When Augustus Adams founded the Sandwich Mfg. Co. in 1867 at Sandwich, Ill., he probably never dreamed that some of his company’s products would be on display in the 21st century.
Adams and his two eldest sons developed their own brand of spring and cylinder corn shellers, the first of which were both hand- and power-operated. The equipment they created was known around the world in that era. The company later developed a famous line of stationary gas engines. Much of the company’s line is highly collectible today.
South Dakotan Dave Thompson has a strong sense of connection to the Sandwich company, primarily because he grew up near Sandwich. “I was a farmer there all my life,” he says. “The first time I saw the Sandwich engines running was at the Sandwich fair. You could actually see the pistons, and the flywheels were really rolling. That all intrigued me and I knew I just had to have one of my own.”
In recent years and now living near Beresford, S.D., Dave has displayed a Sandwich 10 hp engine and a Sandwich sheller at area shows. His collection is a response to others’ curiosity. “When I had just the engine set up and running at a show, many people would stop and ask what it was for,” he says. “When it’s set up with the sheller or grinder, people readily understand how it was used in the past.”
Building a collection
Dave didn’t begin his collection with a Sandwich engine. In 1973, he and his father, Stan, settled for a less costly 1-1/2 hp John Deere engine. From there, Dave began picking up gas engines from time to time and learned how to do his own repair and restoration work.
Today, Dave owns a full line of Sandwich engines (1-1/2, 2-1/2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 hp). He also owns a full line of Sandwich shellers (2-, 4-, 6- and 8-hole models). The 1890 Rustler sheller was one of the first produced by Sandwich. Although horses were used to provide power for that sheller, the company’s 1894 line included many models designed for use with steam engines or a horse-power.
The company continued to develop its sheller line; by 1908, the line included a full selection of spring and cylinder shellers. Sandwich spring shellers remained a popular item with farmers into the 1920s despite the availability of more powerful cylinder shellers. The company recommended Stover gas engines for use with Sandwich farm equipment (Sandwich did not begin engine manufacture until about 1915).
Small shellers make their mark
In the years leading up to 1920, large corn shellers were used to shell nearly all corn that went to market from the cornbelt. “They are owned and operated for community work the same as threshers,” notes Frank D. Gardner in Traditional American Farming Techniques. “Many small hand and power corn shellers are used on farms for shelling corn for feeding purposes. There are two general forms: the spring sheller and the cylinder sheller.
All hand shellers are of the first-named type, but some of the power shellers are of the second type. The latter are cheaper and of simpler construction, and seldom get out of order. They break the cobs badly and small pieces of cobs are more numerous in the corn than when spring shellers are used. For this reason, the spring sheller is considered superior. The unbroken cobs are much better fuel.”
The article, which featured an illustration of a Sandwich 4-hole mounted belt corn sheller with right-angle belt attachment, noted that each of the shellers included a cleaning device that separated chaff, husks and cobs from the shelled corn as well as elevators that moved both corn and cobs.
Keeping it real
Dave recently finished restoring an 8-hole Sandwich corn sheller. Authentic restorations are a priority for him. He kept as much of the original paint as he could, and even goes so far as to search for correct bolts. “I’ve just worked at restoring and painting the equipment over the years,” he says. “In summer I’m a crane operator. In the winter I paint tractors. According to the Sandwich literature, the Sandwich engines were really pretty and the paint jobs were very good quality. They put five coats of iron filler on the engines and then painted them a rich, Brewster green. After that, they were pinstriped and received a coat of shellac. They were pretty shiny after all that.”
In the early 1930s, the Sandwich company was purchased by New Idea Mfg. Co., Coldwater, Ohio. New Idea continued to make corn shellers for several years. The company produced a 1-hole spring sheller that could be operated either with a hand crank or power. Farmers liked the small shellers because it wasn’t always practical to hire a large custom sheller to come in; with a small sheller, they could generate what they needed for immediate use. New Idea also sold parts for Sandwich engines into the 1940s.
“There had to be a good Sandwich dealer in this region somewhere,” Dave says, “because you do see a number of Sandwich engines and some of their equipment here. Newcastle, Neb., is where my sheller came from. My 10-horse engine came from Canistota, S.D.”
Successful Illinois farmers tended to purchase new equipment every few years. Still, some held on to their equipment. Dave and his father found a 1914 Sandwich 6 hp engine originally used about two miles from where Dave’s father was born. The farmer they purchased it from was the original owner. “We were so happy to have that,” Dave says.
Used farm equipment traded in by Illinois farmers was often shipped to Wisconsin dealers. Dave suspects that at least some of the used items made their way to South Dakota too. Over the past 35 years, he has garnered some tidbits about Sandwich equipment that he shares with other collectors and interested visitors.
“My 6-hole Sandwich sheller was made to be pulled by a team of horses,” Dave says. “You can see there’s a seat on it for the driver. At first I thought it was odd that they would use a team of horses when one horse could easily pull the sheller. However, I’ve been told that the farmer took his team to the site where he was shelling so they could be used to haul wagon loads of corn or do whatever else needed to be done with a team there.”
President of Nebraska’s Newcastle Threshing Assn., Dave makes certain to display his Sandwich equipment there each year on Labor Day. He also takes part in the Menno Power Show and plans to attend the Prairie Village Threshing Jamboree in August 2009.
“The Newcastle show is the biggest one-day power show in Nebraska,” Dave says. “Collectors come from all over to take part in that.” While set up at Newcastle, he grinds wheat and corn and sells the finished product. The grinder is a 12-inch stone burr gristmill made by Sprout, Waldron & Co., Muncy, Pa. Dave powers it with his Sandwich 6 hp engine.
“This is something I’ve always enjoyed,” he says. “I’m always looking to add to my Sandwich collection. That’s about the only type of equipment I have anymore and buying and trading is just fun. I really enjoy the simplicity of these engines and admire the intelligence it took to invent and manufacture all these things.”