Field Test

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The Lacey family's Jones Header in action again

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In 1933, my dad, Ed H. Lacey, brought a Jones Header back to the home place from his Uncle Levi's farm some three miles away. He put the header in what we call the west shed, a long, narrow (14 foot wide) lean-to attached to the barn.

Years passed. Dad turned the shed into a shop, with a welder, anvil, torches on a cart with steel wheels, and the like. During the ensuing 60 odd years, he attached a number of hooks and shelves to the walls. And apparently, he was immune to electricity, but I found out as a kid that wet ground and his welder did not play well together. It seemed stray juice would come out of the old box if there was a heavy dew.

At any rate, the header sat there -until eventually my sister, Lois, acquired the home place, where Dad had been born in 1911, and decided she wanted the shed for storage. Good idea. Problem? You bet!

The header was about six inches narrower than the shed had become. Getting it out required taking out all the shelving back to the bare walls, and then carefully rolling the unit out, whereupon Lois asked if we would like it for our Little Village Farm Museum. We accepted gladly.

Little Village Farm, near Trent, S.D., features six farm buildings filled with agricultural items of yesteryear, including tractors and windmills (six outside at last count!), old signs, bottles and other things.

The header fit in perfectly.

Historically, headers were used when grain was short and couldn't be handled with a binder or in country where they would head the grain, haul barges to the site and pile the cut heads in bread loaf-shaped stacks for later threshing.

As the threshing progressed, they would move the machine down the rows of stacks, pitching in heads from both sides of the machine. Because only heads were left, not much straw was generated. Heading also was a fairly fast method of getting grain cut; a good header crew could cut and pile from 25 to 40 acres per day.

Piano Manufacturing Co. built the Jones Header, which shows up in C.H. Wendel's book 150 Years of International Harvester. The company was in business from 1881 to 1902 with W.E. Jones as president, hence the names 'Jones All Steel Header' and 'Jones Level Binder,' two pieces of equipment made by the firm. In 1902, Piano was one of five firms joined together to form International Harvester.

Fast forward to the summer of 2001.

I got the idea we ought to see if the old header worked. After all, it's only been about 70 years since grain ran over its platform. Luckily, Dad had saved all the pieces, and Lois had too, so the main hurdle was in making new canvases. I had been saving canvases for years, so I just had to take about 60 feet apart, shorten all the batts, narrow the canvases up to 29-1/2 inches, make up three of them of varying lengths, staple and rivet all the batts back on, and we were ready to go! Nothing to it. Only took a couple of days.

Along this line of thought, I think in this age of instant everything, many folks viewing restored or conserved items have no idea of the work, patience or perseverance involved in the pieces.

But back to the header. With the canvases in place, we were ready for the test. On the big day, several of us loaded up the header, after taking it apart again, and hauled it to my brother's farm, where he had left a strip of oats for us to harvest. Myron Joneson and Grant Kringen, two neighbors who enjoy horses, brought up a couple of teams. One was to pull the header barge; the other was to 'push' the header.

Myron's horses, the pushers, were a bit spooked by the contraption ahead of them. He started out slowly, gradually working up to putting the cutter in gear, and soon, the horses were working as if they had done this all their lives.

Grant came alongside with his team and the barge. We then cut and headed a strip of oats just like in the old days. Never mind that it took four or five days of time to get a 10-minute video, along with the photos you see here.

Jim Lacey and his wife, Joan, operate Little Village Farm near Trent, S.D. The Farm is open by chance or appointment for a small admission fee from April through October. Contact the Laceys at 47582 24th St., Dell Rapids, SD 57022, (605) 428-5979