for the club. “That meant harvesting the ripe grain for the show, always the fourth weekend of July,” Gary says. “That’s how I really got started purchasing, restoring and maintaining Allis old iron, and getting to understand them. That’s how I got collecting the combines and Roto-Balers.”

Baler popular but perilous

Roto-Balers were popular because round bales shed water better than square ones. “Like having a thatched roof,” Gary says. “The water runs right off them.” But that wasn’t why his father, Paul, bought a Roto-Baler. “I was there,” Gary recalls. “I know exactly what happened. Behind the wagon, we pulled a hay loader, which lifted the hay up and stacked it on the wagon. At home, we backed the wagon into the barn, took a hay hook, picked up the loose hay and put it in the hay mound. That is an extremely slow process. Then Dad heard about the Roto-Baler. They said it could roll up 10 acres of hay in a day with no problem, 1,000 bales on a good day. So in 1954, when I was 6, he bought one.”

But the Roto-Baler soon proved to be a dangerous machine. When the machine’s tying system failed, the operator would get off the tractor to get the twine back in place when the conveyor shut off, as it did on each bale. If the operator didn’t shut off the PTO, the conveyor would start again while the farmer was working, and it would take off arms and legs, or worse, sometimes resulting in fatalities. “It can still be dangerous today,” Gary says.

Because of the danger, Paul never let Gary operate the Roto-Baler. “By the time I got big enough to carry a bale,” he says, “Dad had sold that one and bought a square baler. I was the bale loader behind the square baler.”

As an adult, with his father’s Roto-Baler long gone, Gary found another one and bought it. “After all those years around Roto-Balers, that was the first one I ever ran,” he says. “Nothing super special, but it was a very decent baler during the 1990s.”

He soon added an auxiliary engine to the baler. “Most tractors during that time did not have the live PTO option,” he says. “With the auxiliary engine of an Allis B or C, you didn’t have to worry about the PTO on the tractor, but still, not many were sold.”

History Walk paves the way to rare Roto-Balers

At a show in Marshalltown, Iowa, in 1998, Arlen Lepper created a display showing every model of Allis-Chalmers tractors ever built. The next logical step, Gary says, was to showcase all other Allis-Chalmers machines.

Arlen suggested creation of a history walk of combines at the Hutchinson show, and then a history walk of the Roto-Baler. With Gary’s knowledge of Roto-Balers, it was no surprise that he got involved. The goal then became acquisition of every version of the implement.

“By 2000, we had almost a complete set of Roto-Balers, as well as all the models of the combine,” he says, “so we started telling their stories from the first one to the very end.” All were purchased by collectors, at no expense to the club.

The need to complete the Roto-Baler collection created additional motivation to find the rare ones. “When you found something unique,” Gary says, “you wanted to purchase it and make it run and work for our field demos.” That led Gary to the rare Allis-Chalmers No. 10 Roto-Baler.

Getting a lead on a No. 10

No one in the club had seen an Allis-Chalmers No. 10 Roto-Baler, because only 1,500 were built in one year – 1958 – and with the problems they had, only a few were sold. But that all changed when Gilbert Vust, now deceased, brought his to the Le Sueur, Minnesota, Pioneer Power show in 1994. “He also brought an Allis-Chalmers D17 Wheatland tractor,” Gary recalls. “That was the first time most of us had ever seen both of them. I knew the No. 10 balers were out there, but how do you find one?”

Meanwhile, Gary had heard about an engine drive for a standard Roto-Baler through pictures a friend showed of one in North Dakota. “They are extremely difficult to find,” Gary says. But the pictures got Gary thinking, and he proposed a trade to Gilbert Vust: “Bring your No. 10 to the Orange Power show in trade for information on that rare auxiliary engine in North Dakota.” And that’s exactly what Gilbert did.

A few years later, Gilbert returned the favor, telling Gary that a No. 10 was available in Bethany, Missouri. Was he interested? You bet. “The No. 10 is so rare and so unique,” he says. “I had to have it.” Although the relic was intact, it had been left exposed to the elements for years.

‘Endless’ enthusiasm

Gary disassembled the baler and sandblasted the pieces. As he started reassembly, he decided he wanted upper and lower “endless” belts (with no seams), which had been original on the No. 10. “The advantage of the endless belts is no splices,” he explains, “so they run smoother.”

But to install them, one side of the baler had to be taken apart. “Since I already had done that, I figured I might as well install endless belts,” he says. “Otherwise, it would be eight hours of work versus 30 minutes.” Allis-Chalmers no longer made endless belts, but Gary tracked down a Minneapolis company that would fabricate them.

Because Gary’s No. 10 had sat outside for so long, some of the sheet metal was rusted. Fortunately, all Allis-Chalmers baler sheet metal is the same, so pieces were easily replaced. Sheet metal for the upper conveyor was heavily damaged, bent and rusted, so Gary had to remake those pieces, using flat panels with rivets. “The No. 10 wasn’t the worst to make over,” he says. “Some of the shoes on the lower conveyor had rusted through from sitting on the ground, and the regular ones I replaced them with aren’t quite the same, but most people wouldn’t notice the difference.”

