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RESTORATION OF THE MONTH

'Horrible mess' of a corn cutter retrieved, restored

Brad Reive's grandfather bought a used Noxon corn cutter in 1921 in Essex County, Ontario, Canada, to use on his new farm in the Highgate area of nearby Kent County. After a neighbor, Robbie Wilson, borrowed the old cutter in the 1950s, the Reives almost lost track of it, but thanks to a chance conversation a few years back, it's home again.

Brad says his uncle sold the grandfather's Highgate farm more than 40 years ago, but Brad's father, George Reive, stayed in touch with their old neighbor. 'Dad and I happened to be talking to Robbie a few years ago, and he indicated he had this cutter. We asked the price, and he said that he never purchased it, so we still owned it.'

That revelation prompted a quick foray to Highgate by Brad and a collector friend, Bruce McCann. They walked past the dismembered cutter three times without seeing it in the brush -'You have to remember that I had never seen this cutter; it was old and obsolete long before my time!' Brad says.

Eventually, Robbie came out to help them with the hunt and finally turned it up. When Brad first saw it, he didn't think it was a candidate for any sort of restoration. 'What a horrible mess! I loaded it up and took it home, thinking that I would more than likely scrap it.'

The unit was made by the Noxon Brothers Manufacturing Co. of Ingersoll, Ontario. Brad tracked down some Noxon product literature that dated from 1890 and that now is on file at the University of Guelph, Ontario, but his particular unit was not listed in the post-1890 documents, which makes him think it was built prior to that year.

According to Linda Amichand of the McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Noxon was in business from 1875 to 1981 and made cultivating, seeding and harvesting machinery. Not all of the Noxon documents now at the library have been catalogued, she added.

Brad says he also has seen sales literature for identical corn cutters manufactured by Foos of Springfield, Ohio, and Shunk Plow Co. 'The others more than likely bought the patent from Foos,' he speculates. 'Noxon may have purchased the patent, or 'borrowed' it. A lot of that went on up here in Canada, and by the time the original manufacturer got wind of it, the 'borrower' was out of production.'

Back home, Brad tried to piece the old cutter back together again, and by the time he had figured it out, he'd decided, 'Well, maybe I could rebuild it.'

And that's just what he did during the winter of 1998. 'I 're-manufactured' it from Dad's memory, and by guessing,' he says, noting he has seen only one other cutter of this style, a Shunk, in original condition, at the Upper Canada Village at Morrisburg, Ontario.

Corn cutters were used to cut corn for silage. The earliest ones were mostly wooden affairs; some were homemade while others, like the Noxon, were commercially manufactured. 'They were better than a scythe,' Brad says, 'but then the corn binders came in.' The binder system proved so superior to the cutter system that cutters quickly became obsolete. Brad says his dad could remember see ing their cutter in operation, although he never operated it himself, and he always said it needed 'a very quiet horse.'

The horse, pulling the cutter through the field, supplied the power to the cutting edges, positioned under sheet metal wings on both sides of the machine. As the horse walked along, it simply forced the cutter blades through the cornstalks.

A person sat on each of the cutter's two seats, which faced out toward each side, and grabbed the corn shocks as they were cut. Once each had an armful, they stopped the cutter, walked to the rear of the machine and set up a shock. Next, they'd get back on the cutter and move forward again, ready to collect another armload. According to the Noxon literature, 10 acres a day could be cut this way, but Brad says his dad was pretty skeptical of that claim.

The shocks were sometimes tied and fed in bundles to livestock, or loaded loose and ground into feed by a corn husker shredder, which is what happened on the Reives' farm. 'Very little corn got sold in those days,' Brad notes.

The Reives also had a rack that fitted on top of their cutter, so it could double as a wagon at haymaking time.

To restore the machine, Brad had to replace the wings on both sides, which were almost completely rusted away. The cutting edges, positioned under the wings, were in good enough condition to retain, though, having been protected all those years out of doors by the wings. They're not perfect, Brad says of the cutting edges, but they're good enough to maybe some day actually try out the cutter, to see how it performs - should he ever turn up 'a very quiet horse.'

The wooden parts, all of which were gone when Brad first retrieved the cutter, have been remade of white ash; originally, he says, in his part of Canada, they would have been either white ash or maple. These include the platform to which the wings and seats are attached, and the shafts and singletree for the horse.

About 1920, the original cast iron, spoked wheels wore out and were replaced with spindles and brake drums: 'The brake drums served as the wheels,' Brad explains. 'Overland on the front and Durant on the rear (I still need an Overland hub cap.)'

Brad's dad couldn't remember the cutter's original color, so they just painted it red. 'I found out later that it was more than likely black,' Brad says, 'Oh, well, next time it gets painted, it will be black.'

Brad says he really enjoyed 'rebuilding this little piece of family and farm history' and plans to add it to his already 'eclectic' collection, and preserve it for his grandchildren. He adds his dad, who died two years ago, lived long enough to see it restored, but Robbie died three years ago, before the project was completed.

Today, the cutter shares space on Brad's farm with a number of vintage tractors, including both Massey and Allis-Chalmers models, various other old-time implements and farm-related machines. 'I'm running out of room,' Brad says of all his treasures. 'I need more barns.'

Among his most prized pieces are about 30 farm, piston and pressure pumps, including a Cockshutt home pressure pump from the 1930s that supplied a farm home water system.

He also has a steel hay car on a wooden track that dates to before 1875 and that was made in Wendigo, Ontario. He initially was attracted to it, he says, because his dad used to be part-owner of a firm called the Wendigo Construction Co.; he is able to date the pump because the town of Wendigo changed it name to Melbourne in 1875.

Rural Heritage Collection

The Noxon Bros. Mfg. Co. papers are part of the Rural Heritage Collection at the McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

The collection focuses on the history of Canadian agriculture and contains more than 6,000 books, 800 films, 150,000 photos and other documents. It was amassed over many years by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and formerly was housed at the Ontario Farm Museum in Milton.

Those materials in the collection that have been catalogued are listed in the library's online catalogue, 'TRELLIS,' which is on the Internet. The Web address is: http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/

- For more information about Brad's Noxon corn cutter, contact him at 8809 Graham Rd., R.R. 2, West Lome, Ontario NOL 2P0, Canada; (519) 768-1365.