In the Right Place at the Right Time for a Grain Binder

A series of random events ends in the preservation of a 1908 Deering grain binder.

Deering binder

The first time the Deering binder had seen daylight in probably 50 years.

Photo by Milferd Smith

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Going to auctions is one of my hobbies. Every week I check my computer for auctions within 50 miles of my home. On Sept. 23, 2016, I was checking out auctions online and I found one 25 miles east of my farm. The ad said the farm had been homesteaded in the 1880s. I thought there should be a lot of old items there, so I downloaded the flyer.

A lot of household items were listed, but there wasn’t much for old machinery. A lot of old items were hanging on shed walls. You had to buy everything in the sheds, including old home-sawed lumber. I just about gave up on finding anything to do with farm machinery. About 12 listings from the end there was an old cast iron corn sheller on legs, but the big wheel and crank were gone. About six listings from the end, there was a set of dollies for a grain binder. Three listings from the end, there was a 16- by 20-foot shed full of home-sawed lumber stacked 3 feet deep the length and depth of the shed. At the very bottom of the listing, two words caught my eye: wheat thresher.

I enlarged the photo and to my surprise, there was an old grain binder in the back of the shed. I had never seen a binder like that except in pictures in Farm Collector and other magazines like it.

I called a friend in South Dakota and described what I had seen. “Oh my,” he said. “That binder is over 100 years old. That has to be a Deering binder.” Three days later, an open house was held at the sale site. I went to take a look at the items. My legs aren’t that good, but the young lady from the auction company crawled over the lumber in the shed with a flashlight: Sure enough, it was a Deering binder.

I asked one of the fellows from Forest City (Minnesota) Threshers if the club would be interested in the binder, as they have a shed where they display a lot of old items. “Yes, you buy it,” club member Dave Jutz told me, adding that he would help haul it. “But don’t pay more than $200 for it.” I didn’t end up getting the binder – everything in the shed sold for $385 – but I did get the dollies.

Timing is everything

The day after the auction, buyers were supposed to pick up their purchases and pay for them. I had planned to go that morning, but something came up. Then I was going to go right after noon, but something came up again. I didn’t get there until about 2:45 p.m. After paying for the dollies, I went to pick them up. Lo and behold, there was a pickup with a trailer parked about 60 feet from the shed. An established windbreak blocked convenient access. There was a space of about 3 feet next to the shed wall; the shed was a lean-to on a granary on the north side, and there were cedar trees on the south side of the granary.

I asked the young man if he’d bought everything in the shed. He said he had. I asked what he was going to do with the grain binder. “What grain binder?” he asked. “What is a grain binder?” I clarified by saying it was a wheat thresher. He said he didn’t want it. If he couldn’t sell it, he would have cut it up for scrap iron. He didn’t know how he was going to get it out; he really only wanted the lumber. After brief negotiations, he agreed to sell the binder for $200.

Overcoming obstacles

I went to the auction office to ask when I could pick up the binder, as they were only going to be there until 5 p.m. that day. They responded by telling me that I couldn’t buy the piece from the seller onsite, but if it was at his home, I could. They then said they would have to talk to the owner of the auction service to see if he would allow me to buy the binder and if so, when I could pick it up.

That man asked me how I planned on getting it out of the shed and onto the driveway, and I said with a skid steer loader. “You can’t take a skid steer back there,” he responded. “It won’t fit. We have already sold the farm and the new owners won’t like it if you cut the branches off the trees.” I told him the branches were dead 7 feet up and we would use a chainsaw to cut them off by the trunk. “No,” he said, “you can’t do that.” I told him if I was buying the farm, I would want those old branches cut off so I could use the shed, at least for small items. Then he protested that our equipment would dig up the lawn. I said we would level and rake it out, and after the next rain, it would be fine. He finally gave us permission, provided we arrived by 9 a.m. the next day and finished by 2 p.m.

Preserving an original

We spent four hours getting the binder out and loaded and fixing up the premises. We leveled out the shed’s dirt floor so it would be ready for use. We cut the branches and put them in a pile with other brush and finally we leveled out the lawn. I asked the man from the auction service if everything was okay after we left. He said everything was in excellent condition.

Dave has a pressure washer with a heater to heat the water. He washed the whole binder and it looks pretty good, for a 1908 machine. The paint isn’t perfect, but it’s not too bad. Everything is there except the canvases – but that problem has been solved (see sidebar below). It was oiled before being put in the shed, so it turns over very easy. It would cut grain if need be. The 108-year-old binder is now on display. Thanks to the Forest City Threshers and Dave Jutz for saving this old binder for future generations. FC


A lucky find at the right price

In September 2015, I attended an auction north of Forest City, Minnesota. The seller was Arthur Reibe, president of Forest City Threshers. He had a lot of antiques on his sale. My friend from South Dakota and I went to the auction to see the items to be sold. One thing that caught my friend’s eye was a pallet of about 35-40 binder canvases, including four that had never been used. My friend commented that he would give $75 for all of them.

When it came time to sell, the auctioneer started the bidding at $50, but I said nothing. He kept going down in price. Finally he pointed to me and said, “Milferd, give me $2.50,” and I did. He finally got $5 from someone else. He came back to me and asked for $7.50. I said yes, and I got them.

A year later, after we got the Deering binder from the auction near my home, I told Dave Jutz – a member of the nearby Forest City Threshers – to find out what size canvases it needed. He went online and thought he found some in Pennsylvania for $390, but they had already been sold. Then he got a copy of the parts book. I kept telling him to come out and check the canvases I had. When he came over, he had the Deering parts numbers for all three canvases.

He came over at about 8:30 one night. We had to use flashlights to see as the shed was dark. When he got to the first new canvas, it was the right parts number for the binder. When he got to the second one, it also had a correct number, and so did the third one. Two of the canvases are perfect; one has a small hole. So now the binder is all ready to cut grain – but it won’t be used for that. It will be kept on display for people to see and enjoy.

There aren’t many times that things work out the way they did. If I hadn’t been late going to pay and pick up the dollies and if I hadn’t gotten that pallet of canvases in 2015, none of this would have happened. – Milferd Smith


Milferd Smith lives in Darwin, Minnesota.