Hay Press Back In Business
Vintage hay presses, including a rare Kansas City Lightning, get back to work with help from Minnesota collector
During baling, a man worked from this platform, pitching hay or straw into the press. A crew of five operated the machine.
Dwight Yaeger grew up in a household where family members collected dishes and household antiques. But Dwight veered toward old iron. “I enjoyed mechanical work and nobody else on the farm was doing that,” he says. “That’s how I got started.”
A 1949 John Deere 830 Rice Special tractor was his first project. “I was farming at the time, and Doug Hager (a friend and then-employee) urged me to start.” After restoring more than 30 John Deere tractors for his own collection, Dwight began looking for a new challenge in antique farm equipment.
Now 64 and owner of a Mankato, Minn., school bus service, Dwight has dozens of pieces of restored farm machinery, including rare ones like a 1920 Kansas City Lightning combined hay press (sometimes misidentified as a “lighting” hay press).
Dwight’s first unusual restoration project was a 1920 International Harvester Co. hay press. “At the time, nobody else was doing much with old iron, so it was an easy thing to pick up,” he says.
When he happened on to a vintage operator’s manual, the find proved useful in many ways. In studying the manual, Dwight discovered the unit was typically sold with a 6 hp International engine. The International hay press is belt-driven from the engine, a customary design in that era.
Since he’d found his press minus an engine, he began the search for a replacement. Tracking one down, he got more than he bargained for. The seller mentioned an old hay press in the shed in need of restoration. “I figured I already had one hay press,” Dwight recalls, “so I might as well have another.” Thus began his Kansas City Lightning combined hay press restoration project.
An unusual hay press design
Kansas City Hay Press Co., Kansas City, Mo., sold three models of hay presses: the Lightning Jr., which ran on belt power; the Lightning one-horse press; and the Lightning combined, which had an engine. The company also manufactured Kansas City Lightning farm engines ranging in size from 4 to 22 hp.
The Kansas City Lightning combined press differed from other presses of the day in that it was gear-driven rather than belt-driven. The Lightning’s setup is also different. “The divider boards swing down into the chamber,” Dwight says, “while divider boards on other machines lay flat on the bale chamber and tipped up.”
Dwight speculates that the Lightning must have been a pretty solid machine compared to others of its era. From what he’s read, many were made and the company had a wide sales area. “They were as prevalent as the International hay press,” he says. And yet few turn up for sale or on display at shows. “I don’t know how rare mine is,” he says, “but I think it’s rare that it’s been restored.”
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