The damaged hitch required simple channel iron. Later, he installed a D14 engine from a combine – an extremely rare engine – on his No. 10. “That had been a No. 10 option, but it hadn’t come with this baler,” he says. “One of the criticisms I always get is, ‘Why put an engine on a nonstop baler?’ My only answer is because I found the parts to do it, and I can do it,” he says with a laugh. “It gives you more control, and you can run the tractor a little slower.”

No. 10 Roto-Baler had its problems

Not all early balers were continuous. On many, the operator had to stop the machine to allow the bale to be tied before moving on. “That was one of the biggest drawbacks of the round baler,” Gary says. “Every 10 feet, or however long the bale’s size, the farmer had to stop, let the machine tie the bale and eject it.”

Allis-Chalmers engineers thought they could design a continuous baler by putting an upper conveyer on a standard one, and using most standard parts. So when the baler was tying, the start of the next hay or straw would already be going over the top to start the next bale.

That meant redesigning the tying system. Instead of taking about 10 seconds, the interval had to be cut to two or three seconds. Standard Allis-Chalmers balers could grab big heavy windrows with unbelievable capacity, Gary says. “But with the No. 10, the advertising said use only one windrow instead of two or three for the standard balers.” The throat area on the No. 10 was smaller, making it prone to lots of plugging. “That was one of the issues,” he says “In fact, the No. 10 baler was very safe because everything was so covered up. That was another issue.”

Allis-Chalmers retrofitted the No. 10 with improvement packages. “The farmer could convert it back to a standard baler, or just leave it like it was, and carry on,” Gary says, “but finally the company gave up on it.” Allis never made another round baler. “They did make square balers,” he says, “but big round balers have become the standard.”

Gary figures most No. 10 balers were converted to standard models. “We can spot them, because there were several unique things about the No. 10, like wheel spacing, and other little brackets, along with the fast-wrap attachment,” he says. “Parts for the No. 10 were literally destroyed, so finding any parts for them today is pretty rare.”

As is finding the baler itself. “We figure fewer than 50 are around today,” Gary says. “They still pop up now and then, but they’re very, very rare. And to see one actually work, like at Hutchinson, is even rarer. We have done it. They’re very, very finicky, so you should work it on 100 acres to get it dialed in. But since we only run it once a year at Hutchinson, it’s quite an achievement when we get to the end of the field nonstop.”

1954 Baldwin-Gleaner combine

The T-Gleaner combine came out in 1954 in two models: the T2 with a 7-foot header, and the T3 with a 10-foot header. The T-Gleaner was three-quarters the size of the Gleaner Model A. It had a 23-inch cylinder and 28-inch separator, with a 30-bushel grain bin. Collectors like the fact that it was made for only one year, powered by a Ford 4-cylinder, 172-cubic-inch engine, with a variable speed and 3-speed transmission. “According to the information we got, they were very good in edible beans in Michigan,” Gary says, “so most of them ended up there.” The T2 cost $4,459 in 1954 (roughly $40,020 today), and the T3 $4,560.

Allis-Chalmers bought Gleaner on Feb. 1, 1955, and immediately dropped the T-Gleaner, selling all remaining inventory. “That was the end of it,” Gary says. “It was discontinued in favor of the modern 100 All-Crop Allis-Chalmers combine.”

 A couple of Gary’s friends heard about a little combine, and the owners didn’t know what it was. “They said it had a Ford engine and a 7-foot head, which narrowed it down to being a Baldwin-Gleaner T2,” Gary says. “My friends went to Wisconsin and purchased it. The machine had been run for many, many years, although it was very complete, and had been stored mostly inside. They brought it back to Hubbard, Iowa, went through it, and basically painted all the angle iron and wheels, fixed all the minor things that needed fixing, and got it running.”

The restored combine made its debut at Marshalltown, Iowa, show in 1998, but eventually the two offered the piece to Gary. “It’s hard to find rare pieces that are restored and working where you don’t really have to touch it, so I bought it,” he says. “The thing I like about this machine is that it’s totally legal to put it on a gooseneck trailer and go down the road with it, because it’s under the weight, height and width that can be taken on highways. It’s something you can move around legally without worrying about permits and widths.”

Favorite, top to bottom

Choosing between the combine and baler, Gary says the No. 10 Roto-Baler is his favorite, hands down. “I’ve got more skin in that game if you will, more blood, sweat and tears, and more money,” he says. “The Gleaner was complete. All I had to do was store it. But I had to go through the Roto-Baler top to bottom. Plus, it’s a unique product that served its purpose well.”

Why does Gary collect old iron? “Only one reason: the people,” he says. “You meet like-minded people who want to preserve some of the past. You’re preserving something for the future generations. And all the people I meet in old iron have become my lifelong friends.” FC


For more information: Gary Agrimson, 4092 83rd Ave. N., Brooklyn Park, MN 55443; (763) 566-3446; email: mailroom@agrimsontool.com.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: bvossler@juno.com.